Fiction is the term used to describe works of the imagination. This is in contrast to non-fiction, which makes factual claims about reality. A large part of the appeal of fiction is its ability to evoke the entire spectrum of human emotions: to distract our minds, to give us hope in times of despair, to make us laugh, or to let us experience empathy without attachment. Fictional works—novels, pictures, stories, fairy tales, fables, films, comics, interactive fiction—may be partly based on factual occurrences but always contain some imaginary content. The term is also often used synonymously with fictional prose. In this sense, fiction refers only to novels or short stories and is often divided into two categories, popular fiction (e.g., science fiction or mystery fiction) and literary fiction (e.g., Victor Hugo or William Faulkner).
Fiction is largely perceived as a form of art or entertainment, although not all fiction is necessarily artistic. Fiction may be created for the purpose of educating, such as fictional examples used in school textbooks. Fiction is also frequently instrumentalized by propaganda and advertising. Fiction may be propagated by parents to their children out of tradition (e.g. Santa Claus) or in order to instill certain beliefs and values. Fables with an explicit moral goal are not necessarily targeted at children, however.
Fiction may over time blend with factual accounts and develop into mythology. Many atheists perceive religion as no different from any fictional tale, whereas members of religious groups typically explain their beliefs with faith and claim they are fundamentally different from fictional tales (although they may call other religious views fictional). The sociological school of constructivism argues that every view of reality is fundamentally a construction of the self and that a safe distinction between fact and fiction is impossible, whereas the philosophy of naturalism holds that reality can be approximated and truth can be demonstrated through usefulness, allowing the distinction from fiction.
Fiction has often been the target of censorship or boycotts, escalating into book burnings or bans. Extremist regimes like the Taliban have been even more prohibitive, restricting all reading to religious texts. There is an ongoing debate regarding sexual content in fiction and whether or not juveniles can be safely exposed to it; opponents of fiction with sexual content typically label it pornography.
The Internet has had a massive impact on the distribution of fiction, calling into question the feasibility of copyright as a means to ensure the income of creators. Together with cheap and powerful home computers, it 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. Through open writing systems like wikis, collaboratively written fiction is also becoming possible (see the Wikifiction initiative).
Categories of fiction
- Children's fiction
- Crime fiction
- Fan fiction
- Interactive fiction
- Literary fiction
- Speculative fiction
- Spy fiction