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Transcript of Copy of CRWR 200--Lecture 3 FICTION: ELEMENTS & STRUCTURE

CRWR 200 003
Lecture 3
Fiction: Elements & Structure
"A writer must use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."
–Kurt Vonnegut
Today's Class
Inciting Incident--your protagonist is propelled to do something
Dramatic conflict
Transformation & MEANING
What is fiction?
"Beautiful lies in the service of greater truth"
Suspension of disbelief
Absurdist Fiction
a genre of literature that grew in the early 20th Century that resisted conventional plot structure

novels, plays, or poems where characters cannot find any inherent purpose in life

meaningless actions and events, a refusal to accept the existence of universal truth or value

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1954)
"Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively."
–Dalai Lama
Character with desires
Desires opposed by obstacles
Obstacles surmounted or not surmounted
Stakes implying uncertainty
Tension that keeps readers reading
Character => Desire => Obstacles => Stakes
=> Uncertainty =>Tension => Reader Traction
Six Elements of Fiction
1. Character
it all starts with character

when we talk about central character, we're also talking about
character is the source of plot or ACTION

when we talk about central character, we're also talking about
the journey that the protagonist goes on, and the ways in which he is changed by the journey give us insights to theme and meaning
Flat Characters vs. Round Characters
a two dimensional character, relatively uncomplicated

the impact of the story on them is not our main concern

do they have desires?

what's important is how their actions impact the main character
A person in a narrative work of art such as a novel, play, film, etc.
Round Character
complex figures that increase in complexity throughout the story

we know about their past

we understand their desires, the forces opposing them, their stakes

changed by conflict and outcomes

we understand what happens to them as people as a result of what happens to them in the story
Creating Round Characters
physical description--appearance, what they wear, how they move, how they speak
psychological description--feelings
dialog--what they say (next class: how to write dialog)
actions--what they do
The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat.

E. M. Forster
know the details of your character's life
: what they do during every part of the day, what they think about, what they eat, etc.
know the influences that go into making your character who they are
: age, gender, race, marital status, region, education, religion, professions
know what the character wants
out of life both generally and specifically in the context of the story
Character Journal
allows you to make a sketch of a character and really figure out who they are

age, gender, race, marital status, religion, education, profession

allows you to come up with a well-rounded and detailed picture of the character
whether you use all the information or not

Unlike even those closest to us in real life--our spouses, our lovers, our kin, whom we can never know completely--fictional people retain only as much privacy and secrecy as those who create them decide to let them keep.

Doug Bauer
Character Archetypes
1. The Hero / Protagonist
2. The Herald
3. The Mentor
4. Threshold Guardians
5. The Trickster
6. Shape Shifters
7. Shadow / Antagonist
: the central concern, the focus
: the opposing force
Arlene is both kinds of music: country and western.

When she stomps toward Earl, kicking up sawdust across the worn parquet dance floor, faux gold rings curved around her liver-spotted fingers and aquamarine rhinestones hanging around her neck, sweat beaded above her painted lips, eyelashes done just so, he sees his own hurt in her. He turns away and orders a beer.

"Earl, gaddammit, you're late." Arlene slaps his back.

"Sorry, honey, I've been packing."

"Packing? Something you forgot to tell me? She runs her fingers along the marbled snaps on his shirt, tugs on his bolo, stands on her toes to reach his broad neck. "I oughta lynch you for making me wait so long."

The first beer of the day is cold and goes down fast. The fiddles and Dobro are loud and bittersweet. They sting like she does.

"You can't hang an innocent man."

"Baby, you're anything but innocent."
Two-Step, by John Vigna
He laughs, pulls her in by the doughy flesh of her hip, presses his weight into her, and rests his chin on her head. Her hair is sticky and stiff but it smells clean. "You oughta know."

"I wish I didn't."

He drains his beer and sets it down. Nods for another. "Can't we have some fun tonight?"

"Fun seems to be the only thing you know."

On the dance floor, Earl holds Arlene tight, her hand damp in his, the tips of his fingers firm on her spine. He smiles as he leads her; they slide in swirls of sawdust, float in and out of other couples, counterclockwise around the room to the twang of Don Williams. He twirls her like a tiny doll, her eyes wide, boots gliding and stepping, thighs and calves brushing in long strides. Their silver belt buckles click when they come together. He is not a religious man, nor does her carry a great deal of faith in himself unless a woman puts it there. An ache of sadness tugs at him when he brings her in close again and whispers that he's leaving in the morning, that he'll be gone for a few days to see his brother. And when she pulls away and stops dancing, he's certain he has already lived the best part of his life.
Flat vs. Round?
Mr. Hope, by Lynn Coady
I remember Mr. Hope from when he brought the boy with an eyeball falling out to be gawked at by our Grade One class. The two of them stood up there side by side saying nothing for a good while as the life seeped out of us--our childish noise becoming less and less. I don't know about the rest of Grade One but, personally, I had been riding high up until that moment. Earlier that same day for example, I had discovered I could read inside my head. Everyone else in my class could only read out loud, and not even very well. When the teacher told them: Now read quietly, to yourself, they would start to whisper the words, mouths in motion. Only I knew what she meant. I gasped:
Teacher, look!
And held up the book to my face and said nothing.

