By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. identify  the three genres of literature
  2. Distinguish among the three genres of literature

The Three Branches (Genres) of Literature

The three genres of literature are Prose, Poetry and Drama. Now let us take the branches one after the other and explain them.

What is Prose?

Let us read the following short pieces:

Passage A

When Kelly got home, he went to the kitchen. He looked into the basket in which his mother kept the fish. He picked a small piece and ate it. He did not want his mother to notice that he had taken some of the fish, but he was hungry. After he had eaten the small piece, he picked another small one. Just as he took a bite off it, he heard someone clear his throat behind him.

Passage B

To get to the post office, you need to walk to the traffic lights near your home. Facing the north, turn right.  Walk on until you come to the large court building with the word „Courts‟ written on it.  Walk past it.  About fifty metres from the courts, you come to another junction with traffic lights.  On your right is the Ghana Commercial Bank building.  Across the road to your left, you will find the post office. 

Passage C

Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to this great school. When we meet as students and teachers on an opening day, we want to welcome everybody to the school.  The school should be seen as a home by everybody here.  We should live as one large family.

What do the short pieces of writing tell you?

Passage A tells a story. Who is the story about? What is the story about?

Passage B gives directions. Where is the person being directed? What landmarks are given to make the direction clear?

The third passage is part of a speech given by someone. On what occasion was the person giving this speech?

All the three passages use what is called „continuous writing‟.  These are examples of the use of prose. That is to say, prose involves the use of continuous writing. It is the form of writing that is most like what is used in every day speech. Prose is what is used in telling most stories, writing essays, letters, articles, reports, and in giving direction.  Prose is what we read in newspapers, our textbooks, and in story books.

Prose is often written in paragraphs, and is often longer and looser than poetry. A number of paragraphs make a chapter of a book. The language of prose re-creates the words and rhythms of everyday speech. For example, a novel is written in prose. In the novel, there is a story about people, and events that have taken place. The person who writes a novel is called the author or novelist.

There are two main types of prose, namely fiction and non-fiction.  Non-fiction  refers to writings  that  give  factual information,   such  as  is  found   in  textbooks,   magazines  and research reports.

Works  of fiction  are  writings  that  are  from the  imagination  of  the  writer.  These are the works we study in school as literature. They are sometimes called prose fiction. The works that we refer to as prose fiction include novels and short stories.

Remember, when you refer to a particular work of prose fiction refer to it as the novel; not the prose. Prose is a very general term used to talk about all kinds of work, fiction and non- fiction, written in paragraphs with each paragraph conveying an idea on the subject matter. That is what we have just talked about.

Also, when I type the title of the novel, such as Chinua Achebe‟s  Things Fall Apart, using a  computer,  I  will italicize  the  title as  I  have done in this sentence.  But then, when you write the title of a novel, you should underline it. For example:

The title of Chinua Achebe‟s   most popular novel is Things Fall Apart.

 The next branch we want to consider is poetry.

 What is Poetry?

Poetry is one of the branches of literature.  Let us read the following short piece.

I remember things

I remember many things

I remember things

I wish I could forget

I remember things 

I wish   I could do again

Above all

I remember you, Mother.

What is this piece of writing about?

How does this piece of writing differ from the prose pieces we saw earlier?

Poetry is the kind of writing that is used to express deep feelings.  What will you say the writer feels about his/her mother in the poem?

Note also that a poem uses lines. A line does not have to be a sentence. For example, one of the lines of the poem was: “Above all.” This is not a sentence but it is a line of this poem.

Poets also use special words and expressions to convey their message.  These are called devices.  Some of the devices are imagery, figures of speech, and sound devices.  Let us look at another short poem: I like noise. J. Pope: “Noise”

The whoop of a boy, the thud of a hoof, The rattle of rain on a galvanized roof, The hubbub of traffic, the roar of a train,

5      The throb of machinery numbing the brain, The switching of wires in an overhead tram, The rush of the wind, a    door on the slam,

The boom of the thunder, the crash of the waves, The crack of a rifle, the clank of a pail,

10    The strident tattoo of a swift-slapping sail— From any old sound that the silence destroys Arises a gamut of soul-stirring joys.

I like noise.

You see the use of sounds and words that reflect sounds in this poem. This is one of the elements that make a poem what it is.  Words such as „whoop‟, „rattle‟, „rush‟, „boom‟, „crack‟, all re-echo the sounds they represent.  They are often called onomatopoeic words. Other sound devices are used in this poem.  Remember that these are some of the special features of a poem, and many kinds of these devices can be found in poems.

We shall learn more about these devices in another lesson.

Remember,  when  you  are  referring  to  one  particular  poem,  such as Kwesi Brew‟s “The Mesh”,  you  should  put  the  title of the  poem in  quotation  marks  as  I  have done in this sentence.

The third branch we shall look at is drama.

What is drama?

Drama is a story in a play form that can be acted on stage. In other words, drama is a play that is meant to be performed before an audience.

Drama has a number of important elements.  One element is the dialogue or lines that the characters speak. This means that a play is made up of conversations. In a play, the actors talk to one another.

We  have  said  that  a  play  is  acted  on  a  stage.  Therefore, another element is the stage directions, or instructions that tell actors how to say their lines and how to move on stage. The stage directions are the guidance given by the playwright or the writer of the play on how to achieve the best effects when acting the play.  In our books, the stage directions appear in square brackets [… ]. The stage directions also indicate to the reader the kind of costume worn by each character.   There are also   indications of scenery, mood and atmosphere.

A play is usually divided into Acts and Scenes.  Acts are major divisions and scenes are minor divisions within an act. This means that a play is divided into a number of acts. Each act is also divided into a number of scenes.

A play may also have a prologue and an epilogue. A prologue is a kind of introduction to the play.  It is often in the form of a poem.  The prologue will usually generally tell the audience the subject matter of the play; that is, what the play is going to be about. It will also give the audience an idea of what the theme, or the main lesson to be learnt from the play is.  In addition, the prologue will introduce the main character and will often indicate what his main character trait is.  From the prologue, we should tell whether the play was going to be a tragedy or a comedy if we are watching (or reading) the play for the first time. Thus, the prologue, if it is in a play, will introduce the audience to some of the major elements of the play. 

The epilogue, in contrast, is a conclusion to the play.  It often will reemphasize the key lessons learnt about the subject from the play.

The person who writes a play is called a dramatist or a playwright.

Remember,  if you are referring to one particular play, such as Ola Rotimi‟s  The Gods Are Not To Blame, refer to it as the play; not the drama. Also, you notice that when I typed the title of a play, I italicized the title.  Now, when you write the title of a play, you should underline it.


In this session, we learnt that:

  1. the three branches (genres) of literature  are Prose, Poetry and Drama.
  2. Prose is usually written in paragraphs and could be grouped into chapters or books.
  3. Poetry is usually written in groups of lines called stanzas.
  4. drama is written in dialogue  form. It is usually divided into Acts and Scenes



Eunice Kyemenu-Sarsah

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

Peer Reviewers 

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D. Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.

William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.