Fiction is the term for any invented literary narrative or, more broadly, anything made up. In literature, it refers to novels, short stories, and other works of art that do not purport to tell true stories. While they may be inspired by real events or people, fiction writers create characters, dialogue, and plots entirely from their imaginations. Storytelling forms the basis of most other entertainment media, including movies, television, and comic books. Science fiction, mystery stories, and romances are among the popular subsets, or genres, of fiction.
Myths and legends of gods and heroes are among the earliest examples of human storytelling. After the advent of written language, early writers such as Homer combined these with human sagas to create the first literary works, epic poems like The Odyssey and Beowulf. Daniel Defoe pioneered the English novel with Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, while China’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms effectively invented the form in the Orient. Gustave Flaubert, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville were among the masters of the novel form in the 1800s.
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In the 20th century, new media proliferated, including motion pictures, radio, and television. These used fictional storytelling structures borrowed from novels or stage drama, another fictional art form. Meanwhile, literature prospered under new masters like Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, and James Joyce. New genres gained popularity as story magazines catered to both high- and low-culture tastes. Meanwhile, daring writers like Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence explored the limits of what society would allow them to portray.
In modern times, thousands of works of fiction are published in many languages every year. Literary fiction includes award-winning works of the world’s great authors and debuting stories by new writers. Genre fiction provides the bulk of the profits to many book publishers and bookstores. Electronic media such as audiobooks and e-books offer new ways for readers to enjoy stories of all kinds. Self-publishing and online publishing make it possible for writers to find readers outside of traditional publishing venues.
In a broader sense, fiction remains the primary form of narrative in a variety of media. Movies, television shows, and stage dramas still rely on the fictional form to tell stories. Comics have proved capable of both short stories and extended narratives in a variety of genres. Even video games use fictional constructs to enhance the gamer’s experience. While the future of print media itself is uncertain, the art of the story has already established a strong presence in the realm of electronic media.