Elements of Fiction
The literary quality of a book of fiction is based not upon its popularity or the ease with which it can be read, but upon the quality of the literary elements found in the book. Students who are unfamiliar with the literary elements or who need a greater understanding of literary quality should make a brief overview of the elements of fiction which are given here under –
Characterization is the art of “creating characters for a narrative,” that includes “the process of conveying information about them.” This element is employed in dramatic works of art or everyday conversation. Characters in a novel are presented by means of description, through their actions, speech, or thoughts. There are two types of Characterization–
The author tells the reader directly about the character.
The author shows the character in action and lets the reader draw his/her own conclusion.
Character can be revealed through the character’s actions, speech, and appearance. It also can be revealed by the comments of other characters and of the author. Certain types of characters appear in many stories. A major type of characters are-
The protagonist is the central character (person, animal, or personified object) in the plot’s conflict.
The antagonist is the force in conflict with the protagonist. It is usually society, nature, or fate, as well as another person. Sometimes it is also be the protagonist’s own self, if he or she has an internal conflict. For example, Pip is antagonist in Dickens’ Great Expectations.
A character foil is a character whose traits are in direct contrast to those of the principal character. The foil, therefore, highlights the traits of the protagonist. The foil is usually a minor character, although if there are two protagonists, they may be fouls of each other.
A stereotype is a character that possesses expected traits of a group rather than being an individual. Stereotypes can be useful in furthering the story quickly and are acceptable in minor roles if they do not provide hurtful portraits of the groups in question.
Besides, one must know that the amount of character development affects the quality of the story. A flat character is not fully developed; we know only one side of the character.
A round character is fully-developed, with many traits bad and good-shown in the story.
Besides there are two types of characters; the one is static character that does not experience a basic character change during the course of the story.
The other is dynamic character that experiences a basic change in character through the events of the story. Such change is internal and sometimes may be sudden, but the events of the plot should make it seem inevitable.
Conflict is the main source of tension in a novel or story. There are several kinds of conflicts. Some of the conflicts are as follows-
A. Internal conflict or person-against-self: This conflict happens when the protagonist struggles within himself or herself. The protagonist is pulled by two courses of action or by differing emotions. This is often considered a characteristic of fine literature because it frequently leads to a dynamic change in the protagonist.
B. Interpersonal conflict
Interpersonal conflict or person-against-person: This conflict happens when the protagonist is against someone else.
C. Conflict of person-against-society
This conflict happens when the protagonist is in conflict with the values of his or her society.
D. Conflict of person-against-nature
Conflict of person-against-nature occurs when the protagonist is threatened by an element of nature.
E. Conflict of person-against-fate
Conflict of person-against-fate happens when the protagonist contends against a fact or life or death over which people have little control, such as death or disability. Some literary critics, however, see this conflict as a type of person-against-nature.
It is possible that several types of conflict may be present in any one story. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between two types of conflict. For instance: If a young boy is arrested by a policeman for violating the law, the conflict is probably person against-society. If, a personal enmity develops between the two so that the boy taunts the policeman and the policeman harasses the boy because they dislike each other, the conflict becomes person-against-person.
Similarly, if a character is attacked by a dog, the conflict is person-against-nature. But if the dog knows and dislikes the character, it could be considered person-against-person. If the protagonist is diagnosed with a fatal disease, he or she has a conflict with fate or nature, but also probably has an internal conflict in learning to accept his or her fate.
A flashback is dramatic scene that is presented out of chronological plot sequence. Flashback takes the reader back to an earlier time. A flashback happens when the author narrates an event that took place before the current time of the story. Flashbacks are uncommon in children’s literature because the passage of time is difficult for children to understand. The opposite effect, a flash forward, is even rarer.
Foreshadowing is a writing technique that provides the reader clues about events that will happen afterwards. This is actually the planting of hints about what will happen later in the story. It prepares children for the outcome and reassures them when the suspense is very high. An ideal foreshadowing is subtle and often contributes to high quality.
