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17.06.2011 02:16    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Writing Craft  Writing Tips      Tags: fiction writing definitions  

Definitions (by Madison Smartt Bell unless otherwise indicated)


Aesthetic Distance - A deliberate emotional remove from the events of the story that can be closed or opened, resulting in the reader's paradoxical awareness, in the captivating throes of a gripping story, that he is reading a story, not experiencing real life. (Philip Gerard)

Affect - Feeling associated with an action: an emotion or mood associated with an idea or action, or the external expression of such a feeling. (Hayakawa)

Affective - The word affective in such an expression as the ‘affective uses of language,' describes not only the way in which language can arouse strong feelings, but also the way in which it arouses extremely subtle, sometimes unconscious, responses. (Hayakawa)

Allegory - A narrative whose literal objects, characters, and/or events are systematically related to some grouping of more abstract concepts on some other plane, often philosophical or religious.

Alliteration - One or more consonants recurring in successive words, usually the first sound of each. (Barzun)

Authorial Intrusion - Any uninvited or unwelcome manifestation of the writer within the story. Usually treated as a flaw, the authorial intrusion can sometimes be deployed to good effect.

Backstory - Antecedent action, whatever has happened before (leading up to) the present action of a narrative. Backstory is the material which exposition must somehow relate.

Cameo - A small (usually singular) role in a narrative.

Catharsis - Purgation of the sensibility by some powerful experience which the reader may enjoy vicariously. Catharsis produced by pity and fear is part of Aristotle's definition of tragedy.

Central Intelligence - This phrase, invented by Henry James, denotes a method for shifting the point of view from one character to another within a narrative . . . on a curve which usually passes through an omniscient phase at its height.

Character - An actor in a fictional narrative-a personage invented by the writer.

Characterization - Method of portraiture of invented personages who appear in fictional narratives.

Climax - The moment (usually but not always a moment in the plot) when the forces deployed in a narrative come to a head.

Comic Relief - A break in a serious and/or suspenseful tone-an interruption by some sort of joke.

Conflict - The opposition of forces (of character, plot, or sometimes imagery) in a narrative which leads to a climax and thence to resolution.

Denouement - The "wrap-up" phase at the end of a narrative, the phase where final outcomes are explained.

Design - The structural, formal organization of all the elements present in a given narrative.

Dialect - Idiosyncratic manner of speaking which may depend on combinations of region, class, race, nationality, and so on.

Dialogue - Conversation occurring among characters in a narrative.

Didacticism - The teaching element carried too far, so that the writing becomes lecturing or preaching. (Philip Gerard)

Epigraph - A quotation from some other writer's text used to introduce your own. Epigraphs are often used to suggest the theme of a narrative.

Epiphany - This term, coined by James Joyce, designates the moment in a narrative when events, images, ideas, or any combination of these have reached critical mass and produce for the reader an explosive (and usually unparaphrasable) recognition of meaning.

Essay - From the French essayer, "to try"-an attempt at locating a larger truth through the connection of ideas and experiences, through rhetorical or narrative argument. Typically, the essay attempts to "prove" a thesis-not in the courtroom sense but in the sense of testing it against all the best contrary evidence. (Philip Gerard)

Exposition - The relation of whatever background information is necessary to the reader to understand the present action of the story

Extensional - The extensional meaning of an utterance is that which it points to or denotes in the extensional world. . . . That is to say, the extensional meaning is something that cannot be expressed in words, because it is that which the word stands for. (Hayakawa)

Falling Action - Sequence of events following a climax of a narrative, usually involves declining tension and suspense.

Flashback - A recursion from the present action of a narrative to some full scene in that narrative's prior chronology.

Freitag Triangle - Graphic rendition of a narrative's movement to and from its climax.

Full Scene - Any episode in a narrative that is given a full dramatic rendering. A full scene makes the reader feel as if he is present for the action, or watching it in a theater or film.

Half Scene - A partially dramatized scene, with some summary elements included; a hybrid of full scene and summary.

Idea - An abstraction of thought that underlies an action/observation. (Philip Gerard)

Imagery - The use of descriptions in a narrative to suggest or evoke something beyond what is literally being described. Imagery may approach the quality of symbolism, but is less rigidly defined.

In Medias Res - Literally, "in the middle of things"; describes that tactic of opening a narrative in the middle of a sequence of events rather than at the beginning, usually without much exposition offered up front.

Inscape - Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins coined this term to identify the same phenomenon that Joyce called "epiphany."

Intensional - the intensional meaning of a word or expression is that which is suggested (connoted) inside one's head. (Hayakawa)

Linear Narrative - A story organized in a linear sequence. The simplest linear narratives proceed from the beginning through the middle to the end without deviations, usually tracing relationships of cause and effect.

Metaphor - An implied comparison which does not use words such as "like" or "as" to connect the subjects being compared.

Modular Narrative - A story organized according to some nonlinear principle-and usually without a strict cause-and-effect structure. Modular narratives are organized by juxtapositions rather than by linear continuity.

Narration - Mode of telling a story. In first-person narration, the story is directly related to the reader by a speaker called I. In third-person narration, the reader experiences a story about Bob or Susan; he or she. Second-person narration, the sort of story where some kind of you is specified as the protagonist or as a character, usually amounts to nothing more than a programmatic substitution of this you for the third- or first-person pronoun; sometimes; however, one finds a second-person narrative which is in fact faithful to the mode of direct address.

Narrative - A real or fictional event told as a story, based in concrete characters, actions, and details that move toward conclusion in a coherent, unified way, rather than as an abstract argument or exposition. (Philip Gerard)

Narrative Stance - The technical point of view (first person or third person) combined with psychic distance (level of emotional identification with characters) and tone (narrator's attitude). (Philip Gerard)

Narrator - A character in charge of telling the story from some position within it.

Non Sequitur - Anything that appears not to follow in the normal course of narrative, appears to be misplaced.

Novel - A long, unified work of prose. The novel we're concerned with has large ambitions-including a great scope and effects of scale: the cumulative weight of many characters, scenes, chapters, repetitions, and the time that has passed both in the novel and in reading the novel. (Philip Gerard)

Omniscience - The power of knowing everything about the actions and/or the thoughts and feelings of any and all of the characters in a narrative. Omniscience is a power of God sometimes usurped by writers. A story which reports only the actions of all the characters is said to be externally omniscient; a story which also reports the thoughts and feelings of the characters is internally omniscient as well.

Persuasion of Continuity - Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye's term for "the direct experience of literature," for whatever it is that keeps the reader reading. ". . . the power that keeps us turning the pages of a novel and that holds us in our seats at the theatre." (Philip Gerard)

Plot - What happens in a narrative, the sequence of events.

Plot - A sequence of causally linked event in a story that result in an outcome that matters; typically these "events" are really actions-reflecting choices-taken by a protagonist after an initial triggering circumstance. (Philip Gerard)

Point of View - Perspective on events of a narrative; the position (which may change) from which the story is told.

Possession - (Northrop Frye) The reader's sense of what the story is about, the overarching themes of the work, held in memory after the plot has wound up and the persuasion of continuity loses urgency. (Philip Gerard)

Present Action - Whatever is happening in a narrative's present time frame.

Profluence - "Our sense, as we read, that we're getting somewhere" (John Gardner); the effect of any element, idea, or device that moves the story along. Related to Frye's persuasion of continuity. (Philip Gerard)

Psychic Distance - The emotional attachment we feel for a character-either as writer or reader. (Philip Gerard)

Realism - A mode of story-telling which appears to present an accurate picture of the real world as we commonly know it.

Real Time - Time as inescapably measured by clocks and calendars: hour by hour, month by month, decade by decade. Real time, which does not skip or condense any of its moments, is something that storytellers must often distort.

Resolution - The outcome, positive or negative (or inconclusive), of conflicting energies in a narrative.

Resonance - Like so many literary terms, borrowed from music to describe the effect of one story element playing off another so that the reader experiences "harmonics" of meaning. (Philip Gerard)

Reversal - An unexpected turn, usually in the plot; a reversal of the reader's expectations.

Rising Action - Sequence of events approaching a climax in narrative, usually involves a build-up of tension and suspense.

Sentimentality - Relying on predictable emotional responses, rather than a well-crafted story, to move the reader. (Philip Gerard)

Setting - The physical environment in which a narrative takes place.

Simile - A stated comparison which makes use of words such as "like" or "as" to connect the subjects being compared.

Story - The arc of movement through time and space that unifies the actions of characters into meaning. (Philip Gerard)

Straight Line - Typical utterance of a straight man.

Straight Man - In comedy, a nondescript, "average" character who makes average, typical remarks which cue the comic responses of the principal character-the comedian.

Subject - Is refined, narrow, cast as a particular case: ‘The Civil War,' ‘Negro League Baseball,' ‘Irish Servants in Boston.'

Subject Matter - The concrete, real-world stuff of the book (e.g., World War II, fire fighting, ballet dancing, the exploration of the Congo basin, acupuncture, gourmet cooking). (Philip Gerard)

Subtext - Information which lies below the stated surface of the story; see Backstory above.

Subtext - The subject that underlies the apparent subject in a book, chapter, scene, or sequence of scenes. (Philip Gerard)

Summary - An efficient account of events in a narrative that are not given full dramatic rendering. When reading summary, the reader has the sensation of being told something, rather than witnessing it.

Surrealism - A mode of story-telling which depends on fantastic alterations and distortions of the world as we commonly know it.

Suspense - An urgent desire to know a piece of information or an outcome, large or small-whether you will be guillotined tomorrow, or whether you will be able to dislodge that piece of barbecued pork from between your teeth. Suspense in fiction is usually generated by withholding information.

Suspense - Related to profluence; the anxiety experienced by the reader of a story awaiting the answer to an urgent narrative question. At a deeper level, Gardner claims that through suspense we share the characters' anxiety of choice and thereby participate vicariously in the drama. (Philip Gerard)

Symbolism - The systematic use of something in a narrative to represent something else-often the use of some concrete object to stand for an abstraction.

Theme - A message or meaning embedded in a narrative, or (preferably) evolving naturally out of a narrative.

Time Management - System for organizing the events of a narrative vis a vis real time.

Tone - What the story sounds like; analogous to tone of voice in ordinary conversation, which often does more to convey the mood of the speaker than does the actual content of the speech.

Tone - The attitude of the author toward the story, as reflected in the diction and stance of the narrator. (Philip Gerard)

Topic - A broad area of inquiry: ‘war' or ‘sports' or ‘immigration.' (Philip Gerard)

Universal - Touching some basic truth of human experience and therefore accessible to a large and diverse audience. (Philip Gerard)

Unreliable Narrator - A character whose version of the events in the story is not to be entirely trusted.

Vector (narrative vector) - A line defining the direction of movement in a story, roughly synonymous with a plot line. Such vectors may be construed as separate structural elements, especially in modular design.

 
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