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The Art of Fiction. Highlights from the book of the same name Understanding the nuances, methods and tricks of a novel. Introducing a character. most important component of the novel antagonist =main character/s who opponent/rival/enemy of the Protagonist ( the focal character)

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The art of fiction

The Art of Fiction

Highlights from the book of the same name

Understanding the nuances, methods and tricks of a novel

Introducing a character

Introducing a character

  • most important component of the novel

  • antagonist=main character/s who opponent/rival/enemy of the

  • Protagonist ( the focal character)

  • ways of representing them:

  • major characters

  • minor

  • flat

  • round

  • keep POV in mind!

Introducing a character1

Introducing a character

  • physical description & biographical summary ( found in older fiction)

  • conveyed gradually by action and/or speech,

  • Modern authors use synecdoche ( the part standing in for the whole).

  • Clothes are often indicators of character, class, & lifestyle

The art of fiction

A few minutes later, sally herself arrived.

“Am I terribly late, Fritz darling?”

“Only half an hour, I suppose, "Fitz drawled, beaming with proprietary pleasure. “May I introduce Mr. Isherwood-Miss Bowles? Mr. Isherwood is commonly known as Chris.”

“I'm not,” he said. “Fritz is about the only person who’s ever called me Chris in my life.”

Sally laughed. She was dressed in black silk, with a small cape over her shoulders and a little cap like a page-boy’s stuck jauntily on one side of her head:

“Do you mind if I use the telephone, sweet?”

“Sure, go ahead.” Fritz caught my eye. “Come into the other room Chris. I want to show you something.” He was evidently longing to hear my first impression of Sally, his new acquisition.

“For heaven’s sake, don’t leave me alone with this man!” she explained. “Or he'll seduce me down the telephone. He’s most terribly passionate.”

As she dialed the number, I noticed that her finger-nails were painted emerald green, a color unfortunately chosen, for it called attention to her hands, which were much stained by cigarette smoking and as dirty as a little girl’s. She was dark enough to be Fritz’s sister. Her face was long and thin, powdered a dead white. She had very large brown eyes which should have been darker, to march her hair and the pencil she used for her eyebrows.

“Hilloo,” she cooed, pursing her brilliant cherry lips as though she were going to kiss the mouthpiece: “Ist das Du, meinLiebling?” Her mouth opened fatuously sweet smile. Fritz and I sat watching her, like a performance at the theatre.

Goodbye to Berlin Christopher Isherwood

Allegory a symbolic narrative

Allegory- a symbolic narrative

everything is a metaphor

Now, when he got up to the top of the hill, there came two men running to meet him amain: the name of the one was Timorous, and the other, Mistrust, to whom Christian said, Sirs, what’s the matter? You run the wrong way. Timorous answered, that they were going to the City of Zion, and had got up that difficult place; but said he, the further we go, the more danger we meet with; wherefore we turned, and are going back again.

The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan



  • determined by its one-to-one correspondence to the implied meaning.

  • Examples: Gulliver’s Travels, Animal farm, and Erewhon( no where spelled backwards)

    Allegory is another technique of defamiliarization.



Taking that which is familiar and presenting it in a way where the reader cannot identify a place, culture, personality, belief, religion, etc


allowing the reader to see something without prejudice or bias

The art of fiction

So far, however, as I could collect anything certain, I gathered they they have two distinct currencies, each under the control of its own bank and mercantile codes. One of these ( the one with the Musical Banks) was supposed to be the system, and to give out the currency in which all monetary transactions should be carried on; as far as I could see, all who wished to be considered respectable, kept a larger or smaller balance at these banks. On the other hand, if there is one thing of which I am more sure than another, it is that the amount so kept had no distinct commercial value in the outside world; I am sure that the managers and cashiers of the Musical banks were not paid in their own currency. Mr. Nosnibor used to go to these banks, or rather to the great mother bank of the city, sometimes but not very often. He was a pillar of one of the other kinds of banks, though he appeared to hold some minor office also in the musical ones. The ladies generally went alone; as indeed was the case in most families, except on state occasions.

I had long wanted to know more of this strange system, and had the greatest desire to accompany my hostess and her daughters. I had seen them go out almost every morning since my arrival and had noticed that they carried their purses in their hands, not exactly ostentatiously, yet just so that those who met them should see wither they were going. I had never, however, yet been asked to go with them myself.

