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Writing Fiction. Section One: Why Fiction?. All literary works—whether poetry, fiction, drama, or humorous essays—have one thing in common: the writer has arranged the words so that the effect produced in the audience is one of pleasure.

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Section One: Why Fiction?

  • All literary works—whether poetry, fiction, drama, or humorous essays—have one thing in common: the writer has arranged the words so that the effect produced in the audience is one of pleasure.

  • Although the images themselves may not be appealing (for example, slasher films) placing them in a dramatic form is meant to produce enjoyment—people enjoy being scared.

  • Because of the vast range of works that comprise world literature—stretching from the ancient past to the present, in hundreds of forms—for the purposes of this class, we will talk only about prose fiction.


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Prose Fiction: Background

  • Prose fiction means stories told in plain old everyday language (as opposed to stories told in verse, in song, or on stage).

  • In the history of literary writing, prose fiction is a relatively recent development.

  • The modern novel dates from the 1760’s in England. The modern short story dates from the year 1820 in the U.S.A.

  • The very first short stories ever published were “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving (in a book called The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon).


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Prose Fiction: Characteristics

  • The characteristics of prose fiction are as follows:

    • Verisimilitude is present.

    • Tension is created.

    • Artistic unity is present.

    • Language that creates an aesthetic response is used.


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Verisimilitude Is Present

  • Verisimilitude means being “true to life.”

  • Elements such as setting (when and where the story takes place), dialogue (characters talking), and characterization (details that make characters come to life) are used to create a plot (storyline). The writer uses these tools make the story seem more real.

  • The most basic element of all stories is the scene (action in a location).

  • A scene combines a graphic description of the setting, a vivid portrayal of a character, and/or a conversation between characters which enables the reader to become a part of the imaginative world of the writer.


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Tension is Created

  • Tension means “the expectation of action.”

  • Usually, tension is created through conflict. However, tension may also be created simply by placing two or more things together that ought not to be mixed (like kids, a gas stove, and matches…).

  • Conflict may be psychological (inside the character, with the character pitted against some aspect of himself). Or it may be physical (outside the character, with one character pitted against another, or the forces of nature), or social (both inside and outside, with the character pitted against both the morals of society and his own conscience).


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Artistic Unity

  • Artistic unity means that a story should have a beginning, middle, and end which are connected to each other in some basic and meaningful way.

  • What happens in the middle of the story should be a result of events at the beginning; what happens at the end should follow inevitably from the complications in the middle.

  • When we talk about theme (the central idea in a literary work) we are recognizing the unity of the elements in a story. It is this unity that allows us to identify a theme.


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Aesthetic Language

  • Aesthetic language (the artistic side of literary writing) is the most important feature of the Literary Aim.

  • A literary artist deliberately selects words that have an aesthetic effect on the reader.

  • Tools like imagery (both literal and figurative), symbolism, connotations, and rhythm engage both the senses and the imagination and make the author’s fictional world come alive for the reader.


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Imagery

  • There are two types of images:

    • 1) Literal image: something that engages the senses. Anything the reader can see, touch, smell, taste, or hear is a literal image (for example, the smell of apple pie or the taste of brown sugar or the sound of teeth crunching through crust).

    • 2) Figurative image: something that engages the imagination. Anything that produces a mental picture can be a figure of speech.


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Imagery, continued

  • The three main types of figurative imagery are:

    • 1) Simile: a comparison using “like” or “as” (for example, your breath smells like an outhouse).

    • 2) Metaphor: a direct comparison, stronger than a simile (for example, “Hey, outhouse breath!”).

    • 3) Personification: giving human characteristics to something that isn’t (for example, the smell of the outhouse reached out and slapped me in the face).

  • There are many more types of figurative imagery than these three. However, these are the ones used most often in prose fiction.


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Symbols and Symbolism

  • A symbol is an object, person, place, or action that stands for something else in addition to its literal meaning in a literary work. A symbol suggests a meaning beyond itself.

  • Most symbols are limited to a specific work or context.

  • However, universal symbols mean the same thing across many works (for example, the grim reaper as a symbol of death).

  • Symbolism is the pattern of meaning created by the author’s use of individual symbols in a literary work.

  • The author constructs a larger meaning by adding together symbols that carry similar associations.


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An Example

  • Take a closer look at the John Updike story “A & P” on pages 89-93 the Introduction to Literature book. Updike does an incredible job of getting the most out of all the characteristics of prose fiction.

