Literary genre means the different techniques used by the author of a text to tell the story. It is all about the craft of story-telling and how an author goes about that work. There are a number of features of literary genre that are common to novels, films and plays including:
- The title of the text will often be significant. It may be used by the author to prime the reader or to make a particular point. It often will connect with one or more of the themes of the text. For example, in A Doll’s House, the title links in with the idea of Nora and society wives in general as playthings – trapped in an infantile and male-dominated world.
- The significance of the setting in a text and how it allows the reader to enter into the world of a text. It may also influence the fate of the central characters as well as playing a significant role in how the plot develops. In Blade Runner, the violence of the dystopian world of the text has a huge influence on the plot development as well as the actions of the characters trapped in that world.
- The author’s use of characterisation (how the characters are depicted and develop) and how that adds to the our enjoyment/interest . The Nora we meet at the end of ADH has changed radically form the little ‘song bird’ that we first encounter in the text.
- The different narrative techniques used by the author to engage the reader or further the plot. These may include narrative perspective, structure, use of flashback, etc. For example, in The Catcher in the Rye, it is the use of the first-person narrator to give voice to Holden’s inner thoughts that adds greatly to the effectiveness of the novel.
- All narratives rely on suspense to keep the reader engaged with the narrative. In BR, constant uncertainty surrounds the fate of the central characters. This continues right through to the closing credits.
- The author will often use dialogue to develop characters or plot, introduce themes, highlight conflict, or to build tension and suspense. In some cases slang or colloquial language will be used to make the character more believable or to emphasise background or ethnicity. The author may also use similar devices like soliloquy, body language etc. In TCITR, Holden’s particularly use of language, including his use of the term ‘phonys’ tells us a huge amount about both him and how he views the world.
- Imagery, symbolism, descriptive detail can add extra layers to characters, themes and plots, as well as enhancing enjoyment for the reader. In BR, eyes are a recurring image that links with many of the film’s themes.
- The themes (issues/ ideas) that are being explored in the text either directly or indirectly. In ADH, societal expectations is a central theme of the text.
There are also various techniques that apply specifically to particular literary genres:
- In film, techniques like cinematography, music, sound effects, props etc. heighten the drama and suspense, as well as helping develop characters, plots and themes.
- In a play, stage directions, props, lighting music and sound effects etc. can make significant contributions to the narrative.
- In a novel, descriptive detail and narrative voices can add to all aspects of the text.
In the end, the challenge for the student when encountering this section of the course – as well as when answering exam questions on literary genre – is to find points of similarity and difference in the way the particular authors go about constructing each particular narrative. It is important to reflect too on how these aspects of the narrative effect your enjoyment and appreciation of each text.