Erewhon Samuel Butler



  • definition: a showing.

  • In Christian terminology it denotes the showing of the infant Jesus to the 3 Magi.

  • James Joyce applied the word to the process by which a commonplace event or thought is transformed into a thing of timeless beauty




  • applied to any descriptive passage in which the external reality has transcendental significance (in laymen’s terms the Ah-Ha moment)

  • In modern fiction it provides a climax/ resolution

  • Often contains synaesthesia ( mixing of the senses)

The art of fiction

They reach the tee, a platform of turf besides a hunched backed fruit tree offering fists of taut poles. “I better go first,” Rabbit says, “Till you calm down.” His heart is hushed, held in mid-beat, by anger. He doesn’t care about anything except getting out of this mess. He wishes it would rain. In avoiding looking at Eccles he looks at the ball, which sits high on the tee and already seems free of the ground. Very simply he brings the clubhead around his shoulder into it. The sound has a hollowness, a singleness he hasn’t heard before. His arm force his head up and his ball is hung way out, lunarly pale against the beautiful black blue of storm clouds, his grandfather’s color stretched dense across the east. It recedes along a line straight as a ruler-edge. Stricken; sphere, star, speck. It hesitates, and Rabbit thinks it will die, but he is fooled, for the ball makes this hesitation, the ground of a final leap: with a kind of visible sob takes a last bite of space before vanishing in falling. “That’s it!” he cries and, turning to Eccles with a smile of aggrandizement, repeats, “That’s it.”

Rabbit, Run John Updike



  • Often symbolic, if not then they’re ironic

  • Names act subliminally on readers

  • Beware of androgynous names (Lee, Pat, Kelly, Chris)

  • May be subject to cliché or stereotype

  • Ex: Barbie, Daisy, Lance, Jane, Peter ( Peter Pan, Apostle Peter, the slang term) Dick ( jerk or player or both?)



In the

The Crying of Lot 49

San Diego recluse Thomas Pynchon

gives his characters the following names

Oedipa Maas

Mucho Maas

Pierce Inverarity


Mike Fallopian

Many diPresso

Randolph Driblette

Clayton Chiclitz

Dr. Hilarius

Stanley Koteks

Emory Bortz

Ghengis Cohen



Authors use lists for many different reasons


have a reason and purpose

for the catalogue of items

  • Lists can be: letters, diaries, depositions, lists, descriptions, texts, emails,



The miscellaneousness of a list is not random, but has meaning.

Ask yourself WHY the list is written in particular way

  • Random: Indicative of life? Character? Or conflict?

  • Logical: Indicative of society? Character,? Conflict? Is it ironic?

  • Hierarchy of items: Indicative of society? Character?

  • Hierarchy of importance: same as above

  • Groupings of items: same as above

  • One thing out of place?Look for: “which of these things is not like the other” (hear Sesame street song in the background?)

    Figure out why author included a list!

The art of fiction

  • The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellant, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, swing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together these items weighed between 15 and 20 lbs, depending upon a man’s habits or rate of metabolism

  • The Things They Carried



  • First sentence-first paragraph

  • Entrance into the author’s fictional world

  • should draw us in

  • No easy task because the reader is not familiar with the author’s tone, vocabulary, syntactic habits, etc.

  • Reader has a lot of info to absorb and remember

Ways to begin novel

Ways to begin novel

  • 1.BAM! In the middle of a conversation

  • 2. Self introduction by narrator: “ Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick

  • 3. Or a rude gesture to literary tradition: Catcher in the Rye)

  • "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.“

  • 4.A philosophical discussion

The art of fiction

  • To the front of Hohen- Cremmon , county seat of the von Briest family since the time of Elector George Wilhelm, bright sunshine fell on the midday silence in the village street, while on the side facing the park and gardens a wing was built on at right angles cast its broad shadow first on a white and green flagstone path, then out over a roundel of flowers with a sundial at its contre and a border of canna lilies and rhubarb round the edge.

  • Effi Briest

The intrusive author

The Intrusive Author

  • A rhetorical trick.

  • “Dear Reader”

  • used to incorporate knowledge and proverbial wisdom

  • Fell out of favor during 19th century.

