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Defining Genre


action-adventure: fiction genre that features action and/or adventure designed to excite the reader.

allegorical: having hidden meaning that transcends the literal sense

antagonist: a character who actively opposes the protagonist or hero of a story; an adversary

anthology: a collection of literary pieces grouped together by author or by theme.

autobiography: narrative non-fiction that tells the story of one's own life


beat generation: a literary movement that rejected the established narratives to explore spirituality through non-conformist social behaviors.

biography: narrative non-fiction that tells the story of an individual life

biopunk: literature that focuses on the impact of biology based enhancements to mankind, such as DNA manipulation.

black lives matter: a movement organized around the social inequities and injustices experienced by people of color in our American communities


coming-of-age: the point at which a individual loses their innocent (child-like) perceptions of life

coming-of-age novel: a pieces of fiction, in any literature, in which events force the protagonist to grow up.

contemporary: existing at the same time; authors who are writing about issues occurring in their life times are writing about their contemporaries.

contemporary: literature that focuses on settings, issues, and characters contemporary to the reader

cross-genre: stories that present features of 2 or more different genre.

cyberpunk: literature that examines the negative potential of technology on mankind.


dark fantasy: fantasy in which supernatural beings - both good and evil - live alongside normal humans in the real world

dieselpunk: a genre of speculative fiction set in and featuring gas-powered machinery

dystopia: an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic

dystopian literature: speculative fiction that examines real world problems through the lens of "what if the worst were to happen?" 


epic: extending beyond the usual or ordinary in size or scope

espionage: the practice of spying or of using spies, typically by governments to obtain political and military information


fantasy: imagintive fiction featuring especially strange settings and unique characters.  

fantasy, high: a fantasy in which complex characters experience adventure within an elaborately constructed world 

fantasy, low: a fantasy in which magical charcters and acts within or very near the real-world


gothic: associated with a dark mood, relates in literature to fiction that features desolate settings and violent events

gothic literature: SEE horror

graphic novel: a presentation of narrative through visual images or a combination of images and text.

greenpunk: literature that examines the intersection between renewable energy, the do-it-yourself movement, and human response to the consequences of global warming.


heroic fantasy: fantasy in which a heroic figure takes on a task in a realistic (often historical) setting. Magical elements do not supersede the realism of the imagined world.

historical setting: the time period in which a story takes place

horror: intense fear, dread or dismay

horror fiction: a subgenre of suspense in which readers are presented with situations and ideas that horrify or evoke terror


literary movement: a term used for pieces of literature by different authors (usually within the same period) who share similar reasons for writing in a particular way.  #ownvoices (see below) is a current literary movement, characterized by authors who share a common point of view as the characters they introduce

literary period: a span of time in which literature shares common intellectual, linguistic, artistic, and social influences


macabre: disturbing and horrifying depiction of injury and death

magical realism: the introduction of unexplained magical element into an otherwise real-world 

"marvelous real, the":  real places and objects that are extraordinary or strange 

memoir: narrative non-fiction that tells the story of a single episode or period in one's own life

metafiction: fiction that deals with the process of writing, often by referring to itself

mystery: a subgenre of suspense in which investigators attempt to solve a puzzle.


nanopunk: literature that imagines the consequences (both good and bad) of emerging nanotechnology on mankind.

narrative: a story

narrative non-fiction: true events that are presented as stories

neurodiversity: the range of differences in individual brain functions and behavior traits. Commonly used in reference to people on the autism spectrum, the term applies to anyone whose differences are an expression of brain function.  These differences are regarded as normal variations in the human population

novel-in-verse: a story presented entirely through a series of free-verse poems.

normalized:  unusual elements that are presented as normally occuring


#ownvoices: stories told by people who have first hand experience similar to those experienced by characters in a story (i.e. stories about being black in America told by black authors, stories about mental illness being told by people with those conditions, etc.)


paranormal fantasy: SEE dark fantasy

picaresque: fiction featuring rogues or rascals

portal fantasy: a fantasy in which characters are transported to an alternative world through a portal in the real world. 

protagonist: the main character of a story, generally a champion of good or the character through whom which the reader will gain understanding


quest: a long or arduous search for something of meaning


retelling / retold:  fiction that is based on myth, legends, and existing literature. Literary devices from the original allow the author to address new social issues and ideas.

retrospective: looking back on; dealing with past events

retrospective punk: speculative fiction, set in historical times and utilizing known technologies to achieve imagined abilities.

reveal: a plot device in which a previously unseen key character or element is revealed to the audience

reversal: when an element appears as one thing and changes suddenly, resulting in a change in the reader's perspective

robinsonade: fiction centered around the survival of an individual stranded or separated from civilization


science fiction (sci-fi): fiction featuring the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals.

space opera: science fiction that features space travel and interplanetary relationships

speculative: based on conjecture rather than knowledge

speculative fiction: highly imaginative fiction based on curiosity (what if?...) and conjecture rather than knowledge (see steampunk; dieselpunk)

sports fiction: fiction in which sports is a key element, necessary to the plot.

steampunk: a genre of speculative fiction set in and featuring steam-powered machinery

survival fiction: SEE robinsonade

suspense: a state of mental anxiety related to outcome.

suspense fiction: mysteries, thrillers, or horror fiction that engages a reader's sense of anxiety.

swashbuckler: fiction featuring a daring and swaggering hero, often a soldier


thriller: a subgenre of suspense in which characters attempt to resolve a situation of extreme anxiety.

tone: the general attitude of a place, situation or piece of literature; the mood

toxic masculinity:  current terminology used to describe any expectations placed on young men that limit their ability to socially express emotion or empathy or respect the rights of women


uncanny: strange, especially in an unsettling way 

uncanny valley: phenomenon, described by Masahiro Mori, when robot appear so "human-like," but too perfect, resulting in the human sense of revulsion.

urban fantasy: a sub-genre of fantasy set in a modern gritty urban society and often featuring elements of the supernatural.

utopia: an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect


world-building: the development of imaginary worlds complete with geographic features, unique inhabitants, inventive systems of government and, sometimes, fully developed languages.

whodunit: a popular term for mystery narratives

wuxia: a genre of Chinese fiction that itinerant warriors of ancient China, capable superhuman feats of martial arts.


xiaxia: fantasy influenced by Chinese mythology, ancient religions, martial arts, and other traditional Chinese elements


Want more? See Glossary of Literary Terms

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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