Irony is a particular tone created when the speaker extends a meaning that is opposite to the words he or she says.
A Narrator is a speaker who tells the story. One must never confuse the author with the narrator.
The theme is the main message or deeper meaning the author intends to communicate to the reader. The theme of a book must be described in universal terms, not in terms of the plot. The plot is the way the universal theme is carried out in that particular book. Themes can be applied to the reader’s own life or to other literature. Didacticism is preaching and teaching so explicitly that children lose pleasure in the story and reject its message. The primary theme is most important theme in the story: children’s books usually have one primary theme of moral and teaching. Themes must be clearly stated; one word is not usually enough. To say that a book’s theme is “friendship” is not clear. It may mean, “Friends are a person’s most valuable possession.” It may also mean, “Friends can never be trusted if their own interests are opposed to yours.” There are other secondary themes as well.
Types of themes
An explicit theme
An explicit theme is one that is stated openly in the book. It is stated in universal terms in the book itself.
An implicit theme
An implicit theme is not directly stated, but which the reader can infer. Many times, readers will not notice that an explicit theme is directly stated, but they can often infer the theme anyway.
A setting tells us where and when a novel occurs. It includes the place and the time period in which the story takes place. There are two major types of settings, integral setting and backdrop setting. An integral setting is essential to the plot; it influences action, character or theme. A backdrop setting is relatively unimportant to the plot; it is like the featureless curtain or flat painted scenery of a theater. We may agree that the setting is integral because the story must happen in a big city; another may is in fact the conclusion that comes after the climax of the story.
Style is the language used in a book. Style is actually the way in which the words are put together to create the story. Most of the books of children are written in a standard style which sounds natural, but when we carefully analyze, it becomes clear that it is more formal than speech. Sentences are complete; expressions like “um,” “you know,” and “like ” are avoided; contractions are used less often than in ordinary speech. Writers use many devices of style to make novels interesting and engaging and gripping. Some of the devices are mentioned below.-
Imagery is the device which is frequently used. It is an appeal to any of the senses- taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. It paints pictures in our mind. Imagery is the use of selected details to describe one thing in terms of another.
Figurative language uses words in a non-literal way, giving them a meaning beyond their ordinary one. Some of the common figures are Personification, Simile or Metaphor.
Devices of sound
By devices of sound the writers can increase pleasure and clarity. Books which use many such devices should be read aloud Poetry is particularly rich in such devices. Figures like Onomatopoeia, Alliteration, Consonance, Rhyme, Assonance, and Rhythm are used by authors to heighten the effect.
Bedsides, Meter, cadence, puns, Hyperbole, Allusion and symbols are also kept by the author in mind when writing a novel. Qualities which a good author avoids in style include triteness (dull, stale overused expressions), condescension (talking down to children, making them feel unintelligent or immature), didacticism, sensationalism, and sentimentality.
Point Of View
Point of view depends upon who the narrator is and how much he or she knows. Actually it is a question of who is telling the story and how. Points of view are of following types:
It uses “I” – A character is telling the story.
It uses “you”. The author speaks directly to the reader. Second person is seldom used; it is found most often in nonfiction today.
It uses “he,” “she,” or “it” – The author is telling about the characters. There are three third person points of view. The first is Limited omniscient in which we are told the thoughts and feelings of only one character (sometimes, but very seldom, of two or three characters). The second is Omniscient in which we are told everything about the story, including the thoughts and feelings of all the characters, and even information in the author’s mind which no character knows. And the third is Dramatic or objective in which we are told only what happens and what is said; we do not know any thoughts or feelings of the characters. It is called “dramatic” because it includes the words and actions, just what you would see and hear if it were in a play or film.
Basically a tone is the attitude of an author towards what he or she writes, but it may be easier to understand if we think of it as the attitude that we (the reader) get from the author’s words. It is the hardest literary element to discuss; often we can recognize it but not put it into words. The easiest tone to recognize is humor. In describing tone, adjectives like humorous, mysterious, creepy, straight-forward, matter-of-fact, exciting, boring, etc. are commonly used.
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