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Fiction genres are categories used to classify different kinds of narrative storytelling. Although fiction means any story that did not actually occur, in general use it usually refers to written literature. Fiction genres are subdivisions of literature based on the kinds of plot elements common to each genre. The term genre fiction is sometimes used disparagingly to differentiate popular fiction from high literary works. Popular fiction genres include mystery, science fiction, and romance. The Western, fantasy, and horror fiction are also enduring genres, as is the more classic literary fiction.
Storytelling in one form or another has existed since prehistory; in the eras before written language, verbal narratives were passed from one generation to the next. The earliest written works were often true stories embellished with fictional, or invented, elements. Examples include The Odyssey of Homer and The Epic of Gilgamesh. The novel began as a literary form in the 1700s. By the late 19th century, there were so many forms of fiction that some writers specialized in certain topics, or genres.
American writer Edgar Allan Poe invented the mystery story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841. Other writers, including Englishman Arthur Conan Doyle, continued and perfected the mystery, a literary puzzle based around the details of a murder or another crime. Poe also mastered horror fiction, a genre pioneered by earlier writers such as Mary Shelley. Although elements of these stories had existed for centuries, they were not truly fiction genres until the late 19th century. Twentieth century masters of horror included H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, and Stephen King.
Another 19th century literary master was Jules Verne, a French novelist specializing in tales of fantastic adventure. He and British writer H.G. Wells pioneered the field of science fiction, one of the dominant literary forms of the decades to follow. Cheap so-called pulp magazines of the early 20th century specialized in these tales of possibility; this specialization by the pulps helped create the field of fiction genres. Other pulps focused on tales of the American frontier, where writers like Zane Grey and Max Brand created the Western genre.
Romantic fiction, tales of love against the odds, also got its start in the pulp magazines, eventually becoming one of the most lucrative fiction genres of the late 20th century. By this time, it was standard practice for bookstores to divide fiction sections by genre. Other genres with wide popularity included fantasy fiction, religious fiction, and erotica. In the 21st century, the variety of material available led to new hybrid genres, such as supernatural romance. Literary fiction is sometimes considered its own separate genre.