Form: Either the general type or the unique structure of a literary work. In the sense of “general type,” form refers to the categories according to which literary works are commonly classified (e.g., ballads, novellas, sonnets) and may imply a set of conventions related to a particular genre. It may also refer to metrical arrangements, rhyme patterns, and so forth (blank verse, heroic couplets, and quatrains are all literary forms). The term is often used more specifically, however, to refer to the structure of a particular work; in this case, form involves the arrangement of component parts by some organizational principle, such as parallelism or the chronological sequence of events.
Some theorists (such as those associated with the New Criticism) have equated form and structure, whereas others (such as those associated with the Chicago school) have distinguished between the terms, arguing that form is the emotional force or shaping principle that gives rise to the mechanics of structure. Others have debated whether or not form and style are the same, separate, or overlapping features of the work — and whether or not style and content are separable. Still others have challenged the oft-made distinction between form and content — traditionally manifested in the view that form is the structure devised by the author to contain the content (and ultimately the meaning) conveyed by a work — as misleading and even inaccurate. Most contemporary critics argue that form, structure, style, and content are intertwined and that distinctions among them, though useful tools of literary analysis, tend to obscure the intimate interrelationships that are essential to the effectiveness of the literary text as a whole.