1. DEFINITIONS -
PLOT what happens, the series of events in a story, has a beginning, middle and an end
CONFLICT a clash of opposing forces (to be further described)
EXPOSITION story gets under way, the beginning, setting and major characters are usually presented
DENOUEMENT (da-noo-man’) story is “wrapped up,” the ending, questions are answered.
The PLOT, or “what happens” in a story, must evolve or develop. A writer will build a story up around some kind of a CONFLICT. There are three patterns of CONFLICTS generally used.
One pattern is referred to as man versus himself. In this writing pattern the character suffers from internal stress. By internal stress I mean self-doubts, anxieties, indecision a story character can be haunted by something from the past (Will his family discover that he committed a crime years ago?) should he remain on his job which is emotionally unrewarding yet promises continuing excellent wages? Perhaps the author depicts a character to be so ambitious that the inner forces driving him also make him mean, even cruel to the family he loves. His family turns against him and he cannot understand it. The driven, ambitious man remains continuously bewildered by his family’s progressively hostile attitude towards him. Those are some examples of inner CONFLICT of the man versus himself pattern that is used to develop PLOT in a story.
A second pattern is that called man versus man, or men. This is not an internal, inside the mind, struggle of a character but an external struggle. Examples are: one against a single person or a group, football teams competing against each other, two political parties in opposition of each other, or two nations entering into a war against each other.
The third pattern is that of man versus environment. Some examples of this: a man tries to survive in a jungle, a person has committed an offense against society so must go to jail, and a nation fighting a drought, desperately trying to save its farm products.
As an aid to the reader, to recognize CONFLICT, find the main problem facing the central character. Another factor, a short story can evolve from a single CONFLICT or around more than one.
The EXPOSITION of a story is usually at the beginning of a story. This consists of introducing the reader to the major characters and the setting of the story.
When the story is reaching its ending, or DENOUEMENT, the resolution to the CONFLICT is made, the story is tied up or brought to its conclusion. Perhaps we should say that an answer to the CONFLICT has been reached. The answer provided by the author may not satisfy all the characters in the story nor satisfy the reader, however, some kind of resolution or decision has been attained.
SETTING tells when, where, the time and place.
Why is SETTING NECESSARY? Why is it important for an author to refer to a place and a time that a story occurs? Why is SETTING vital to fiction? There are several reasons.
One reason is that the characters and events in the story are made real if they are “placed.” There is no drifting in time or in space. This gives the story credibility or makes it believable. The story performers have “roots.”
The SETTING also establishes a mood. If the author writes about the dark, gloomy house he not only tells you where the event is occurring, but he generates a feeling of somberness and even dread in the reader. This is the purpose the author wants to achieve. The writer uses SETTING to generate a particular mood or atmosphere in the reader’s mind.
SETTING provides a source of CONFLICT, and we’ve already learned that CONFLICT is essential in establishing a PLOT. As an example, when a major story character struggles to climb to the very top of a mountain that men has never climbed before, the CONFLICT pattern is man versus environment. Additionally contained therein is the SETTING, the mountain top of a particular mountain range and an extremely cold climate.
SETTING can also develop characterization, or an image of a personality, in a story. When an author writes that a man is sitting quietly, rocking to and fro in the rocking chair, the grandfather’s clock ticking beside him; the author is reflecting the fictional person’s age, and his inactivity in a quiet, still room. The furniture could be significant of a past era, or period of time.
Sometimes the clues are too few and, therefore, the SETTING is vague or not too clear; a passage referring to a powdered wig map suggest the 18th century, after five years of bitter hostility offers only a time span, frost on the windowpane suggest a cold climate area, and a television set thrusts you into the general present time.
It can be presented in a concrete fashion such as on the 5th of July in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the height of the noon-hour rush at Dell and Main Streets, or it can be presented with descriptive details the sun beating down mercilessly, plants and flowers sadly sagging, roaming dogs’ tongues hanging listlessly at the sides of their mouths; the drying village was in a deep state of lethargy (state of unconsciousness).
Frequently you, the reader, have to draw conclusions from the details and suggestions given in the story.