  • Notice the use of figurative language. First, the narrator thinks of Queenie’s shoulders, with their tan line where her bathing suit has slipped, as looking like “a shining rim.” Second, the narrator thinks of Queenie’s breasts as “two… scoops of vanilla….”

  • Since “A & P” is the coming of age story of a teenaged boy, these two uses of figurative language are particularly effective in showing his view of the world.


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Character

  • Character: one of the fictional people in a story.

  • Characterization: anything a writer does to make a character seem more real.

  • Protagonist: the main character in a story

  • Antagonist: the character or thing that the protagonist is struggling against. The antagonist may be a person. However, the antagonist of a story may also be an animal, nature, society, or even temptation.

  • Narrator: the character who tells the story. The character whose eyes the reader looks through.


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Kinds of Characters

  • Round: a round character is one that is developed. A round character is complex and true to life (for example, Captain Kirk, Mister Spock, and Dr. McCoy on Star Trek).

  • Flat: a flat character is not fully developed. Flat characters usually have only one defining characteristic. Many times a flat character exists merely to serve a purpose in the plot (for example, the red-shirted security guys who always get killed on Star Trek.).

  • Dynamic: a dynamic character changes over the course of a story as a result of “experience.”

  • Static: a static character does not change.


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Connotation vs. Denotation

  • Denotative meaning is the dictionary definition of a word.

  • Connotative meaning is the added significance a word picks up through use.

  • Literary authors often focus on the connotative rather than the denotative meaning of words.

  • For example, take the word hot. The dictionary definition of the word hot is “having a high temperature.” However, many connotative meanings have attached themselves over the years. For example, stolen (a hot stereo), lucky (a hot streak), sexy (a hot body), etc.


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Rhythm

  • Rhythm in writing is like rhythm in music: it has to do with the length and beat of the line.

  • Really good literary writers vary the rhythm of their prose and its tone (the emotional content of the narrator’s voice) to match the level of tension present in the work.

  • For example, when tension is low, the lines tend to be long and smooth. The narrator’s voice is calm. When tension is high, on the other hand, lines tend to get short and choppy. The narrator’s voice may sound angry or frightened.


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An Example

  • Take another look at John Updike’s short story “A & P”on pages 89-93 of the Introduction to Literature book.

  • What kind of a person is the 1st Person narrator?

  • What is his interest in the girls?

  • Why does he quit his job?

  • Notice how much more difficult to answer the third question is. That’s because even though the narrator is a character - a made-up construct, a figment of Updike’s imagination - he is complex and interesting (round and dynamic, in character talk).

  • Even though he is a typical teenager in some ways, he has depth enough to make a realization about the nature of life.


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Section Two: Narration

  • The characteristics of narration are as follows:

    • The organizing principle of narration is the relationship between events in time.

    • We present one occurrence after another so that they create a coherent sequence.

    • Each event is connected causally to each event that precedes it and each event that follows it.

    • Narrations of all kinds are dynamic (that is, they change over time).


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Narration, continued

  • There are two kinds of Narration:

    • 1) Narration of Event: used to tell a story.

    • 2) Narration of Process: used to show the steps in a process, or to examine cause and effect.

  • These two types of narration are totally different. They have different uses and different characteristics.

  • In this section we will study Narration of Event. However, Narration of Process is also used in some prose fiction.


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Narration of Event

  • Narration of Event tells a story.

  • One occurrence follows another in time until the entire plot (sequence of related events) is told.

  • Another name for a sequence of related events is plot.

  • A plot in fiction is one type of Narration of Event.

  • A plot may have a number of stages. The more stages there are, the more complex the plot. A stage is a certain level of action, and the tension (expectation of further action) that goes with it.

  • First, a potential for action must exist. Then some inciting event creates a disturbance that causes the action to move forward and become complicated. This complication (produced by conflict) leads to a crisis which must be resolved. Upon resolution, the plot comes to an end.


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Narrator

  • The narrator is the character telling the story.

  • Because fiction is made up, readers cannot assume that just because an author uses first person pronouns (I, me, we, us) he is the actually the narrator of the story. For example in John Updike’s short story “A & P” on pages 89-93 of the Introduction to Literature book, Updike has written a tale about a character—not a confession of his own youthful mistakes and the lessons he learned from them.

  • There are two kinds of narrator:

    • 1) Participant: the narrator is involved in the story.

