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The Elements of Fiction

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Quentin James

on 28 February 2014

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Transcript of The Elements of Fiction

Basic Elements of Fiction
“…a short story is short, and a novel is long. Because of this, a short story can waste no words. It can deal with only one or a very few consciousnesses. It may recount only one central action and one major change or effect in the life of the central character or characters. It can afford no digression that doesn’t directly affect the action. A short story strives for a single emotional impact and imparts a single understanding, though both impact and understanding may be complex . The virtue of a short story is its density."
Janet Burroway, author of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, regarding the short story…
John Gardner, author of The Art of Fiction, regarding the story…
A story “is like a symphony in that its closing movement echoes and resounds with all that has gone before. . . . Toward the close. . . . unexpected connections begin to surface; hidden causes become plain; life becomes, however briefly and unstably, organized; the universe reveals itself, if only for the moment, as inexorably moral; the outcome of the various characters' actions is at last manifest; and we see the responsibility of free will" (184).
Julianna Baggott, author of The Miss America Family, regarding the story…
“Look, it's a 20-page lie…”
Fiction (an introduction)
What's the story about?

Action/events/occurrences of the story.

"The Old Man and the Sea is about an epic battle of wills between an old, experienced fisherman and a giant marlin said to be the largest catch of his life."
Text vs Subtext
What’s the story really about?

The underlying or implicit meaning of these actions.

Could be interpreted a number of ways.
"It can be argued that The Old Man and The Sea is truly about how man must often suffer and even destroy the very thing he dreams of."
What is the purpose of the work?

Why did the author write this?

What does he/she want the reader to gain?
Theme (key questions)
The surroundings or
Where and when a story
takes place
Setting is the physical description of the place in which the story occurs:
the time of day
the time of year
the geographical location of the story
the climate and weather at the time of the story
the historical period of the action
Setting includes the immediate surroundings of the characters
the characters' clothing
the characters' homes, offices, favorite places
the important objects in the characters' lives
Setting helps to anchor a story in a particular time and place.
Puritan New England in The Scarlet Letter
Setting can function as a means of creating atmosphere.
New Orleans in the novels of Anne Rice
Setting can take on aspects of character in a story.
the Mississippi River in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Yoknapatawpha County in the novels of William Faulkner
Setting can serves as an antagonist, a way to establish plot conflict and determine the outcome of events
the sea in Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Setting can be a means of revealing character
Gatsby's mansion in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
the central character in a story

He/she is faced with a conflict that must be resolved.
Character is the element of fiction that focuses on the individuals involved in the plot; these are usually human but could be animals or even forces of nature.
the character(s) (or situation) that represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend.

The antagonist is an obstacle that the protagonist must overcome.
Dynamic Character – a character who changes over the course of the story. Most protagonist are dynamic characters.

Static Character – a character who does not change over the course of the story; his or her personality does not transform or evolve.

Round - A rounded character has a complex personality; he or she is often portrayed as a conflicted and contradictory person.

Flat - A flat character is the opposite of a round character. This literary personality is notable for one kind of personality trait or characteristic.
Anti-Hero – a major character, usually the protagonist, who lacks conventional nobility of mind, and who struggles for values not deemed universally admirable. (ex-Holden Caufield in Catcher in the Rye, Jay Gatsby in Tyler Durden in Fight Club)

Foil - A foil is any character (usually the antagonist) whose personal qualities contrast with another character (usually the protagonist). By providing this contrast, we get to know more about the other character.

Symbolic - A symbolic character is any major or minor character whose very existence represents some major idea or aspect of society.
For example, in Lord of the Flies, Piggy is a symbol of both the rationality and physical weakness of modern civilization; Jack, on the other hand, symbolizes the violent tendencies that William Golding believes is within human nature.
First Person - Second Person
a first-hand account of events told or narrated through the eyes of a single character
Uses “I” or "we" to allow a character - either major or minor - to tell the story.
Perspective is limited to what the “I” or "we" character can see, know, and tell.
Uses a “you” "your" "yours" who is not the reader but the narrator.
Functions in essence as first person; the scope of knowledge is limited to one narrator, but by using “you” the reader is directly invited to share the narrator’s experience.
Gives the feeling that the narrarator’s experience is universal
Appear prominently in letters, speeches, and other forms of nonfiction, including instructions and technical writing.
Third Person Subjective is also referred to as the “limited” perspective
-the story that unfolds is limited to what a particular character knows or observes. The author is free to reveal what the viewpoint character is thinking or feeling. Most common. It resembles first person in that it’s limited to the thoughts and feelings of one specific narrator, but uses “he/she” rather than “I.”
Omniscient= “All-knowing”
the story is told from the author's point of view, and the author is like a god, knowing everything about all the characters, places, and events involved and free to describe the story from the vantage point of any character in the story. The author might tell the reader of events and motivations unknown to the characters.
Often referred to as “the camera's eye” because in this point of view the narrator describes only what can be seen, not what is going on inside the heads of the characters.
This perspective is limited to observable facts, like a reporter telling us what is occurring. The reader learns about characters’ states of mind by inference, based on their actions.
"What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by. I mean I've left schools and places I didn't even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse."-Holden Caufield
-J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye,
"You are on the anti-cline of the first rush. You are also experiencing the inevitable disappointment of clubs. You enter with an anticipation that on the basis of past experience is completely unjustified. You always seem to forget that you don't really like to dance. Since you are already here, though, you owe it to yourself to make a sustained assault on the citadel of the senses."
-Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City
Third Person
"The hills across the valley of the Ebrol were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid."
-ERnest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants
"He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: that was the thing."
— Sherman Alexie, The Toughest Indian in the World
"Exactly at midnight, when Anna was still sitting at her desk finishing a letter to Dolly, she heard the measured steps of slippered feet, and Alexei Alexandrovich, washed and combed, a book under his arm, came up to her. "It's time, it's time," he said with a special smile, and went into the bedroom.
"And what right did he have to look at him like that?" thought Anna, recalling how Vronsky and looked at Alexei Alexandrovich."
-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Point of View
“…think of a story as a simply a series of events,
whereas a plot is a series of events deliberately
arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic
and emotional significance.”

—Lisa Borders, author of the novel Cloud Cuckoo Land
Plot is “a simple, formal organizational device
that almost always develops some sort of

-Jane Smiley, author of 1992 Pulitzer Prize winning A Thousand Acres
In literature, a plot is all the events in a story
particularly rendered towards the achievement
of some particular artistic or emotional effect
What happens
How it happens
identify the protagonist; defining the nature of the conflict; also referred to as the set-up
Rising Action
develops the conflict and reveals more about the character; often the longest part of the story; also referred to as the build-up
largest and most dramatic piece of the conflict; reveals the themes more clearly; some change or reversal occurs (change in spirit or change in circumstance); often referred to as the “epiphany.”
The Denouement
the resolution of the climax; suggests the meaning of the conflict (implicitly or explicitly).
Rising Action
Rising Action
A character is presented in a situation and then something happens and he or she is faced with an obstacle to a goal. A plot is selective: an author does not portray every moment in the life of the character but only those moments that advance the story.
The plot arises from conflict
What does the character want?
What is keeping them from getting what they want?
How do they attempt to overcome this?
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