I'm saying that up until the moment Mr. Hope strolled into our class with the mangled boy, school had been fine for me. It was exciting. I'd discovered that I was smarter than almost everyone else. I followed instructions better. I knew what the teacher was talking about--I always caught on. I was good, also, at being obedient. When the teacher left the classroom for whatever reason teachers sometimes left, I didn't go ape like the rest of my class. I just sat there in the chaos, contemplating whether or not I should tell on the others upon the teachers return, rolling the power around in my mind like a marble in my mouth.
Flat vs. Round?
2. Setting
Elements of Fiction
the atmosphere a character operates in
setting helps define a story's dimensions

setting grounds a story in place

"Nothing Happens Nowhere"–Elizabeth Bowen
Setting= time, place, a specific social / economic / cultural reality
Setting reveals character
You Don't Want to Know What Jenny Two Bears Did by Joseph Boyden
Summer barrelled up from the Great Lakes and rolled across Georgian Bay. Its heat killed the blackflies, and when the mosquito droves replaced them in the first warm nights, the weekenders arrived in swarms from Toronto and Oshawa and Hamilton and the northern States.

There was little Jenny could do about it. Weekenders meant business for the band along with the arrival of a handful of cute guys. Even a few old friends' faces among the white hordes that crawled like freshly dug grubs over the Turtle Stone Reserve. The arrival of the tourists meant a busy night at the big show on Canada Day, for the other bands, anyway. Weekenders meant a packed beach of excited and drooling teenagers, escaped from the confines of the parents' quaint summer cottages, grooving spastically. In the old days it had been Jenny's very own loud and alive all-Indian girl band playing on the stages of small clubs, screaming out the Native blues. Now it was slick white boys from the city up there on the Mosquito Beach stage, strumming insolently on guitars and acting like rock stars. It was time to realize that Sisters of the Black Bear were no longer in vogue.
Setting as character
Goodbye Porkpie Hat by Michael Christie
I'm lying on a sheetless mattress in my room, watching a moth bludgeon itself on my naked light bulb. Over near the window sits a small television I never watch, beside it a hot plate I never use. I spend most of my time here, thinking about rock cocaine, not thinking about rock cocaine, performing rudimentary experiments, smoking rolled tobacco rescued from public ashtrays, trying to remember what my mind used to feel like, and, of course, studying my science book. I dumstered it two years ago and ever since it has been beside my my mattress like a friend at a slumber party, pretending to sleep, dying for consultation.

...My room is about the size of a jail cell. One time, two guys came through my open window and beat me with a pipe until I could no longer flinch and stole my former TV and a can of butts, so I hired a professional security company called Apex to install bars on my window. I spent my entire welfare cheque on them, just sat and safely starved for a whole month. (cont.)
...Someone is yelling at someone outside, so I go to the window and look out into Oppenheimer Park, which is across the street from my rooming house. There I see only a man calmly sitting on a bench, smoking. Everyone says this park was named after the scientist who invented the nuclear bomb. It has playground equipment, but it's always empty because no parent would ever bring their kid there, on account of it being normally frequented by people who are like me or Steve or worse. The park is infamous, an open-air drug market, they say. From my window, I've seen people get stabbed there, but not all the time, good things happen in the park too.
Writing Exercise
Now take the character you sketched earlier and put them in a setting. Write a few sentences in which the setting reveals something about their character, or their emotional state.
Setting & Emotion
The Sea Fairies by Maura Stanton
I remember how it rained that December. The temperature hovered around forty, never dropping low enough at night to freeze the drops into flakes. The yards were sodden; the yellow grass was dead, but the thick and luxuriant blades had not yet been crushed by a snowfall. There were Christmas trees in many of the windows I passed on the bus home from school, but they did not seem cheerful. I longed for snow.
Six Elements of Fiction

