From Robert Scholes’ book Elements of Fiction
History – Realism – Romance – Fantasy
These major headings can be subdivided into “modes” of fiction.
Let’s examine Romance for example…
Romance – fictional world is made to appear better
Satire – fictional world is made to appear worse
These Modes follow observable patterns. Here are three of the most common patterns:
Romantic Mode: education of a foolish character presents a comic rise
Satiric Mode: initiation into ugliness and disorder amounts to corruption
Romantic: Heroic figure falls – tragedy
Satiric: Lowly creature falls – pathos
Romantic: quest or voyage hero returns to marry princess (for example)
Satiric: adventures of anti-hero will parody quest pattern (picaresque)
Satire and Pathos debase the world to criticize it
Tragedy and Comedy elevate the world to make it acceptable.
OK, what about Realism?
Realism uses the same patterns of Education, Expulsion, and Quest, yet usually to ask questions about the patterns:
1. Was the education beneficial?
2. Was the expulsion justified?
3. Was the quest worthwhile?
The old standards that you covered in the sixth grade (or at least I hope you did) remain the cornerstones in the understanding of fiction: plot, character, and point of view. Let’s look at them again.
1. a man’s situation can change
2. he himself changes
3. our understanding of him changes
Here are some things to watch for:
As readers, we need to be aware of the subtle second impulse. That’s the one that reveals meaning.
Point of View – the way a story is told (i.e., the attitude of the narrator to the story he relates). Point of view can be determined by examining the Nature of the Storyteller and the Language of Narration
If he is a character in the action (1st person narration)…
If the narrator is NOT a character in the action (3rd person narration)…
Is he a 1st person narrator telling a story that doesn’t involve his presence?
In any case, the reader needs to be alert to any bias the narrator shows and ready to compensate accordingly.
Tone – unstated attitude of the narrator is conveyed through language. The reader must be alert to subtle uses of irony. Remember, an author will repeat important tonal signals. Here’s an example from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway:
But Sir William Bradshaw stopped at the door to look at a picture. He looked in the corner for the engraver’s name. His wife looked too. Sir William Bradshaw was so interested in art.
The tone here is sarcastic. Woolf indirectly attacks Sir William and his wife with verbal irony by saying they are “interested in art,” yet by showing them looking for the engraver’s name, she reveals the truth that they are clueless. The last line might be spoken “soooooo interested in art.”
Woolf portrays the Bradshaws several more times like this in the novel (just so you will catch it).
Design is the process by which an author writes a story to develop meaning. We usually are concerned with the details of a story (the plot). Design is the opposite of that flowing story: it’s the technique the author uses to divulge meaning in the work. The two most common techniques in design are juxtaposition and repetition.
Juxtaposition – the positioning of scenes, settings, characters adjacent in the text to promote comparison. If a story uses flashbacks, ask why the scenes are in that order (specifically why is this episode in the present followed by that particular flashback from the past)? Why does an author present details in a non-chronological order? These comparisons can lead to parallels in character, action, setting, which promote meaning.
Repetition – if it’s important, the author will repeat it in some way. Events, settings, situations, even words and actions can be repeated for emphasis. An alert reader prepares for and is rewarded by these repetitive elements.