Fiction is the classification for any story or similar work derived from imagination—in other words, not based strictly on history or fact. Fiction can be expressed in a variety of formats, including writings, live performances, films, television programs, animations, video games, and role-playing games, though the term originally and most commonly refers to the narrative forms of literature (see literary fiction), including the novel, novella, short story, and play. Fiction does not refer to a specific mode or genre, unless used in its narrowest sense to mean a "literary narrative". Fiction is traditionally regarded as the opposite of non-fiction, whose creators assume responsibility for presenting only the historical and factual truth; however, the distinction between fiction and non-fiction can be blurred, for example, in postmodern literature.
A work of fiction is understood to be an act of creative invention; its total faithfulness to reality is not typically assumed by its audience, and so it is not expected to present only characters who are actual people or descriptions that are factually accurate. Instead, the context of fiction is generally open to interpretation, due to fiction's freedom from adhering exactly to the real world. Characters and events within a fictional work may even be openly set in their own context entirely separate from the known universe: a fictional universe.
Fiction is commonly broken down into a variety of genres: subsets of fiction, each differentiated by a particular unifying tone or style, narrative technique, media content, or popularly defined criterion. Science fiction, for example, predicts or supposes technologies that are not realities at the time of the work's creation. For example, Jules Verne's novel From the Earth to the Moon was published in 1865 and only in 1969 did astronaut Neil Armstrong first land on the moon.
Historical fiction places imaginary characters into real historical events. In the early historical novel Waverley, Sir Walter Scott's fictional character Edward Waverley meets a figure from history, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and takes part in the Battle of Prestonpans. Some works of fiction are slightly or greatly re-imagined based on some originally true story, or a reconstructed biography. Often, even when the author claims the fictional story is basically true, there may be artificial additions and subtractions from the true story to make it more interesting. One such example would be Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, a series of historical fiction short stories about the Vietnam War.
Fictional works that explicitly involve supernatural, magical, or scientifically impossible elements are often classified under the genre of fantasy, including Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Creators of fantasy sometimes introduce entire imaginary creatures or beings such as dragons and fairies.
Realistic fiction typically involves a story whose basic setting (time and location in the world) is real and whose events could feasibly happen in a real-world setting; non-realistic fiction involves a story where the opposite is the case, often being set in an entirely imaginary universe, an alternative history of the world other than that currently understood as true, or some other non-existent location or time-period, sometimes even presenting impossible technology or a defiance of the currently understood laws of nature. However, all types of fiction arguably invite their audience to explore real ideas, issues, or possibilities in an otherwise imaginary setting, or using what is understood about reality to mentally construct something similar to reality, though still distinct from it.
In terms of the traditional separation between fiction and non-fiction, the lines are now commonly understood as blurred, showing more overlap than mutual exclusion. Even fiction usually has elements of, or grounding in, truth. The distinction between the two may be best defined from the perspective of the audience, according to whom a work is regarded as non-fiction if its people, places, and events are all historically or factually real, while a work is regarded as fiction if it deviates from reality in any of those areas. The distinction between fiction and non-fiction is further obscured by an understanding, on the one hand, that the truth can be presented through imaginary channels and constructions, while, on the other hand, imagination can just as well bring about significant conclusions about truth and reality.
Literary critic James Wood, argues that "fiction is both artifice and verisimilitude," meaning that it requires both creative invention as well as some acceptable degree of believability, a notion often encapsulated in poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's term: willing suspension of disbelief. Also, infinite fictional possibilities themselves signal the impossibility of fully knowing reality, provocatively demonstrating that there is no criterion to measure constructs of reality.
Traditionally, fiction includes novels, short stories, fables, legends, myths, fairy tales, epic and narrative poetry, plays, (including opera,) and various kinds of theatrical dancing), but it also encompasses comic books, and many animated cartoons, stop motions, animes, mangas, films, video games, radio programs, television programs (comedies and dramas), etc.
The Internet has had a major impact on the creation and distribution of fiction, calling into question the feasibility of copyright as a means to ensure royalties are paid to copyright holders. Also, digital libraries such as Project Gutenberg make public domain texts more readily available. The combination of inexpensive home computers, the Internet and the creativity of its users has also led to new forms of fiction, such as interactive computer games or computer-generated comics. Countless forums for fan fiction can be found online, where loyal followers of specific fictional realms create and distribute derivative stories. The Internet is also used for the development of blog fiction, where a story is delivered through a blog either as flash fiction or serial blog, and collaborative fiction, where a story is written sequentially by different authors, or the entire text can be revised by anyone using a wiki.
Types of literary fiction in prose: