The ELEMENTS OF FICTION can be used by the readers to increase their enjoyment and understanding of different literary pieces. The more familiar they become with the different kinds of elements the better they will understand and analyze works of fiction.
PLOT or STORY LINE is the author’s arrangement of incidents in a story. It is the organizing principle that controls the order of events.
A plot has UNITY OF ACTION if it is perceived by the reader as a complete and ordered structure of actions, directed toward the intended effect, in which none of the component parts, or incidents, is unnecessary.
A. Exposition: The exposition provides the background information needed to properly understand the story, such as the protagonist, the antagonist, the basic conflict, and the setting.
B. Rising action: the build-up of the conflict or action.
C. Conflict: the problem in the story.
D. Complication: the introduction of secondary related conflicts, including obstacles that frustrate the protagonist’s attempt to reach his goal.
E. Climax: the point of highest dramatic tension or a major turning point in the story.
F. Falling action: the winding down of the conflict or action.
G. Resolution: the way in which a story is resolved or concluded:
a) Catastrophe or outcome (in tragedies)
b) Denouement (in comedies)
c) Discovery, learning, or newfound insight.
SUBPLOT is a second story that is complete and interesting in its own right. If skillfully managed, the subplot serves to broaden our perspective on the main plot and to enhance rather than diffuse the overall effect.
THEME is the central idea or meaning of a story. It provides a unifying point around which the plot, characters, setting, point of view, symbols, and other elements of a story are organized. The universal literary themes are usually based on conflicts. They are: 1. Quest for “X”; 2. Liberation; 3. Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Technology; 4. The tragic vision; 5. Quest for “Y”.
MOTIF is an element—a type of incident, device, reference, or formula—which recurs frequently in literature.
LEITMOTIF is applied to frequent repetition of a significant phrase, set descriptions, or complex images in a single work.
NARRATOR, PERSONA, or POINT OF VIEW: It is the perspective from which the story is told. PERSONA is often applied to the first-person narrator, the “I” of a narrative poem or novel, or the lyric speaker whose voice we listen to in a lyric poem.
A. The first person narrates from one character’s perspective, generally told using pronouns like “I” and “me” or first person plural, “we” and “us”.
B. The self-conscious narrator reveals to the reader that the narration is a work of fictional art.
C. The self-reflexive novel incorporates into its narration reference to the composition of the fictional story itself.
D. The third person limited point of view is a method of storytelling in which the narrator knows only the thoughts and feelings of a single character, while other characters are presented only externally. Third person limited grants a writer more freedom than first person, but less than third person omniscient.
E. The free indirect style uses some of the characteristics of third-person along with the essence of first person. In other words, the narrator gets so close to the character that it seems that he mingles with it.
F. The stream of consciousness is a narrative mod that seeks to capture the full spectrum and the continuous flow of a character’s mental processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his actions. It is characterized by associative leaps in syntax and punctuation that can make the prose difficult to follow.
G. The omniscient narrator or omniscient point of view knows everything that needs to be known about the agents and events, and can delve into the characters’ thoughts, emotions, and motives. Within this mode:
a) The intrusive narrator not only reports but freely comments on and evaluates the actions and motives of the characters authoritatively.
b) The unobtrusive or impersonal narrator describes or shows the action in dramatic scenes without introducing his own comments or judgments.
SETTING is the general locale, historical time, and a social circumstance in which action occurs.
ATMOSPHERE is the tonality pervading a literary work, which fosters in the reader expectations as to the course of events, whether happy or (more commonly) terrifying or disastrous.
MOOD is the emotional condition created by the piece, within the setting. Mood refers to the general sense or feeling which the reader is supposed to get from the text.
SYMBOLISM: A symbol, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to a sign—i.e., anything which signifies something else. In fiction, it is the art of expressing invisible or untouchable entities with visible or sensual representations.
STYLE refers to the distinctive manner in which a writer arranges words to achieve particular effects. That arrangement includes individual word choices and matters such as length of sentences, their structure, tone, and the use of irony.
DICTION refers to the writer’s choice of words. Because different words evoke different associations in a reader’s mind, the writer’s choice of words is crucial in controlling a reader’s response. The diction must be appropriate for the characters and the situations in which the author places them.
TONE is the author’s implicit attitude toward the people, places, and event in a story. Style reveals tone.
IRONY is a device that reveals a reality different from what appears to be true.
A. Verbal irony is a statement in which the speaker’s implicit meaning differs sharply from the meaning that is ostensibly expressed.
B. Situational irony exists when there is an incongruity between what is expected to happen and what actually happens.
C. Dramatic irony involves a situation in a play or narrative in which the audience or reader shares with the author knowledge of present or future circumstances of which a character is ignorant.
D. Cosmic irony (or “irony of fate”) is used in reference to literary works in which God, or destiny, or the process of the universe, is represented as though deliberately manipulating events so as to lead the protagonist to false hopes, only to frustrate or mock them.
E. Romantic irony is a mode of narrative writing in which the author builds up artistic illusion, only to break it down by revealing that the author, as artist, is the arbitrary creator and manipulator of the characters and their actions.
CHARACTERIZATION is the method by which a writer creates people in a story so that they seem actually to exist. Characters may be presented by telling (the narrator intervenes authoritatively in order to describe and evaluate their motives and qualities) or by showing what characters say and do (also called “the Dramatic Method”).
CHARACTERS are the persons presented in a dramatic or narrative work, who are interpreted by the reader as being endowed with moral, dispositional, and emotional qualities that are expressed in what they say—the dialogue—and by what they do—the action. Characters are developed by actions, speech, appearance, other characters’ comments, and the narrator’s comments. Types of characters:
A. The protagonist (or alternatively, the hero or heroine) is the main character in a work of fiction, on whom our interest centers and who engages our empathy.
B. The antagonist is the force that opposes the protagonist.
C. Minor or secondary characters play a supporting role rather than a central role in the story. Many secondary characters are non-essential, though they probably make the plot more interesting or more believable.
D. A flat character, or two dimensional, is built around a single idea or quality and can be described in a single sentence.
E. A round character is complex in temperament and motivation, and it is difficult to describe with any adequacy as a person in real life and, like most persons, is capable of surprising us.
F. A static character does not change.
G. A dynamic character undergoes some kind of change.
H. A foil character helps to reveal by contrast the distinctive qualities of another character.
I. An unseen character is a character that is never directly observed by the reader but is only described by other characters.
J. An archetype is a character that recurs throughout literature and thought consistently enough to be considered universal.
K. A stock character is a stereotype or a type rather than an individual.
L. An antihero has little control over events.
M. A villain sets up a scheme which depends for its success on the ignorance or gullibility of the person or persons against whom it is directed.
A character flaw is a limitation, imperfection, problem, phobia, or deficiency present in a character that may be otherwise very functional. The flaw can be a problem that directly affects the character’s actions and abilities. Flaws can add depth and humanity to the characters in a narrative.
FLASHBACK is a literary device in which an earlier event is inserted into the normal chronological order of a narrative.
FORESHADOWING is a literary device in which future events in a story, or perhaps the outcome, are suggested by the author before they happen. Foreshadowing can take many forms and be accomplished in many ways, with varying degrees of subtlety.