Literary genres are the basic categories for classifying literary works. These categories are important because they allow us to understand and classify literary works according to their characteristics, such as form, style, theme, and purpose. Literary genres are divided into three main groups: lyric, which comprises poetic works expressing emotions; epic, which includes narrative works such as novels and stories; and drama, which includes works intended for performance. Each literary genre has its own sub-categories that further define the works’ specific characteristics and structure.

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Fundamental literary genres: lyric, epic, and drama

Lyric is the expression of emotions and feelings

Lyrics is a fundamental literary genre that focuses on the expression of the author’s personal feelings, thoughts, and moods. This genre of literary work usually comprises poetic works with a particular emphasis on intimacy, personal confession, and the emotional impact of the text on the reader.

Literary Types in Lyric

  • Sonnet: A poem of 14 lines, usually following strict rules of structure and rhyme.
  • Gazela: A lyric poem typical of Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and Urdu poetry, focusing on love and nature.
  • Ode: A celebratory poem intended to praise a person, event or concept.
  • Elegia: A poem expressing grief or mourning, often at the loss of a loved one.
  • Hymn: A song of great enthusiasm, usually in honor of a deity or as an expression of patriotism.

Key features of lyric poetry

The purpose of a lyric is for the author to express his feelings and thoughts. This literary genre focuses on intimate confessions and emotional experiences, often in verse. Lyric poetry allows the reader to delve into the author’s inner world and experience the breadth of human feelings through poems. Through lyric poetry, we can understand universal human experiences because poetry addresses basic emotions and states everyone can identify with.

  • Expresses the author’s inner emotions, feelings, and mental states.
  • It is usually written in verse, which allows for rhythmic and sonic richness.
  • The short texts focus on expressiveness and intensity of confession.
  • They do not contain a developed story but are focused on moments, feelings, or thoughts.
  • The poet is the subject who speaks in the poem; his voice is intimate and personal.
  • The poem is set in the present tense, emphasizing the experience’s immediacy.
  • Lyrics can be emotionally or thought-oriented, exploring different aspects of the human interior.

Epics: storytelling through time

Epic is a literary genre focused on storytelling. The epic genre encompasses many works, from short stories to large-scale novels and mythological epics. The hallmark of an epic is that it explores human experience, social values, and historical truths through plot, characters, and events. From ancient times, when epics such as the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Odyssey’ told of deities and heroes, to modern novels illuminating modern life’s complexities, epics allow readers to travel through time and cultures. Using dialogue, description, and the narrator’s perspective, epics create worlds in which readers can lose themselves while reflecting on the universal truths of life.

Literary Types in Epic

  • Epic poem: A long narrative poem describing heroic deeds and adventures.
  • Novella: A shorter literary work focusing on one or more stories and characters.
  • Novel: A large-scale narrative work that explores complex characters, plots, and themes.
  • Legend: A narrative based on historical events but often embellished with mythological elements.
  • Myth: A narrative that explains natural phenomena, cultural customs, or religious stories through gods, heroes, and mythological creatures.

Key features of epic

Epics allow readers to travel through time and space, explore different cultures, and experience the world through the eyes of others.

  • It tells the story of events, people, places, and times, reflecting a broader worldview.
  • Presents various stories set in a specific place and time.
  • The texts are primarily in prose, which allows for detailed description and development of the narrative.
  • Work may have one or more interconnected stories.
  • Dialogue between characters is frequent and essential for story development and characterization.
  • Epics cover genres such as novels, novellas, fairy tales, and legends.

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Dramatics: performed literature

Dramatics is a literary genre intended to be performed. It includes plays, operas, and scripts designed to be performed on stage or screen. Dramatic works are based on dialogue and interactions between characters, emphasizing the conflicts that drive the story forward. Dramatics allows theatre and filmmakers to bring stories to life and share them with audiences in a direct, visually dynamic form.

Literary types in drama

  • Tragedy: A dramatic form that presents the tragic conflict and inevitable fate of the main characters.
  • Comedy: A play that focuses on humor and usually includes a happy ending.
  • Drama: A story with tense interpersonal relationships and conflicts shown through dialogue.
  • Film script: A written work that serves as the basis for film production, it contains the instructions for staging the story, dialogue, and scene descriptions.
  • Radio Play: A dramatic work intended solely for radio broadcast, in which the story is told with sound and dialogue.

