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Literary Forms & SchemasExamples

Here, The Muse is pleased to present examples of specific literary forms in the context of a sample schema of literary forms.

Forms and schemas—overview

As cited elsewhere, a form is the organization, arrangement, or framework of a literary work. A form is also a distinctive class or category of literary composition that possesses a particular kind of structure. A work's form is one way to describe and classify it, compare it with works of the same or similar structure, and distinguish it from works with different structures.

A subform is a subclass of a form. It is a subclass by virtue of the fact that its structure is simpler than its class, shares some of the same components or characteristics, or is more limited in scope or narrower. A subform is a structure that is a special or restricted case of the structure of a form.

For example, Fiction is a subform of Prose and Novel is a subform of Fiction. Novels, Novellas, Short Stories, and works of Graphic Fiction are all subforms of Fiction and each is a form in its own right.

Because a form is always broader in scope than any of its subforms, forms have a hierarchical relationship to their subforms. As with any such hierarchical scheme, this broader/narrower relationship between a form and its subform can be displayed as a tree structure, network, or outline.

In a typical form classification scheme, each form is arranged as a hierarchical outline in which a subform (subclass) is represented as a special case of a form (class). In the case where the hierarchical structure is an outline:

  • All forms or subforms are listed, one under the other.
  • A broader/narrower relationship between a form and its subfoms is represented by indenting and listing all subforms of a given form under their subform.
  • Each form on such a hierarchical list is also subform (subclass) of the form under which it is indented. Any particular form serves as a subform to the form above it and also as a form to the subform beneath it.

The subform is a special case of the form above it. All subforms listed under a particular form have a substructure and composition style of the their form, but each subform listed under a particular form has a narrower structure or composition style than its form. Each subform under a given form is distinguished from the other subgforms under the same form by virtue of the fact that it has a narrower structure or composition style that is different from the other subgforms under the same form.

how Form schemas work—example

Here is a sample list of a few literary forms and subforms arranged in an indented list called a schema. This list has been compiled by The Muse Of Literature to help clarify your understanding of The Muse's concept of a literary form, subform, and literary form schema.

See Explanation Below

Sample schema showing relationship between literary forms and subforms

  • Literary forms
    1. Prose – Ordinary writing, without metrical structure, expressed in a commonplace manner.
      1. Fiction - The class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration,
        1.  Novel – A fictional prose narrative of considerable length and complexity in which the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters serve to unfold the plot; usually over 50,000 words (e.g., War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy).
        2. Novella – A fictional prose narrative longer than a short story and shorter than a novel; usually between 20,000 and 50,000 words (e.g., Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson).
        3.  Short Story - A brief fictional work that usually contains only one major conflict and at least one main character (e.g., The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant).
        4. Graphic fiction – A work of fiction, especially in the speculative fiction genre, told through artwork and dialogue similar to that used in “comic books,” published in a bound book format (e.g., Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman).
      2. Nonfiction -The branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality.
        1. Essay – A short, nonfiction narrative work of prose literature that is analytic, speculative, or interpretive in nature, dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, and written from the author’s point of view (e.g., A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift).
        2. Journalism – Presentation of facts describing news events written to be published by the media (newspapers, magazines, television, or radio) (e;g;, Hiroshima by John Hersey).
      3. Drama – A work that centers on the actions of characters; written to be performed on a stage.
        1. One-act play – A short play that takes place in one act (e.g., The Zoo Story by Edward Albee).
        2. Five-act play – A play that takes place in five acts (e.g., Macbeth by Shakespeare).
        3. Screenplay – A sequence of instructions designed for producing a motion picture, including character and scene descriptions, dialogue, and sometimes, camera positions and movement. Often a screenplay is an adaptation of an existing drama or novel (e.g., His Girl Friday by Charles Lederer).
      4. Poetry – Text in rhythmic or metric form, often employing rhyme; usually shorter and more concentrated in language and ideas than either prose or drama; poetic language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to its meaning.
        1. Sonnet – A 14-line lyric poem written in iambic pentameter, having a specific thematic structure and rhyme scheme (e.g., How Do I Love Thee by Elizabeth Barrett Browning).
        2. Ode – A lyric poem that is serious and thoughtful in tone with a formal stanzaic structure (e.g., Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats).
        3. Epic – An extended narrative recounting actions, travels, adventures, and heroic episodes and written in a high style (e.g., Beowulf).
        4. Ballade – A poem, usually with three stanzas of seven, eight, or ten lines and a shorter final stanza (or envoy) of four or five lines. Each stanza ends with the same one-line refrain (e.g., Ballade of a Ship by Edwin Arlington Robinson).

contents, hierarchical structure, and interpretation

A form is the organization, arrangement, or framework of a literary work; the manner or style of constructing, arranging, and coordinating the parts of a composition for a pleasing or effective result.

The list shown above is an example of a form schema arranged as a hierarchical outline. The bulleted entries in this list are the names of literary forms and subforms. Each form name is followed by the title of a literary work that is a representative sample of the form.

Each indented form on the list is a subform (subclass) of the form under which it is indented. Except at the top-most or bottom-most bullet of any sequence of forms and subforms, any particular form serves as a subform to the form above it and also as a form to the subform beneath it. For example, Fiction is a subform of Prose and Novel is a subform of Fiction. Novels, Novellas, Short Stories, and works of Graphic Fiction are all subforms of Fiction and each is a form in its own right.

The kind of structure and style that define a subform are a special case of the kind of structure and style that define the form above it. For example, Novel is a fictional prose narrative of considerable length and complexity in which the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters serve to unfold the plot.

All subforms listed under a particular form draw on the structure or style of their form; but each subform listed under a particular form has a simpler structure or style than its form. For example, Nonfiction is the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality. Essay is a short, nonfiction narrative work of prose literature that is analytic, speculative, or interpretive in nature, dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, and written from the author’s point of view. Essay is a particular kind of Nonfiction, one that narrows the scope of Nonfiction by being analytic, speculative, or interpretive in nature, dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, and by being written from the author’s point of viewn.

Each subform under a given form is distinguished from the other subgforms listed under the same form by virtue of the fact that it has a structure and style that is different from the other subforms listed under the same form. For example, Journalism is a nonfiction presentation of facts describing news events written to be published by the media; Essay is a short, nonfiction narrative work of prose that is analytic, or offers opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, and is written from the author’s point of view.

—tip—

glossary of literary terms

The literary form scheme on this page contains only enough forms to illustrate The Muse's definition of the concept of a literary form schema. There are more forms, subforms, and titles in the entire literary canon than are shown here.

Look for a more complete list of literary forms, definitions, and works at The Muse Of Literature's page called Glossary Of Literary Terms: click here.

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