Elements of Literature

Literary Genre

CyberEnglish9 Reading List

Literary Terms Lists & Definitions

Elements of Literature

We generally refer to the things that make up a work of literature, its component parts, as elements. This list contains such things as

  • plot
  • character
  • setting
  • theme
  • point of view

To be a critic of literature, that is to be one who talks about what literature does and means, we need a common vocabulary. For this reason, we study a list of literary terms. All CyberEnglish9 students are expected to know and use these terms.

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Literary Genre

A genre is a type. The basic types of literature are fiction, non fiction, poetry and drama. But within those there are sub-types:

Fiction: novel, short story
Non fiction: essay, editorial, news story, feature story,
Poetry: verse, narrative poetry, epic poetry, free verse, and many more
Drama: classical, tragedy, comedy

In addition to the genre above, we will consider anything written and published to be literature. So a web page is literature. A VCR manual is literature. An ad in a magazine is a type of literature.

Writing has various purposes. Four main purposes of writing are to

  • inform
  • persuade
  • entertain
  • describe

These purposes are generally integrated. In other words, a short story can achieve all four purposes. In fact, it may be a poor short story if it doesn't. A VCR manual is not as extensive in its purpose. A VCR manual is there to inform, to tell the VCR user how to operate the machine. It may also describe some aspects of the machine or operation, but probably doesn't persuade, and most likely doesn't entertain. 

But fiction, drama, and poetry can do much more than what's listed above. When it's really good, literature can teach us what it means to be human, to show us where we belong in our time and in all time. It can show us how to live rightly and love well, and it can show us how to be the best we can be. 

We learn from stories. Early religions used stories to teach their truths and laws. Think of the parables in the Bible. These are stories that teach people about Christianity. Ancient peoples used stories or myths to try to explain the mysteries of nature and even to define their own origin and afterlife.

Today, our parents read us stories when we are children. These stories are primarily used to teach us about life and the world around us, to help us understand our emotions and to know about human relationships. 

When we begin to choose our own stories, we often choose types of stories that appeal to our preferences and interests. Some of us like mystery stories or horror stories, while others like sports or animal stories, and still others like stories about people and families. There are many choices for us. 

In school, teachers want us to read books that are important to our understanding of culture and history. Stories that are common to a group of people help unite them. For example, most people will have read Romeo and Juliet by the time they are adults. When references are made to that play, people who have read it are connected in the group who "get it," while those who haven't are on the outside. Common stories are one way that people in a society are bonded together. There are certain books that are considered historically, socially or culturally important.

Teachers also want us to read books that stretch our minds and get us to think about important or interesting ideas. 

Teachers also want us to read because they know that reading helps in many ways:

  • we learn new words when we read
  • we become better writers 
  • we learn more about the world
  • we learn more about ourselves

Whatever genre of literature we choose to enjoy on our own, it's important to choose something and to continue to read long after we've left school. It's one of the best ways there is to continue to expand our minds. 

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