  • Modern fiction tends to eliminate or suppress the authorial voice because of its God-like presence in an age of skeptical realism. (May be coming back in vogue again)

Why use an intrusive author

Why use an Intrusive author

  • Provides author platform to:

  • Vent

  • Explain

  • Indulge his philosophies

  • Deflect

  • Humor

  • Mock

  • trick

The art of fiction

  • With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertook to reveal any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader. With this drop of ink at the end of my pen, I will show you the roomy workshop of Jonathon Burge, carpenter and builder in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the 18th of June, in the year of Our Lord, 1799.

    George Elliot Adam Bede

Magical realism

Magical Realism

  • marvelous and impossible events occur in what otherwise is a realistic narrative.

  • Usually associated with Latin-American fiction from authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Isabelle Allende, Laura Esquivel

Magical realism1

Magical Realism

An impossible event whereby the reader suspends disbelief


the narrative so powerfully and poignantly expresses emotions

The art of fiction

The moment they took their first bite of the cake, everyone was flooded with a great wave of longing. Even Pedro, usually so proper, was having trouble holding back his tears. Mama Elena, who hadn’t shed a tear over her husbands death, was sobbing silently. But the weeping was just the first symptom of a strange intoxication.- an acute attack of pain and frustration- seized the guests and scattered the across the patio and the grounds and in the bathrooms, all of them wailing over lost love.

Like Water For Chocolate

Stream of consciousness

Stream of Consciousness

  • The continuous flow of thought and sensation in the human mind

  • Includes: reasoning, emotions, sensations, memories & fantasies

  • Usually generates sympathy for the character whose inner thoughts the reader is exposed to, ( no matter how vain, immoral, or selfish)

Stream of consciousness1

Stream of consciousness

  • 2 techniques for representing consciousness

    1.Interior monologue: where character is verbalizing their thoughts as they occur

    2. Free indirect style: 3rd person past tense.

  • Uses vocabulary of character but deletes “ she thought”, “he wondered” etc

  • This gives the illusion of intimate access to the character’s mind without surrounding the authorial voice

  • Sometimes indicated by italics-but this is falling out of favor

The art of fiction

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges: Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning- fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet ( for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”- was that it? “I prefer men to cauliflowers?- was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on the terrace- Peter Walsh.

Mrs. Dalloway

Unreliable narrator

Unreliable narrator

  • A character-narrator cannot be 100% reliable.

  • The point of using an unreliable narrator is to reveal the gap between perception and reality

  • to show how humans distort and conceal

  • A reliable narrator would be boring

Reasons to use an unreliable narrator

Reasons to use an Unreliable narrator

The narrator may:

  • be a dramatically different age than the people in the story, such as a child attempting to explain adult actions

  • have prejudices about race, class, or gender

  • have low intelligence

  • suffer from hallucinations or dementia

  • be a pathological liar, narcissist, psychopath, sociopath

  • be trying to make a point that’s contrary to the actions of the story or be attempting to libel one of the characters due to a grudge

  • Whatever the flaw, at some point the reader will realize the narrator’s interpretation of the events cannot be fully trusted and will form a different opinion

Problems with unreliable narrators

Problems with unreliable narrators

  • may put off readers

  • may be pulled out of the story when they realize the narrator cannot be trusted.

  • there’s a fine line between distrusting the narrator and distrusting the writer.

  • when done badly, a story written from this point-of-view can be viewed as manipulative, misleading, confusing and pretentious.

  • when successful, the results are powerful and fascinating.

  • some of the greatest works of the twentieth century used unreliable narrators.

Examples of books with unreliable narrators include

examples of books with unreliable narrators include

  • Some examples of books with unreliable narrators include:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird(child narrator)

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (dementia)

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (drug-fueled hallucinations)

  • A Clockwork Orange (skewed societal views)

  • The Catcher in the Rye (narrator personality flaws)

  • Fight Club (multiple personality disorder)

  • Portnoy’s Complaint (personality disorder)

  • Lolita(narrator attempting to manipulate interpretation)

  • Pale Fire (narrator grudge, dementia, literary prejudice



  • saying the opposite of what you mean

  • Inviting an interpretation different from the surface meaning of the words

3 types of irony

3 types of irony

  • Dramatic - audience knows something about present or future circumstances that the character does not know

  • Verbal - A contradiction of expectation between what is said and what is meant

  • Situational-A contradiction of expectation between what might be expected and what actually occurs (found with fatalistic or pessimistic view of life)

Example of dramatic irony

Example of Dramatic Irony

  • Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

  • Oedipus searches to find the murderer of the former king of Thebes, only to discover that it is himself, which is known to the audience all along.