Key features of drama

The performative nature of playwriting brings unique challenges and opportunities for storytelling, as playwrights need to create dialogue and scenes that will be effective in a live performance.

  • It is designed to be performed on stage, screen, or in radio and television plays.
  • It portrays tense relationships, conflicts, and moods between characters.
  • It can be written in verse or prose, depending on the stylistic and thematic requirements of the work.
  • The lengths of the works can vary, but plays are often longer and structured in several acts.
  • They usually follow one central storyline divided into several sequential or interwoven events.
  • A key component is a dialogue between characters, accompanied by didascalia with instructions for performance.

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Literary types: lyrics


A sonnet is a poetic form with 14 lines, which has a particular rhyme scheme and is known for its structure and disciplined expression. There are two primary forms of sonnet: the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, divided into octet and sestet with the rhyme scheme abbaabba cdecde (or a variation of this scheme), and the English or Shakespearean sonnet, which follows the rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefgg. Sonnets often express love, death, beauty, and other deep emotions.


The gazelle is a poetic form in Persian, Arabic, and Indian literature, characterized by its lyricism and emotional depth. Each line of a gazelle is usually a self-contained unit, dealing with themes such as love, longing, and separation, with the last word or phrase of the first line (the refrain) repeated at the end of every other line. One of the most famous gazelles is the work of the Persian poet Rumi, whose works explore spirituality and the human experience. The gazelle is often found in contemporary poetry collections that experiment with different forms.


A gloss is a poetic form that responds to or comments on another literary work. This form requires the author to take a chosen verse or stanza from another author’s work and use it as a starting point for their poem. A gloss is a literary form of lyric poetry originating in Spain, in which the poet takes a quatrain (four lines) from another author’s work and adds four ten-line stanzas to it, each line of the quatrain being repeated as the last line in each stanza. The gloss allows for a profound dialogue between the poet and the chosen work, giving a new perspective on the original text.


A serenade is a traditional love song or serenade performed at night under a loved one’s window. Historically, horseshoes were a way of expressing feelings of love and longing, often accompanied by a guitar or other musical instrument. Although this form is more closely associated with folklore, elements of the horseshoe can also be found in some contemporary poetry, where it serves as an expression of intimate feelings.


An epigram is a short, witty poem or utterance that often ends with a surprising turn of phrase or satirical poem. Epigrams were popular in ancient Greece and Rome, where they were used to comment on social conditions, politics, or interpersonal relationships.


A romance is a narrative poem that usually includes adventure, love, and chivalry elements. This form has its roots in medieval Europe, where romances told of legendary heroes and adventures.

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Literary types: epic


The novel represents the most comprehensive narrative work in prose, encompassing a complex plot, character development, and in-depth exploration of themes and ideas. A novel may contain several parallel stories that span an extended period and feature many characters, with central characters developing as the action unfolds.


A novella is a medium-length narrative prose work that stands out for its dramatic density and its focus on a critical event or turning point in the life of one or more persons. The plot is often suspenseful and leads to an unpredictable ending, with each part of the text essential to the development and understanding of the whole. The novella provides a deep insight into human nature and social relations, exploring the complexity of human emotions and choices. An example of a novella from world literature is ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ by Leo Tolstoy, where the Russian author deals with the theme of death and the search for the meaning of life with remarkable psychological depth.

Epic poem

An epic poem is a literary genre representing the longest narrative poem written in verse. Characteristics of the epic poem include the accumulation of synonymous expressions, epic breadth, ornamental adjectives, and a narrative of the public sphere where the hero’s character remains unchanged, focusing primarily on the events surrounding the hero. It is divided into an introduction, which reveals the gist with the first verse; a proof, which announces the content or source; and a narrative, which focuses on the central events. Examples of epic works include Homer’s ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey,’ which are the foundation of the epic and depict the heroes and their journeys and struggles. Another example is the ‘Aeneid’ by Vergil, which recounts Aeneas’ journey from Troy to Italy.