Narrative Time / Descriptive Time / Scenic Time
Narrative Time
The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks
Weather, meaning snow or ice, stopped me numerous times a year--of course, those were days that Gary Dillinger, the principal, called school off anyhow, so it didn't count--but in twenty-two years I did not miss a single morning or afternoon pickup because of a mechanical breakdown, and although I went through three buses in that time, it was only to have each bus replaced with a larger one, as the town grew. I started back in 1968, as a courtesy and convenience, with my own brand-jew Dodge station wagon, carting my two boys, who were then in Sam Dent School, and scooping up with them the six or eight other children who lived on the Bartlett Hill Road side of town. Then the district made my route official, enlarging it somewhat, and gave me a salary and purchased me a GMC that had twenty-four seats. Finally, in 1987, to handle the baby boomers' babies, I'd guess you'd call them, the district had to get me the International fifty-seater. My old Dodge wagon finally gave out at 168,000 miles, and I drove it behind the barn, drained it, and put it up on blocks, and now for my personal vehicle and for running Abbott over to Lake Placid for his therapy I drive an almost new Plymouth Voyager van.
Benefits of Narrative Time
Allows you to cover a large time period quickly

Useful for establishing larger premises like growing up, friends, familiarity with an area, employment history
Luckily, our barn being plenty large enough and standing empty, I was always able to park the bus at home overnight, where I could look after it in a proper way. Not that I didn't trust BIlly Ansel and his Vietnam vets at the Sunoco, where the district's two other buses were kept and serviced, to take good care of my bus; I did--they are intelligent mechanics and thoughtful men, especially Billy himself and anything more complicated than a tune-up I happily turned over to them. But when it came to daily maintenance, I was like the pilot of an airplane--no one was going to treat my vehicle as carefully as I did myself.
Scenic Time
The reader is asked to picture something in real time

We are observing something as it happens

Specific moments
That morning was typical, as I said, and the bus started up instantly, even though it was minus seventeen out, and I took off from our place halfway up the hill to commence my day...My first stop that morning was at the top of Bartlett Hill road, where it branches into Avalanche Road and McNeil. I pulled over and made my turnaround so the bus was facing east and waited for the Lamston kids to come down the hill on McNeil.
Benefits of Scenic Time
Allows you to focus on a specific moment in time

Allows you to achieve tension

Allows you to establish character
Descriptive Time
Narrative Time
The reader is asked to picture things generally rather than specifically
No specific moment
Descriptive Time
Specific descriptions not yet rooted in a single moment

Establishing the reality of the world even further, the world where the scenes will eventually play out
Benefits of Descriptive Time
Allows you to get more focused

Allows you to link narrative time with scenic time
Narrative Time: Time fluid

Descriptive Time: Time frozen

Scenic Time: Real Time
Narrative Time: To cover ground

Descriptive Time: Observe, discover & prepare for real time

Scenic Time: Action and Tension
Writing Exercise
Continue with your story, going from descriptive time (your character in their setting) to scenic time.
Six Elements of Fiction
4. Language
The words you use

The way characters speak

Language creates style and tone
Aurora by Junot Diaz
Earlier today me and Cut drove down to South River and bought some more smoke. The regular pickup, enough to last us the rest of the month. The Peruvian dude who hooks us up gave us a sampler of his superweed (Jewel luv it, he said) and on the way home, past the Hydrox factory, we could have sworn we smelled cookies baking right in the back seat. Cut was smelling chocolate chip but I was smoothed out on those rocky coconut ones we used to get at school.

Holy shit, Cut said. I'm drooling all over myself.

I looked over at him but the black stubble on his chin and neck was dry. This shit is potent, I said.

That's the word I'm looking for. Potent.

Strong, I said.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (pg 30)
I live with my father, Ray Nickel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve. Blue shutters, brown door, one shattered window. Nothing great. The furniture keeps disappearing, though. That keeps things interesting.

Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing. Ray and I get up in the morning and move through our various activities until it's time to go to bed. Every single night around ten o'clock Ray tells me that he's hitting the hay. Along the way to his bedroom he'll stop in the front hallway and place notes on top of his shoes to remind him of the things he has to do the next day. We enjoy staring at the Northern Lights together. I told him, verbatim, what Mr. Quiring told us in class. About how those lights work. He thought Mr. Quiring had some interesting points. He's always been mildly interested in Mr. Quiring's opinions, probably because he's also a teacher.
The Man Without No Kiddleys by Kurt Vonnegut
"I done ate twelve barium meals in my time," said Noel Sweeny. Sweeny had never felt really well, and now, on top of everything else, he was ninety-four years old. "Twelve times Sweeny's stomach's been x-rayed. Reckon that's some kind of a world's record."

Sweeny was on a bench by a shuffleboard court in Tampa, Florida. He was talking to another old man, a stranger who shared the bench with him.

