Beginners’ Guide to Poetry and Fiction Forms and Genres

Fiction

The desk dictionary that sits beside me defines fiction as a noun. It is prose, literary works of imagination; invented statement, or story (Collins Webster’s Dictionary). It is not real, something that we create in our minds.

But just because it’s made up in our minds doesn’t mean it has to be unreal. Many fictions are informed and created with a sense of reality. The use of the term literary in the definition, to me, makes it seem inaccessible.

Not everyone wants to write literary works. Having a story be literary or not doesn’t determine whether or not you’re writing fiction. What it really comes down to is that element of unreal, whether that be in characters, place, or events.

Below, we’ll explore forms and genres. The difference is that a form is how you as the writer go about structuring and telling your story while the genre dictates what types of characters, elements, and stories you’re going to tell.

Forms

  • Novel: a piece of fiction of over 40,000-words.
  • Novella: a piece of fiction between the word counts 20,000 and 40,000.
  • Novelette: a shorter piece of longer fiction between the word counts 7,500 and 20,000.
  • Fanfiction: fiction written within someone else’s story and world, usually by a fan or someone adding parts, characters, stories, etc. within the permission of the creator. The permission and paid part is the only difference between fanfiction and tie-in fiction.
  • Short Story: a piece of fiction between the words 1,500 and 7,500.
  • Flash Fiction: a piece of very short fiction between the words of 100 and 1,500.
  • Microfiction: a piece of fiction under 100-words.
  • Screenplay: a script for a TV, movie, or other film. When written for the stage, it is called a stageplay. There are particular dimensions and formats for this style of writing.
  • Fable: a type of fantasy story where there is a heavy overarching moral to the story.
  • Fairy Tale: similar to a fable, a fairy tale is a type of fantasy with fantastical forces and magical elements. The main difference between fairy tales and fables is that fables always have a moral driving at their heart while fairy tales sometimes don’t.
  • Epic: there are many different types of epics, but their main focus is telling a very long history of a people or person.
  • Graphic Novel: a fictional story told in still pictures; comics.
  • Interactive fiction: a playthrough or click-through story where the reader’s choices steer the story. This can also be done in a multitude of ways. An interactive fiction story can even be told in the real world through scavenger hunt like rules and methods.

Further reading: Diverse Story Structures collected by Kim Yoon Mi.

Genres

  • Romance: a story with the main focus being on one or more central love stories.
  • Action: a story with the main focus being on action sequences such as fight scenes and the like. The excitement is the drive behind the story.
  • Drama: though drama, and many of these elements, show up across all or many genres, the drama genre itself surrounds character dramatic events of the serious nature.
  • Literary Fiction: this is a market term, but usually refers to a work using literary techniques to tell stories.
  • Speculative fiction: an umbrella term for works outside of the realm of reality such as horror, fantasy, sci-fi, slipstream, and more.
  • Mystery: fiction that revolves around crime and detecting or inspecting.
  • Historical: fictional stories that are based on real historical events with fictional elements inserted.
  • Western: fiction using the aesthetic and lore of the American Old West.

Further reading: 144 Fiction Genres collected by Tonya Thompson. Wiki list of writing genres.

Poetry

Like above, let’s break down what poetry means starting with the definition. Poem is defined as a noun; imaginative composition in rhythmic lines. Poetry, also a noun, is the art or work of a poet.

I love the use of the word art here because poetry can take many forms, but it feels closer to visual or physical art than fiction. Pay note to the mention of rhythmic lines and not rhyming lines. There is a long-held belief that poetry has to rhyme. It is not true.

Later on, we’ll get into stanzas, meter, and verse. Going over the different types and how to use them to craft specific effects in our work and readers. But now, let’s start small.

Let’s dive into the forms and genres of poetry to explore the ways we can craft our poems.

Forms

  • Blank Verse: poetry without rhyme but that has meter.
  • Rhymed Poetry: poetry that rhymes.
  • Free Verse: poetry that has no rhyme or meter.
  • Epics: a long narrative poem traditionally of a hero’s journey and conquests.
  • Narrative Poetry: a poem that tells a story through verse. It can have rhyme or meter.
  • Haiku: unrhymed poetry in 3 lines (5 syllables on the first, 7 on the second, and 5 again on the last). There are a lot of different types of haiku all worth learning and experimenting in.
  • Sonnet: a 14 line poem using a fixed rhyme scheme.
  • Ode: a poem celebrating something sometimes set to music.
  • Limerick: a strict rhyming scheme humorous poem told in five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme, while the third and fourth lines are shorter and share a different rhyme.
  • Interactive Poetry: is poetry where the reader is a part of the shaping, telling, and meaning.
  • Sestina: a complex unrhymed poem with 6 stanzas of 6 lines and a 3 line envoy or closing. The words that end each line of the first stanza are used as line endings in each of the following stanzas, rotated in a set pattern.

Further reading: Writing Digest 168 poetic forms.

Genres

  • Lyrical: poems written about oneself and emotions or feelings. They can be a song or accompanied to music, but it is not required.
  • Speculative: poems written using speculative elements or telling speculative stories.
  • Spoken Word: though it can be written, spoken word poetry is an oral form of poetry that has its roots in performance and theater. These poems can rhyme or not rhyme, be in verse, or any other form.
  • Aubade: a love poem to the dawn.
  • Cento: a poem using lines from other poems.
  • Elegies: a poem reflecting on death and loss.
  • Pastoral: poems romanticizing or fantasizing about rural life and settings.

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