A legend is a tale passed down from generation to generation, often combining historical and supernatural elements. Legends are based on actual events or persons but have been enriched with mythological or fantastical additions emphasizing moral, ethical, or spiritual lessons. They reflect the cultural, religious, and social values of a community. “Robin Hood” is an example of a legend that tells of an English folklore hero famous for fighting injustice and helping people experiencing poverty, thus touching on the eternal themes of justice and the fight against tyranny.


A myth is a narrative that explains world phenomena the origins of humanity or the gods, and serves as the foundation of a community’s religious or cultural beliefs. Myths are full of symbolism and offer insights into the values, fears, and hopes of the civilization that created them. They encompass gods, deities, heroes, and fantastic beings who grapple with universal questions of existence, death, love, and hate. The “Prometheus” of Greek mythology, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind, symbolizes man’s quest for knowledge and progress and the consequences of that quest.

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Literary types: drama


Tragedy is a literary genre that belongs to drama. It depicts tragic events in which the protagonist usually succumbs to their inner conflicts, struggles against fate, or opposition to the environment. Unlike comedy, where humor and a happy ending predominate, tragedy explores the darker aspects of human nature and society, such as death, guilt, and moral dilemmas. The play is designed to evoke sympathy, fear, and ultimately catharsis – emotional cleansing – in the audience or reader. Tragedies often involve highborn characters who find themselves in hopeless situations. A famous example from ancient Greece is Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex,’ where Oedipus, wishing to avoid the fate predicted for him by the oracles, unwittingly fulfills a prophetic prediction, leading to his downfall.


Comedy is a literary genre that focuses on the staging of humorous situations and events, with humor arising from the characters’ shortcomings, faults, and misunderstandings. Typically, comedy has a happy ending, often involving marriages or the restoration of social order. The essence of comedy lies in the fact that the characters, despite their shortcomings, do not arouse disgust but rather laughter and sympathy from the audience. In addition to entertainment, comedies can serve as a means of social criticism, exposing current problems and stereotypes through exaggeration and parody. In his ‘Poetics,’ Aristotle defined comedy as one of the primary forms of drama. An example of classical comedy is Aristophanes’ ‘Lysistrata,’ in which women refuse to have sex with men until they decide to end the war, thus criticizing the military conflict and the role of women in society in a hilarious way.


Drama is a distinct literary genre that depicts conflicts between characters through dialogue and interactions without using descriptions of internal experiences or detailed descriptions of place and time. In contrast to lyric and epic, drama is written in the form of dialogues (dialogues, monologues) and is traditionally intended for theatrical performance. The playwright may include stage directions in the text, which briefly indicate the appearance of the characters, the space, the time, and the movements on stage. Plays are usually divided into several acts consisting of different scenes. A historical example of a play is William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ which, through its complex story of the Danish royal courts and the main character’s internal struggle with personal and political dilemmas, is a classic work of dramatic literature, rich in explorations of human nature, power, and madness.

Film script

A script is an introductory text that guides making films containing action, setting, and dialogue descriptions. A detailed plan allows the film’s visualization before it is shot. Screenplays can be developed from original ideas or adaptations of literary works. Screenwriting starts with a basic notion presented through a logline, continues with the development of a synopsis summarising the story and a detailed outline of the scenes (outline), and ends with a treatment, a more extensive description of the story. Creating a script requires several stages of refinement and revision before it reaches its final form. An example of a well-known film script is Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction,’ where the original narrative structure and the unique dialogues are the essence of the scriptwriter’s art.

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Conclusion: literary genres and types of literature

Understanding literary genres such as lyric, epic, and drama is important for a deeper understanding of literature. If you need help with your studies or want to deepen your knowledge, please contact a tutor or private teacher.

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Literary types and genres: frequently asked questions

1. What is lyric poetry?

Lyric poetry is a literary genre that expresses the emotions and feelings of the author in verse.

2. What is an epic?

Epic is a large literary genre that tells stories about events, people, and places in prose.

3. What is drama?

Dramatics is a literary genre intended for performance, focusing on dialogue and conflict between characters.

4. What is a film script?

A film script is a detailed written plan for making a film, including scene descriptions and dialogue.

5. How is a lyric different from an epic?

An epic is a narrative genre in prose or verse that deals with events and characters, as opposed to a lyric, which focuses on emotions and reflections.


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Literary genres and literary types: the journey from lyric to epic and their characteristics.