Prose fiction is the telling of stories which are not real. More specifically, fiction is an imaginative form of narrative, one of the four basic rhetorical modes. Although the word fiction is derived from the Latin fingo, fingere, finxi, fictum, "to form, create", works of fiction need not be entirely imaginary and may include real people, places, and events. Fiction may be either written or oral. Although not all fiction is necessarily artistic, fiction is largely perceived as a form of art or entertainment. The ability to create fiction and other artistic works is considered to be a fundamental aspect of human culture, one of the defining characteristics of humanity.
Even among writing instructors and best-selling authors, there appears to be little consensus regarding the number and composition of the fundamental elements of fiction. For example:
* "Fiction has three main elements: plotting, character, and place or setting." (Morrell 2006, p. 151).
* "A charged image evokes all the other elements of your story—theme, character, conflict, setting, style, and so on." (Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing 1992, p. 160)
* "For writers, the spices you add to make your plot your own include characters, setting, and dialogue." (Bell 2004, p. 16)
* "Contained within the framework of a story are the major story elements: characters, action, and conflict." (Evanovich 2006, p. 83)
* " . . . I think point of view is one of the most fundamental elements of the fiction-writing craft . . ." (Selgin 2007, p. 41)
Here are some elements of fiction (character, plot, setting, theme, Point of view, style, diction, and symbol and allegory). While these elements are not all found in every work, they are critical to the understanding of each piece you read.
Characterization is often listed as one of the fundamental elements of fiction. A character is a participant in the story, and is usually a person, but may be any persona, identity, or entity whose existence originates from a fictional work or performance.
Characters may be of several types:
Point-of-view character: the character from whose perspective (theme) the audience experiences the story. This is the character that represents the point of view the audience will empathize, or at the very least, sympathize with. Therefore this is the “Main” Character.
Protagonist: the driver of the action of the story and therefore responsible for achieving the stories Objective Story Goal (the surface journey). In western storytelling tradition the Protagonist is usually the Main Character.
Antagonist: the character that stands in opposition to the protagonist.
Supporting character: A character that plays a part in the plot but is not major.
Minor character: a character in a bit/cameo part.
• Analyzing characterization is more difficult than describing plot; human nature is infinitely complex, variable and ambiguous. It is much easier to describe what a person has done instead of who a person is.
• In commercial fiction, characters are often two-dimensional, and act as vehicles to carry out the plot. The protagonist must be easily identified with and fundamentally decent, if he has vices they are of the more ‘innocent’ type, the kind the reader would not mind having.
TYPES OF CHARACTERS
* Flat Characters- Usually have one or two predominant traits. The character can be summed up in just a few lines.
Round Characters- Complex and many faceted; have the qualities of real people.
*Static Character- A character that remains essentially the same throughout.
Plot, or storyline, is often listed as one of the fundamental elements of fiction. It is the rendering and ordering of the events and actions of a story. On a micro level, plot consists of action and reaction, also referred to as stimulus and response. On a macro level, plot has a beginning, middle, and an ending. Plot is often depicted as an arc with a zig-zag line to represent the rise and fall of action. Plot also has a mid-level structure: scene and sequel. A scene is a unit of drama—where the action occurs. (Bickham 1993: 23-62).
Plot refers to the series of events that give a story its meaning and effect. In most stories, these events arise out of conflict experienced by the main character. The conflict may come from something external, like a dragon or an overbearing mother, or it may stem from an internal issue, such as jealousy, loss of identity, or overconfidence. As the character makes choices and tries to resolve the problem, the story’s action is shaped and plot is generated. In some stories, the author structures the entire plot chronologically, with the first event followed by the second, third, and so on, like beads on a string. However, many other stories are told with flashback techniques in which plot events from earlier times interrupt the story’s “current” events.
All stories are unique, and in one sense there are as many plots as there are stories. In one general view of plot, however—and one that describes many works of fiction—the story begins with rising action as the character experiences conflict through a series of plot complications that entangle him or her more deeply in the problem. This conflict reaches a climax, after which the conflict is resolved, and the falling action leads quickly to the story’s end. Things have generally changed at the end of a story, either in the character or the situation; drama subsides, and a new status quo is achieved. It is often instructive to apply this three-part structure even to stories that don’t seem to fit the pattern neatly.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE PLOT
Plot events that plunge the protagonist further into conflict.
*Conflict- A clash of actions, ideas, desires, or wills.Types of Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Environment, Person vs. Self.
· Rising action: The part of a plot in which the drama intensifies, rising toward the climax
· Climax: The plot’s most dramatic and revealing moment, usually the turning point of the story
· Falling action: The part of the plot after the climax, when the drama subsides and the conflict is resolved.
*HAPPY ENDING- Everything ends well for our protagonist. More often used in commercial fiction.
*UNHAPPY ENDING- Most instances in life do not have pleasant ends, so literary fiction that tries to emulate life is more apt to have an unhappy conclusion. These endings force the reader to contemplate the complexities of life.
*INDETERMINATE ENDING- No definitive ending is reached. This leaves the reader to ponder the many issues raised.
Setting, the location and time of a story, is often listed as one of the fundamental elements of fiction. Sometimes setting is referred to as milieu, to include a context (such as society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. In some cases, setting becomes a character itself and can set the tone of a story. (Rozelle 2005: 2).
Setting, quite simply, is the story’s time and place. While setting includes simple attributes such as climate or wall décor, it can also include complex dimensions such as the historical moment the story occupies or its social context. Because particular places and times have their own personality or emotional essence (such as the stark feel of a desert or the grim, wary resolve in the United States after the September 11th attacks), setting is also one of the primary ways that a fiction writer establishes mood. Typically, short stories occur in limited locations and time frames, such as the two rooms involved in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” whereas novels may involve many different settings in widely varying landscapes. Even in short stories, however, readers should become sensitive to subtle shifts in setting. For example, when the grieving Mrs. Mallard retires alone to her room, with “new spring life” visible out the window, this detail about the setting helps reveal a turn in the plot. Setting is often developed with narrative description, but it may also be shown with action, dialogue, or a character’s thoughts.
Social context: The significant cultural issues affecting a story’s setting or authorship
mood: The underlying feeling or atmosphere produced by a story
The setting of a story is its overall context- where, when and in what circumstances the action occurs.
• Setting as Place- The physical environment where the story takes place. The description of the environment often points towards its importance.
• Setting as Time- Includes time in all of its dimensions. To determine the importance, ask, “What was going on at that time?”
• Setting as Cultural Context- Setting also involves the social circumstances of the time and place. Consider historical events and social and political issues of the time.
Theme is the meaning or concept we are left with after reading a piece of fiction. Theme is an answer to the question, “What did you learn from this?” In some cases a story’s theme is a prominent element and somewhat unmistakable. It would be difficult to read Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” without understanding that the institution of nineteenth-century marriage robbed Mrs. Mallard of her freedom and identity. In some pieces of fiction, however, the theme is more elusive. What thought do we come away with after reading Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”? Those mothers can try too hard? That oppression leads to oppression? That a parent’s repeated dire predictions have a way of becoming truth?
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