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The Elements of Fiction

Communications 10192
by

Daniel Moore

on 18 September 2012

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Transcript of The Elements of Fiction

The Short Story and the Elements of Fiction "In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design" (Poe 1693) "the poem's highest idea--the idea of the Beautiful . . . . But Truth is often, and in very great degree, the aim of the tale. . . . For Beauty can be better treated in the poem. Not so with terror, or passion, or horror, or a multitude of such other points" (Poe 1693) "Its products are never so rich [as in poetry], but infinitely more numerous, and more appreciable by the mass of mankind" (Poe 1693) "in almost all classes of composition, the unity of effect or impression is a point of the greatest importance. It is clear, moreover, that this unity cannot be thoroughly preserved in products whose perusal cannot be completed at one sitting. . . . from a half-hour to one or two hours" (Poe 1692) A Short History... 500 BCE Oral story-telling Epic A blend of history and entertainment
Epic tales told in installments
Usually rhymed, not for aesthetic ends but for recall and retention
i.e. Homer's stories about Odysseus' travels or Achilles and the fall of Troy Fables & Parables Didactic and fictional (make no claim to history)
Fable: a short fictional tale with an identifiable moral or lesson, i.e. Aesop's fables
Parable: overlaps with fable, but usually told in response to a question or situation, an allegorical answer told in 'real time', i.e. Christ's parables in the New Testament Transcription Oral stories like Homer's transcribed (parchment, not paper)
cements cultural desire for preservation
changes the form of dissemination
creates different classes of readers (i.e. those who own texts, and those who do not) 70 CE 1440-60 Guttenberg + printing press
from printing on cloth (expensive + difficult) to printing on paper (costly to produce, but more affordable to purchase)
easier reproduction possible 1800 Industrial Revolutions in Britain and America (1750-1850)
rise of middle class + increase in literacy rates
steam power + printing press: dramatic increase in publishing industry, not only for books but also newspapers and magazines
i.e. printed material so affordable you can print it one day, read it the next, and dispose of it the day after 1819
Nathaniel Hawthorne's collection of stories, "Twice-Told Tales"
one of the earliest modern collections of short stories
titled as such because they had all already appeared in magazines and newspapers 1830s-40s
Edgar Allan Poe establishes his reputation
in America by writing analytic literary analyses of popular "tales," then goes on to publish his own short story collections.
"The Importance of the Single effect in a Prose Tale" (1942) 1900 The "tale" as primarily a mysterious, melodramatic genre (think Poe's brand of horror) shifts to realist short narrative in the hands of writers like Guy de Maupassant, O. Henry, Anton Chekhov, and Kate Chopin. 1914
James Joyce, an Irish writer who saw himself as
creating the literary "conscience of my race," publishes his first book, a collection of short stories called "Dubliners." Popularization + Institutionalization 1919 Creation of O. Henry Prize, major annual award for short stories published in English in American and Canada Death or new beginnings? 2012
Alexander Chee publishes "The Short Story is Not Dead" on community writing blog, The Nervous Breakdown "My Financial Career" "Bread" Stephen Leacock Emigrated to Canada from Britain: "My parents migrated to Canada in 1876, and I decided to go with them." (qtd. Brown and Bennett 221)
Taught economics at McGill University and published "Elements of Political Science" (1906)
published humorous stories in magazines on the side, then paid for their publication as a collection, "Literary Lapses" (1910)
most highly regarded collection of stories, "Sunshine Sketches," based on small-town life in Orillia, and set in Orillia; did not earn him much money most well-known Canadian short-story writer during the heyday of the short story; humourist; economist 1869-1944 Late 90s and early 2000s
Decline in print publications creates anxiety about survival of short-story as a relevant literary genre Four general approaches to analyzing literary texts: "focus on the author, the reader, the text itself, or the social and historical background of the text" (Charters, 1690)
i.e. We're looking at how the short story is held together internally with fictional characters that do things in a certain time and place, and how the author creates a window into this imaginative space (i.e. point of view). The elements of fiction, which apply to both novels and short stories, fit under the textual approach. Setting Plot Character Conflict Theme The where and when, simply. But also everything that those two details bring into play. "That combination of place, historical time, and social milieu that provides the general background for the characters and plot" (Bedford, 443) What happens in the story? Who does what? When do they do it? Usually looks something like... introduction rising action climax denouement Initiating Incident Setting established + introduced to the main character Tells us something about the conflict, and maybe the main character Conflict develops, meet new characters, may encounter subsettings, theme starts to emerge greatest emotional intensity (for characters and readers) what have we learned about the characters? how did they finally handle the conflict? Two ways to classify characters Protagonist: the main character, or the character that the fiction is ABOUT. They may be good (a hero) or bad (still the protagonist), like Norman Bates in "Psycho."

Antagonist: the character(s) who works against the protagonist. At the end of the day, they are there to reveal things about the protagonist.

Characterization
Flat or round: caricatures, simple stereotypes, or plausible people. (Each can serve a purpose.)

Static or dynamic: characters who don't change no matter what happens, and characters who do. Not necessarily for the better. Relationship to main character But, in the short story...

"reveal essential aspects of a character or characters" rather than "show character development over time" (Bedford 445) Conflict MAKES it interesting 3 types of conflict: people against people
people against nature
people against themselves watch out, the second conflict may actually be the first subject of the text a statement that the text seems to make about that subject + i.e. K'Naan's "My Old Home" is ABOUT heritage, belonging, change, and violence.

These are subjects, not quite themes. The theme is what you decide is the author's (or text's) ATTITUDE about that subject.

What do YOU think is the take-away?

If readers pay attention, what should THEY TOO see as the take-away? So if a subject of "My Old Home" is heritage...


The theme might be how heritage is inseparable from memory; like memory it will fade, change, or not remain what we thought it was. Point of view Where are we getting our information? 1st person: usually the main character tells the story, and the main character is the "I" 3rd person limited: usually another character tells the story about the main character 3rd person omniscient: a narrator (a character who isn't IN the story) tells the story, and they know the what everyone is thinking Michael Crummey (b. 1965) born in Buchans, Newfoundland and Labrador
B.A. and M.A. in English, started Ph.D. but drop out to focus on his creative writing
traveled extensively before returning to Newfoundland, settling in St. John's
early novels and stories won many awards and recognitions "Hard Light is representative of the thematic concerns that define much of Crummey's work: the preservation in print of the hard labour, harsh elements, and ironic humour that define the disappearing rural Newfoundland existence." The Canadian Encyclopedia. "Michael Crummey" "I've always been struck with Lisa's [Lisa Moore] and Michael Winter's books. . . . They're not saying, 'How can I write Newfoundland into a book,' they're writing their lives and the lives of their friends. What you get is a more honest and penetrating view of the world than that deliberate attempt to set a place down." Quill & Quire. "Two Faces on the Rock." August 2005. <http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=6807> "My Financial Career" + The Elements of Fiction Setting - What do know about the setting?
Plot - Initiating incident? Climax? Resolution?
Character - Antagonist? Does he develop?
Conflict - Inner, Outer, Nature?
Point of View - Which?
Theme - What are some subjects that broadly capture the story? What can we say about them with some confidence? Nation-building versus ... community knowledge? Or something else? Works Cited Murfin, Ross and Supryia M. Ray. "The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms." Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.
Charters, Ann. "The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction." 6ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.
Brown, Russell and Donna Bennett. "An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English." Vol. 1. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1982.
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