Literature, most generically, is any body of written works. More restrictively, literature refers to writing considered to be an art form or any single writing deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, often due to deploying language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.  

Literature is classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and whether it is poetry or prose. It can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story or drama; and works are often categorized according to historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre).  

The formalist definition is that "literature" foregrounds poetic effects; it is the "literariness" or "poetic" of literature that distinguishes it from ordinary speech or other kinds of writing (e.g., journalism). Jim Meyer considers this a useful characteristic in explaining the use of the term to mean published material in a particular field (e.g., "scientific literature"), as such writing must use language according to particular standards. The problem with the formalist definition is that in order to say that literature deviates from ordinary uses of language, those uses must first be identified; this is difficult because "ordinary language" is an unstable category, differing according to social categories and across history.  

Literature in all its forms can be seen as written records, whether the literature itself be factual or fictional, it is still quite possible to decipher facts through things like characters' actions and words or the authors' style of writing and the intent behind the words. The plot is for more than just entertainment purposes; within it lies information about economics, psychology, science, religions, politics, cultures, and social depth. Studying and analyzing literature becomes very important in terms of learning about human history. Literature provides insights about how society has evolved and about the societal norms during each of the different periods all throughout history. For instance, postmodern authors argue that history and fiction both constitute systems of signification by which we make sense of the past. It is asserted that both of these are "discourses, human constructs, signifying systems, and both derive their major claim to truth from that identity." Literature provides views of life, which is crucial in obtaining truth and in understanding human life throughout history and its periods. Specifically, it explores the possibilities of living in terms of certain values under given social and historical circumstances.  

In ancient India, literature originated from stories that were originally orally transmitted. Early genres included drama, fables, sutras and epic poetry. Sanskrit literature begins with the Vedas, dating back to 1500–1000 BCE, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India. The Vedas are among the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas (vedic collections) date to roughly 1500–1000 BCE, and the "circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000?500 BCE, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid-2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The period between approximately the 6th to 1st centuries BCE saw the composition and redaction of the two most influential Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, with subsequent redaction progressing down to the 4th century AD. Other major literary works are Ramcharitmanas & Krishnacharitmanas.  

Theorists suggest that literature allows readers to access intimate emotional aspects of a person's character that would not be obvious otherwise. That literature aids the psychological development and understanding of the reader, allowing someone to access emotional states from which they had distanced themselves. D. Mitchell, for example, explains how one author used young adult literature to describe a state of "wonder" she had experienced as a child. There are also those who focus on the significance of literature in an individual's psychological development. For example, language learning uses literature because it articulates or contains culture, which is an element considered crucial in learning a language. This is demonstrated in the case of a study that revealed how the presence of cultural values and culturally familiar passages in literary texts played an important impact on the performance of minority students in English reading. Psychologists have also been using literature as a tool or therapeutic vehicle for people, to help them understand challenges and issues. An example is the integration of subliminal messages in literary texts or the rewriting of traditional narratives to help readers address their problems or mold them into contemporary social messages.  

Prose is a form of language that possesses ordinary syntax and natural speech, rather than a regular metre; in which regard, along with its presentation in sentences rather than lines, it differs from most poetry. However, developments in modern literature, including free verse and prose poetry have tended to blur any differences, and American poet T.S. Eliot suggested that while: "the distinction between verse and prose is clear, the distinction between poetry and prose is obscure".