Example of verbal irony

Example of Verbal Irony

  • Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

  • "Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;And Brutus is an honorable man.“

  • Spoken by Marc Antony

Example of situational irony

Example of Situational Irony

  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge

  • Water, water, every where,And all the boards did shrink ; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink

Point of view

Point of View

  • Real events are usually experienced by more than one person. A novel can provide different perspectives on the same event -but only one at a time

  • Even an omniscient method is not all encompassing, but benefits and concentrates on just the important/relevant characters

  • The choice of POV is the most important single decision that the novelist makes- because it fundamentally affects the way the readers will respond emotionally and morally to the fictional characters and their actions

Objective pov

Objective POV

Tells what happens without stating more than can be inferred from the story's action and dialogue.

  • The narrator never discloses anything about what the characters think or feel, remaining a detached observer.

  • 2nd person: author addresses reader

  • 3rd person

  • does not participate in the action of the story as one of the characters, but lets us know exactly how the characters feel.

  • Characters revealed through this outside voice.

1 st person pov

1st person POV

  • Character’s own voice.

  • uses “I” throughout

  • reader doesn’t know any more than character does.

  • Example: I was minding my own business when Mom burst in. “What’s with you?” I grumbled.

  • If the reader is to know that Mom is angry, it must be shown through her words and body language available to the “I” character, and not through Mom’s thoughts (unless psychic abilities are one of the narrator’s traits).

3 rd person pov

3rd person POV

he said / she said

  • Example: He gripped the dollar bill tightly. “You can’t have it,” he told her.

  • Depending on author’s choice,

  • it can be very limited, pulling the reader into the head of the narrator,

  • or completely omniscient, letting readers see all the characters’ thoughts.

Omniscient pov

Omniscient POV

Advantage: author accesses thoughts of various characters.

Disadvantage: constant reminder of a constructed story, and adds some distance between reader and characters.

  • When used by less-skilled writers, the result is often a muddled jumping-about of thoughts

  • Examples of stories with an omniscient POV include:

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

  • The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (alternates limited and omniscient)

Limited point of view

Limited Point of View

  • Only what character sees or knows. First person is obviously limited, but many third person stories are as well

  • Characters are revealed through their thoughts, feelings, body language , dialog

  • The writer also can’t include description such as “the usual vase of flowers sat on the table,” unless the narrator knows that it is usual for flowers to be there.

  • Many books today are written with a limited POV, including:

  • The Harry Potter books by JK Rowling

  • Come to Grief by Dick Francis

Multiple points of view

Multiple Points of View

  • A story with multiple points of view is not the same as omniscient.

  • Multiple viewpoints let the reader into different characters’ heads by making complete narrative switches, usually in different sections or chapters. Within those sections, however, the narrator is held to a single, usually limited, viewpoint.

  • Stories using multiple POVs include:

  • The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

  • The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

Narrative structure

Narrative Structure

  • All stories have a beginning, middle , and end, however ambiguous it might be.

  • (As defined by Aristotle)

    Beginning=nothing needs to come before

    End= nothing needs to follow

    Middle=needs something before & after

    Why did author use a particular structure?

    What is the effect?

    God of Small Things: past and present interwoven, ends with past event

    Running in the Family: Frame story with random memories, conversations, chapters and subchapters

Structure vs story arc

Structure vs story arc

We can know the end of a story at the beginning, but not necessarily how/when/where is happened.

Regardless of how author structures the events, the novel still provides a story arc with a sense of finality or understanding

Chronology is different than story arc



  • Difference between short story and novel:

  • Short story

  • Read at one sitting

  • End-expectation/anticipated conclusion

  • Last sentence/paragraph twist

  • Novel

  • Read at irregular intervals

  • If it’s good we don’t want it to end.



A novel is vastly different from a movie because the reader

can see how many pages are left

(ebook location or physical pages)

  • whereas

    a film’s end can take you by surprise.

The art of fiction

Ralph looked at him dumbly. For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the strange glamour that had once been invested the beaches. But the island was scorched like dead wood-Simon was dead-and Jack had…The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island: great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

The officer, surrounded by these noises, was moved and little embarrassed. He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.

Lord of the Flies William Golding

The art of fiction

The End

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