English Literature & Composition: Glossary of Literary Forms #cwp11x


A literary form, sometimes called a genre, is a category of literature. The forms can be defined by their technique, tone, content, or length. The distinctions between genres and forms are flexible.


Writing that deals with life in a humorous way, often making fun of people’s mistakes

Example: Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim


A short story that often uses talking animals as the main characters and teaches an explicit moral or lesson

ExampleAesop’s Fables


A story set in an imaginary world in which the characters usually have supernatural powers or abilities

ExampleHarry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling


A story originally passed from one generation to another by word of mouth. Folktales typically have a moral or lesson.

Historical Fiction

A fictional story based on a real-time and place in history, mixing fact with fiction

Example: The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco


A traditional story intended to explain some mystery of nature, religious doctrine, or cultural belief. The gods and goddesses of mythology have supernatural powers, but the human characters usually do not.


A book-length, fictional prose story. Important note: Novel is not a synonym for a book. It is just one type of book.


A literary work that uses the familiar spoken form of language, sentence after sentence. Prose’s opposite is poetry or verse.

Realistic Fiction

Writing that attempts to show life as it really is

Science Fiction

Writing based on real or imaginary scientific developments and often set in the future

Example1984, by George Orwell

Short Story

Shorter than a novel, short stories typically have only a few characters and focus on one problem or conflict.

Example: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Tall Tale

A humorous, exaggerated story often based on the life of a real person. The exaggerations build until the character has superhuman powers.

Example: Paul Bunyan is an example of a character in a tall tale.

Adapted from: http://www.ode.state.or.us/teachlearn/subjects/elarts/reading/resources/readingglossary.pdf 


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