Let’s review the four major roles that SETTING plays: (1) it makes a story credible or believable (2) it aids in establishing a mood or an atmosphere in the reader (3) it develops a source of CONFLICT, and (4) it develops the characterization of a performer in a story; the image of a personality is projected.
1. DEFINITIONS -
CHARACTERS who, the fictional persons
CHARACTERIZATION the creation of lifelike people in fiction
An author reveals his CHARACTERS in several ways. He can have a character speak and this dialogue will reveal the character’s personality. The reader heeds what the character says, and the reader will make inferences and judgments based on this dialogue. “I don’t care if you are ill. You said you’d have it completed by today. I don’t want to hear any excuses. You’re lazy and an incompetent!” A reader of that dialogue would be apt to conclude that the character is impatient, intolerant, and lacking in understanding.
Another important way an author develops CHARACTERIZATION is by describing how the character acts in different situations. Everything the person does is a clue to his personality. If a character is depicted as heaping her clothes on a chair, letting some fall on the floor and rarely bothering to ever hang them up, she would be perceived as a careless, sloppy person. If story performers are depicted as civic minded giving their hearts and home to the needy, then readers would perceive them to be compassionate, supportive people. Everything a fictional person does or the way he behaves will be clues to his personality.
CHARACTERIZATION is also revealed by the author commenting directly; he will come right out and tell you that the fictional person is a grasping, greedy person. The reader does not have to search out for clues; the author will include a sentence, or sentences, that clearly states the character traits of a performer in the story.
Other performers in a story can converse about a character which will give insight into that character’s personality. And, a description of a character’s appearance can also offer clues.
Often a writer will include a little of all of these techniques dialogue, describing action or behavior, direct commenting and appearance description in his effort to make the character believable to his readers.
The author wants the CHARACTERS to make a certain kind of impression on the reader so the author will be very selective in his choice of words. He influences your judgment about the character based on the description presented. Even if you do not have a favorable impression about a character in a story, so long as you are kept interested in the CHARACTER the author has succeeded in keeping you reading, in making you want to know what has happened.
There is no PLOT or any life in a story without CHARACTERS. They move the story onward. We can identify with them, we can learn to care about them, we can learn from them, and we can escape from our ordinary lives with them. A skillful writer will characterize his performers in a story in such a way that they can become real people to the readers.
MOOD the emotional charge or feeling that the reader internalizes as a result of reading a story
The story elements previously referred to, PLOT, SETTING, and CHARACTERS all contribute to the production of the MOOD of the story.
A lesser known element, it might also be called atmosphere, the world in which the CHARACTERS move. The air, which may be calm, sinister, oppressive, or joyous,that is breathed by the reader as he enters into the world of the short story is another way to describe MOOD.
The author’s choice of descriptive words is a major factor in producing a particular MOOD in the reader. If the author writes of the dark, cold winds and shadows in the night, he can elicit in the reader a MOOD of fear or, at least, apprehension. If Mrs. Stevens is described as hurriedly dropping batter into the pan, spinning and pushing the pan roughly into the oven, batter spilling over, and letting the oven door slam shut, the reader can infer a MOOD of haste and maybe confusion. If, on the other hand Mrs. Stevens carefully measured the spoons of batter, gingerly carried the pan to the oven and delicately closed the door afterward, the reader is made to sense calm in the proceedings. The descriptive diction contributes much to developing the MOOD.
The SETTING, locale and time, such as a hospital in Milan, Italy, during World War II often contributes to the MOOD of a story an impression of human suffering.
PLOT, also, is a factor in creating the MOOD of a story. A story that may include a romance (happy MOOD), then a tragic accident (sad MOOD), and finally the DENOUEMENT which leaves the reader with hope for the crippled sweetheart and a return to a modified normal life, completes on a happy note (uplifted MOOD).
The author seeks to affect the reader’s heart and to stimulate the reader’s intellect, so he describes incidents in certain ways. He thereby creates the effect he has wished for, the reader internalizes the MOOD.