    • 2) Observer: the narrator only watches the action and reports what the other characters do, think, and say.


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Point of View

  • Point of View refers to whose eyes the reader is looking through and whose thoughts the reader can know. Point of View is like a camera through which the reader views the narrative.

  • There are two kinds of cameras available:

    • 1) Omniscient: an omniscient point of view means that the reader can see through anyone’s eyes and has access to anyone’s thought process.

    • 2) Limited: a limited point of view means that the reader can see through the eyes of one character and can only know what one character is thinking.


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Point of View, continued

  • There are four possibilities as to Point of View:

    • 1) First Person (I, me, my, we, us, ours): the narrator is a participant. The reader’s view is limited to the eyes and thoughts of the narrating character.

    • 2) Second Person (you, your, yours): by directly addressing the reader, the author seeks to make the reader a participant in the action.

    • 3) Third Person Limited (he, she, it): the narrator is an observer who can only see inside one character’s head.

    • 4) Third Person Omniscient (he, she, it): the narrator is a godlike observer through whom the reader can see and know all things.


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First Person

  • Advantage: the reader tends to identify strongly with the narrating character. There is almost no distance between narrator and reader, so the reader tends to be sympathetic to the narrator even when he/she does something morally wrong. In “A & P,” by John Updike, the narrator looks at the three girls as objects of lustful desire and not much more—do you like him less for it?

  • Disadvantage: since the reader only sees/knows what the narrator does, it’s hard for the writer to pass information to the reader that the narrator doesn’t know. In “A & P,” Updike must have Sammy imagine what Queenie’s living room looks like by sliding “right down her voice” into it—awkward, isn’t it?


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Second Person

  • Advantage: there is no distance at all between the narrator and reader. This is why you tend to see the second person perspective used a great deal in advertising.

  • Disadvantage: second person perspective is awkward if used for very long. It is not a natural way to tell a story and tends to put the reader off.

  • For the purposes of the class, it is recommended that you do not use the second person for your short story assignment. We will deal more with the second person point of view later in the course.


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Third Person Limited

  • Advantage: third person limited perspective has more distance than first person and less than third person omniscient. It allows the writer to combine the best characteristics of both—some reader sympathy plus a less awkward delivery. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” (Literature, 55-58), we are able to see the American wife’s weaknesses—and yet judge her more impartially than is impossible in first person.

  • Disadvantage: the reader can still only see into one person’s head. In “Cat in the Rain,” we never learn what George is thinking. We learn what drives the wife, but the motivations of the husband remain a mystery.


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Third Person Omniscient

  • Advantage: the narrator knows all, sees all, and can pass any necessary information on to the reader by simply stating that a thing is so. The views and opinions of many characters can be explored. In “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin (Literature, 76-80), we see directly the thoughts of both Desiree and Armand—adding to the reader’s perception of the characters with a great deal of ease.

  • Disadvantage: there is a great deal of distance between the reader and the characters. Literally, the reader only views the characters through the narrator’s omniscient lens. In “Desiree’s Baby” we see inside the heads of both characters—but how deeply do we really get to know either one?


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Dialogue

  • Dialogue, in prose fiction, occurs when the characters are talking.

  • There are two kinds of dialogue:

    • 1) Direct Dialogue: placed in quotation marks, direct dialogue is the actual words spoken by characters shown in real time.

    • 2) Indirect Dialogue: written without quotation marks, indirect dialogue is when the narrator tells the reader what was said by a character.


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An Example: Direct Dialogue

  • Direct dialogue allows a writer to show rather than tell what his characters are like:

    • “Hey there, cutie pie! How bout a beer?”

    • “I’ve got a beer already.”

    • “So you do! How bout steppin’ out on the dance floor there and cuttin’ a rug?”

    • “I have a boyfriend.”

    • “Maybe you’d like to test drive a new one.”

    • “I don’t know…the one I drive now plays linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.”

    • “See ya.”


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An Example: Indirect Dialogue

  • Indirect dialogue is narration. The narrator is telling the reader what the characters say, rather than showing them:

    • The goat-roper sidled up to the girl at the bar and asked too loud if she wanted a beer. The girl knew he wanted more than just to buy her a longneck, and turned him down. When he got rude and asked if she’d like to test-drive a new boyfriend, she just smiled and said the one she had now played linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. The last she saw of the goat-roper was a black hat moving away through the crowd.

  • Are these the same characters as the ones in the previous slide? How are they different? How can you tell?


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