The Big Picture
Genre: The category a particular literary work belongs to. Genres can be broad, as in prose, poetry, and nonfiction, or can be narrower categories like novels, short stories, and essays. Even more specifically, genre can also refer to types of fiction or nonfiction, such as romance and science fiction. So a fantasy book belongs to at least three genres: prose, novels, and fantasy.
Theme: This is what the writer wants to convey about life through the literary work. The theme is the ‘big idea’ that expresses what the work is actually about. Themes might involve issues like love, friendship, or racism, and can generally be expressed in a sentence such as “Obligation to your family is more important than romantic love."
Motif: A motif is a recurring element or device that expresses a literary work’s theme. In a story where the main character is trying to figure out her true identity, she may frequently encounter mirrors. These mirrors would represent her search for identity, and would therefore be a motif.
Tone: The writer’s attitude towards the literary work. An writer may use a thoughtful, humorous, or sarcastic tone, for example. This term applies to both the overall work and to particular events and characters within it—a writer might use a serious tone when describing one character but a humorous tone for another.
Mood: Tone and mood are often confused, but tone is how the author writes and mood is the feeling the reader takes away from the piece. You might feel sad, amused, peaceful, or confused after reading a particular work. Often the mood will be similar to the tone, but not always because each reader will interpret and react to the work in his or her own way.