From the earliest times, people have wanted to communicate with other people, and one of the best means of communication is language. Before the invention of writing, people could only transmit information orally. After writing was invented, which may have occurred in Sumer in approximately 4000 B.C., writers could communicate with people who were not within speaking distance. Written communication took various forms in various cultures, and over the centuries a wide range of forms came into existence. As time passed, these forms were developed and refined.
The term literature, which derives directly or indirectly from litterâtûra, the Latin word for "alphabet," is often used loosely to refer to many genres, or types, of writing. Among these genres are novels, short stories, plays, poems, and essays. To most people, the term literature means writing of high quality. Some novels, for example, although they may be popular, are not considered literature. In general, literature is considered to be work that is good enough to survive and be read long after its author's death. The term literary arts refers to those arts that are related to the creation of literature. Forms of literature can be roughly divided into three categories: prose, poetry, and drama.
The word prose comes from a Latin term that means straightforward discourse, and the term is most often used to differentiate prose forms from poetry, which is usually not absolutely straightforward. Any literary work that is not poetical is a work of prose. Nonfiction prose includes essays, diaries, biographies, and scholarly works. Fiction prose includes novels and short stories.
One of the most important prose forms is the novel. No one knows precisely when the first works that we would now consider novels were written, but we do know that Egyptians were writing novelistic works of fiction as early as 1200 B.C. As early as the first and second centuries A.D., Roman authors produced works that could be considered rudimentary novels. Toward the end of the first millennium A.D., the Japanese, writing in a form called monogatari, which means tales, produced a number of novelistic works. The greatest and most famous of these is Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), which was written in approximately 1000 and may be the first true psychological novel. This important work was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a female member of the Japanese imperial court. In Europe, the greatest early novel was Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote de la Mancha, a satire of the social structure in Spain. The first part of this book was published in 1605, and the second part in 1615. The modern novel is generally Western in form and style. Even modern Asian and African novelists have been powerfully influenced by the forms and conventions of the novel that developed throughout Europe during the past three centuries.
The urge to create poetry is basic, and forms of poetry have developed in virtually every society. Poetry is linked with music, and, like music, it relies on rhythm, or meter. Many types of poetry have specific meters and rhyme schemes, characteristics that emphasize the sound of the words used. Rhythm is important even in poetry that doesn't rely on strict meter. Sound is important in prose, but it's even more important in poetry. In many societies, poetry is sung or recited with musical accompaniment. Although some poets write primarily with the printed page in mind, the vast majority create their poems with the voice in mind.
Works of drama are designed to be performed by actors. Dramatic works, like works of poetry and prose, were developed in many different cultures throughout the world, in places such as Greece, China, and Western Europe. Dramatic works may be either realistic or stylized. Certain Asian forms of drama, such as the Japanese Noh theater, in which the actors wear masks, are highly stylized and ritualized, while Western works are, on the whole, more realistic. Modern dramatic works may be written for any one of a number of media, including the stage, film, television, and radio.
The writing and editing field has further evolved since the 1990s, with the launch of the Internet and the introduction of mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, and e-readers such as Kindle and Nook. Many magazine and newspaper publishing companies have added online versions of their publications, and seek writers and editors with multimedia experience. Some publishers have continued to print their publications but many others have shut their presses. More book and journal publishers are also focusing on producing e-books. Companies may still require traditional copy editing of the printed page, but digital editing is now the norm.