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Elements of Fiction

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Elements of Fiction

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  1. Elements of Fiction Chao-ming Chen Department of English, NCCU

  2. I. What’s a novel? • “A fictitious prose narrative of considerable length, in which characters and actions representative of real life are portrayed in a plot of more or less complexity.” (Oxford English Dictionary) • “. . . only some work in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.” (Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey) • “. . . a novel is a novel, as a pudding is a pudding, . . . our only business with it could be to swallow it.” (Henry James’s The Art of Fiction) • Imitation of “realty” • Middle-class genre (realistic novel)

  3. II. Fiction? (a make-up story) • Fiction and Fact (fiction, fingere—to make or shape; fact, facere—to make or do) • Fiction and Life • Fiction and History History Realism Romance Fantasy ________________________________________

  4. III. Act of Reading—like dreaming, quite intimate and demanding • Involvement (identification and association) • Detachment (aesthetic distance; being disinterested) • “Like the sexual act, the act of fiction is a reciprocal relationship. It takes two. Granted, a writer can write for his own amusement, and a reader can read in the same way; but these are acts of mental masturbation, with all the limitations that are involved in narcissistic gratification of the self. . . . The meaning of the fictional act itself is something like love. The writer, at his best, respects the dignity of the reader.” (Robert Scholes) • “The archetype of all fiction is the sexual act. . . . For what connects fiction—as does music—with sex is the fundamental orgastic rhythm of tumescence ad detumescence, of tension and resolution, of intensification to the point of climax and consummation. In the sophisticated forms of fiction as in the sophisticated practice of sex, much of the art consists of delaying climax within the framework of desire in order to prolong the pleasurable act itself” (Robert Scholes, “The Orgastic Pattern of Fiction”)

  5. IV. Realism, Modernism and Postmodernism • To define and locate the reality of fiction • Realism: physical reality • Modernism: psychological reality, diverse realities • Postmodernism: what is reality? Is reality representable?

  6. V. Analyzing Fiction • A. Narrative technique • Narrators (first-person, third-person, and omniscient?)—personified narrator • Narrative medium and language • Narrative and representation • Ways of telling • Free indirect discourse • Tone and mode

  7. V. Analyzing Fiction • B. Character • “. . . all novels . . . deal with character, and that it is to express character—not to preach doctrines, sing songs, or celebrate the glories of the British Empire, that the form of the novel, so clumsy, verbose, and undramatic, so rich, elastic, and alive, has been evolved.” (Virginia Woolf)

  8. V. Analyzing Fiction • C. Plot—an ordered, organized sequence of events and actions • D. Structure (order and chronology) • Patterns: completion, reiteration, contrast, repetition, complementarity • E. Setting • F. Theme or thesis? • G. Symbol and image • H. Speech and dialogue • “. . . the decisive and distinctive importance of the novel as a genre [is that] the human being in the novel is first, foremost and always a speaking human being; the novel requires speaking persons bringing with them their own unique ideological discourse, their own language” (Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel”)

  9. VI. A good novel? “. . . the greatest works are those which succeed in blending the realist’s perception and the romancer’s vision, giving us fictional worlds remarkably close to our sense of the actual, but skillfully shaped so as to make us intensely aware of the meaningful potential of existence”