The stranger had plainly just begun a new way of life in Florida. He wore black shoes, black silk socks, and the trousers of a blue serge business suit. His sports shirt and fighter-pilot cap were crackling, glossy new. A price tag was stapled to the hem of his shirt.
The risks of a self-conscious style
"Don't use a five dollar word when a fifty cent word will do."
–Mark Twain
Further notes on Language
Choose the
over the general, the
observation over the abstract

What is a person wearing? What kind of drink are they drinking? What band are they listening to on their headphones (David Bowie's
Young Americans

This may require research and requires you to know your characters and know the world they occupy

Use sensory based language--not just the way things look, but also how they sound, taste, feel, smell

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs"
–Stephen King
He shouted loudly

She whispered quietly

He glared angrily

She ran quickly
He said solemnly

She said emphatically

He moved cautiously

The rain fell relentlessly
The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place

The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Debbie was very stubborn and completely independent person and was always doing things her way despite her parent's efforts to get her to conform.


Debbie would wear a tank top to a tea party if she pleased, with fluorescent earrings and ankle-strap sandals.

"Oh, sweetheart, "Mrs. Smith would stand in the doorway wringing her hands. "It's not
Choose the
over the general, the
observation over the abstract
The source of all cliches can be traced to one thing and one thing alone: the writer does not know the world of his or her story.

from Story by Robert McKee
The wind howled that night as Maggie waited for Stewart to return from the garage. She told him not to go, but he was stubborn as a mule. A few minutes later, Stewart was back in the house with candles and a flashlight.

"Oh, Stewart!" she gasped breathlessly."You made it!"

"Sure did, honey." Stewart's eyes twinkled as he smiled back at his wife.

Stewart lit a match and shadows danced around the room. Maggie looked at the flames that warmed the cockles of her heart. She loved Stewart like no other. He'd stolen her heart a year ago and now, like a thief in the night, he was stealing it again.

Outside the clouds were fading and she saw the moon shimmering in the night sky. "Kiss me you fool," she declared emphatically.

Six Elements of Fiction
5. Theme
what the story is about?

what do I want to say? what do I believe?

what does your story help the reader understand

declarative sentence that sums up what your story is articulating
"Human life is fiction's only theme."
–Eudora Welty
"The story shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere."
–Mark Twain
So, ask yourself: where did
story arrive?
"Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart."
–Salman Rushdie
So, ask yourself: what is the truth
trying to convey?
What is the significance of the events in the story as they are appreciated by your protagonist?
What do I want to say? What do I believe?
"Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it"
-Hannah Arendt, philosopher
Be able to articulate your statement of theme but don't reveal it to the reader
Six Elements of Fiction
6. Images / Symbolism
a tree--just a tree or something more?

let your theme guide you where images and symbols are concerned
Character => action,
action => theme,
theme => images / symbols
“No...That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural."
–Ray Bradbury
"Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”
–Norman Mailer
Symbols which are imposed upon fiction from the outside tend to leave the reader dissatisfied by making him aware that something extraneous is added.”
–Ralph Ellison
CRWR 200 - 003
Next Lecture:
Fiction: Approaches and Techniques

Six Elements of Fiction

Writing Exercises

Next class–Fiction: Approaches and Techniques
Six Elements of Fiction
1. Character

2. Setting

3. Time

4. Language

5. Theme

6. Images / Symbolism
Fiction can be broken down into 6 component pieces called...
Six Elements of Fiction
1. Character

2. Setting

3. Time

4. Language

5. Theme

6. Images / Symbolism
Peter Parker, a high school student, lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. He is kind of an oddball at school and a victim of abuse by the school bully. One night a thief shoots and kills Uncle Ben. This sets Peter on a course of tracking down his uncle's killer using his recently acquired superhuman strength after being bitten by a radioactive spider. At the same time, the head of Oscorp, Norman Osborn, is preparing to turn all people of the world into powerful lizard creatures. Parker must stop Osborn in order to save humanity.
"Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."
–Elmore Leonard
Remember that writing is a
communicative act
. The reader doesn't care what's in your head. What we care about when we read is how it affects our world as a reader.
Six Elements of Fiction
Secondary Characters–important why?
they populate the world

they do things to the protagonist to move the story forward

we're interested in their perspective on things though we don't need to know what happens to them as a result of learning something
Flat Character:

can you have only have flat characters in your story?
allows you to make a sketch of a character and really figure out who they are

age, gender, race, marital status, religion, education, profession

allows you to come up with a well-rounded and detailed picture of the character
whether you use all the information or not
Writing Exercise--Character Development
Shortcomings of Narrative Time?
objects, events or characters used to represent an abstract idea
Q: Do you intentionally place symbols in your writing?
Secondary Characters:
observers, commentators, sources of information
Full transcript