Fiction is a general term used to describe an imaginative work of prose, either a novel, short story, or novella.
Recently, this definition has been modified to include both nonfiction works that contain imaginative elements, like Midnight in the Garden Of Good and Evil by John Berendt (Random House, 1994) and Dutch by Edmund Morris (Random House, 1999), and novels consisting largely of factual reporting with a patina of fictionalization, such as Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Knopf, 1997). However, in the truest sense, a work of fiction is a creation of the writer’s imagination.
The two main types of fiction are literary and commercial.
Commercial fiction attracts a broad audience and may also fall into any subgenre, like mystery, romance, legal thriller, western, science fiction, and so on. For example, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (Warner, 1992) was a hugely successful commercial novel because the book described the fulfillment of a romantic fantasy that is dear to the heart of millions of readers. Written in a short, easy-to-read style, the book was as mesmerizing to 15-year-olds as it was to 100-year-olds. Other blockbuster commercial fiction authors include John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, and Jackie Collins.
Literary fiction tends to appeal to a smaller, more intellectually adventurous audience. A work of literary fiction can fall into any of the subgenres described in the following sections. What sets literary fiction apart, however, is the notable qualities it contains — excellent writing, originality of thought, and style — that raise it above the level of ordinary written works. A recent work of literary fiction that enjoyed wide popularity was Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997). Other popular authors of literary fiction include Toni Morrision, Barbara Kingsolver, John LeCarre, and Saul Bellow.