TONE the attitude of the author toward his subject matter as the reader infers it
Another way of explaining TONE is to say that it is how the author feels about the ideas he presents in the story. His style of writing carries a TONE to the reader. Some words that are descriptive of TONE include: comic, tragic, ironical (saying one thing but meaning another), cold, witty, pathetic, sentimental, disillusioned, idealistic, satirical (ridiculing), and reportorial.
If you fail to detect the writer’s TONE, you may not understand his meaning. Often individual words and phrases are critical to the effect. What he chooses to emphasize or point out in fiction and his direct comments all help to reveal the author’s TONE.
“Insane consideration of atomic warfare” and “impending annihilation of the human race” are words that explicitly reveal the author’s attitude. If “Joe decided to become a boxer not realizing that boxing is a cruel sport” is written, the author is revealing his attitude toward that sport. If the author stresses that a character in his story is a fine, upstanding citizen, he wants the reader to think of this character as a fine person. The author wants you to share these feelings, he wants you to like or dislike with him.
This does not mean that the reader must accept what the author feels. Knowing that the author is trying to make you feel his ideas or thoughts, the reader should not be unduly influenced and should make his own independent judgments.
The reader must realize that the author’s TONE does infiltrate the writing. By understanding this, the reader can form his own opinions and make rational judgments.
F. POINT OF VIEW
POINT OF VIEW the perspective, or angle,from which the fiction is related
A story is told or recorded by someone from a POINT OF VIEW. Since the artistic unity of a piece of fiction may depend to a great degree on this facet of telling a story, deciding what POINT OF VIEW to use is one of the first and most important considerations a writer must face. What you see in fiction and how you understand it depends upon POINT OF VIEW which controls quality and amount of information the reader will receive.
The personal, first person POINT OF VIEW is projected when the story is unfolded by a major character or even a minor character. The character tells the story as he or she experiences it. The pronoun “I” is used throughout. (I had just gotten married and was looking for a house. I saw her eyes open wide. Re was sure of himself, but I was not so sure of myself.)
The objective POINT OF VIEW is used when an author tells us what the character does and says but not what he thinks. The author narrates the events in such a way that the reader sees and hears characters in action but does not enter the minds of any of them nor read any emotions into their actions. (Will looked at his aunt. She turned away.) The author or narrator merely records the events like a camera taking pictures.
The omniscient (knowing all) POINT OF VIEW is revealed from the perspective of a narrator that is outside of the story, not a character in the story. But, this narrator enters the character’s mind as an observer of the inner person. The omniscient narrator knows everything the character is doing, seeing and feeling. (Jones was inwardly angry but gave no sign). Smith continued chatting, but he sensed Jones’ anger.) (John was lonely but didn’t realize that Mary was lonely too.) If the omniscient narrator enters t he mind of only one character throughout the entire story then it is referred to as the partially omniscient POINT OF VIEW.
Writers can shift POINTS OF VIEW within the story. The reader then visualizes and internalizes the story from different POINTS OF VIEW also.
THEME the meaning, the significance of the fiction, a statement about life in general
If all of the elements of fiction have worked well together, there should be a resulting THEME. The THEME grows out of the subject of the story and is the author’s statement about life. The THEME should stimulate the reader’s intellect. All of the elements contribute to the “point” of the story. It is not to be confused with the subject of the story. If you look at the problems the characters confront, if any discoveries are being made, the tone of the story, the kind of world that is being presented the answers to these will direct you toward the THEME of the story.
Though a story will not begin with a THEME, one is found and it gives direction to the story. It is not a moral telling people what to do. It is a statement about life in general or about human beings in general. The reader can disagree with the author’s THEME, but the reader should be able to at least recognize it.
The THEME has to be abstracted by the reader from the fusion of PLOT, SETTING, CHARACTERS and TONE.
and Mr. Hyde
, by Robert L. Stevenson, a man is transformed into a monster. The THEME suggested by the author is that human beings have dual personalities, both good and bad. In
by E. B. White, the author can be suggesting an acceptance of death, life cycles continue on.
This concludes the first lesson plan wherein students have been introduced to the story elements. Now that they have been noted, explained and studied dependent upon the teacher’s method of reinforcement you may proceed with the analysis of the first story from the textbook.