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Fiction Lecture Transcript

1. “Fiction”: The fiction lecture’s designed to help you better understand terminology that will help you analyze the pieces of fiction that you will be reading in this class. It will be better if you will have already read the story of “Icarus” and “Through the Tunnel” before viewing this lecture as I use those two pieces as examples. So, if you already read those pieces, please feel free to click on the green button and move to the next slide.

2. “Types of Fiction” The first type of fiction we’re going to talk is myths/legends, and myths and legends tend to be about Hero’s and God’s. They are designed to try to explain almost in a scientific fashion what happens in the world [ why do people live, why do they die, why do we have seasons]. And so for example in our orientation, we read the myth of Persephone and Demeter, and again that myth was designed to try explain why do we have a growing season and why do we have a winter season when things appear to die. And so myths and legends were kind of designed to explain the world we live in.

3. “Type of Fiction continued”- Another type of fiction that we will be covering in this class is folktales. Now folktales are very different from myths and legends, rather than dealing with Gods and Hero’s, we’re dealing primarily with regular human beings [men, women, and children]. The idea of folktales, rather than explaining the universe or the world as a whole, folktales tend to focus on human psychology and the reason why humans do things. So for example in Cinderella, we see that the stepmother treats Cinderella very terribly, right, and this kind of helps us understand why perhaps stepparents don’t treat stepchildren the same. We can also take a look at folktales, and they try us why people are cruel to one another, why do people fall in and out of love - the kind of things that happen in human relationships, and that’s pretty much the purpose of most folktales.

4. “Types of Fiction continued- Another type of fiction is a parable, and a parable is a short story to teach the reader something. Normally they have moral tones or religious tones. For example in the Bible, we have lots of parables. One parable we have read is the story of Icarus, and the story of Icarus is designed to teach readers that boys should follow what their father say. Icarus ignores his father and flies too high, his wings melt, and he falls into the ocean and dies. So it’s a short story, but it’s designed to tell children you should follow what your parents say. And we get lots of these kinds of stories as we go through history.

5. “Structure”- When we analyze fiction, we’re going to take a look at the external and internal structure. Now the external structure is how the story is divided [like titles, subtitles, and even spacing]. For example, when you read a short story you might see a large space between two paragraphs - that large spacing can often identify a large period of time has passed. So taking a look at how the story is divided can let us know how the story is progressing.

Another part of structure we like to look at is the internal structure; this is the passage of time so the story will tell us what day it is, or we might get a clue that time has passed because the weather has changed or we’ve moved from summer to winter. Even the location can be very important in telling a story. For example in “Through the Tunnel” we can see two very distinct locations, we have the safe beach with the white sand and all the umbrella’s, and then that’s contrasted with the wild bay with the jagged rock and the splashing water. We get a very different sense of these two locations and what’s going to happen in the story. So, structure can really give us a lot of clues as to what the author was trying to tell us.

6. “The Plot” - The plot is the movement of the story from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. Now what’s interesting is that in fiction, sometimes our story begins in the middle or they begin in the end, but when we talk about plot and the structure, we always talk about how the actual story runs, from the beginning to the end - even if the story was written from the end to the beginning

7. “Setting”- In addition to taking a look at the plot, now we’re going to take a look at different pieces of the story. For example the setting, the setting tells us the time period, the place, and objects. So for example in “Through the Tunnel” we know it’s kind of a modern time period with them flying over to France and the idea of him buying plastic goggles. We know that this isn’t a time very far in the past. We know the place, so we have the idea that we’re in France. We have an English boy in a French town, so they don’t have the same communication. We take a look at the objects, like the tunnel itself, which is dark and you can’t see all the way through and it’s kind of scary process. We have the environment and the ambiance. We can really feel the difference between that beach that is like the happy safe beach, even the young boys says you know, when he go back to that beach for babies and the wild bay is more like this beach for men. He sees those older boys that seemed like men to him. And so we get a lot of information from the places that the characters go in pieces of fiction.

8. “Characterization” –Now just like in dramatic structures when we’re reading a play, we have characters. It’s the same thing when we have a piece of fiction. We often have characters we take a look at, the differences is that when you watch a play, you can only kind of see the characters and you don’t get a lot of personal information about them but in a book or short story, we get lots of information about the characters.

So there are two main types of characters that we will see in a piece of fiction, flat characters or round characters. Flat characters are characters that are really one dimensional. We really don’t learn a lot about them. For example a butler: a butler in most stories tends to open doors and show people in, but we never learn about the butler’s personal life. But the more complex characters we called round characters. These are normally our main characters and not only do we see what they do in the book, we often know their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and this just makes them more like real people to us so we can identify with them better.

9. “Characters” – When we talk about characters and character types, we’re really taking a look at something that looks very similar to what we saw in dramatic structure, but this time rather than talking about it in the same way, I’d like you to think about a western because sometimes when you think about western, the character types seem really clear. For example in a western, the protagonist is usually the guy in the white hat. He’s the one that’s going to save the day, and the antagonist is usually the one in the black hat with the black mustache. In the novel it’s usually clear who the hero is and who the villain is, and so often these are easy to identify.

We also have foils. In a lot of fiction [again a foil is character that going to give a lot of contrast another] a foil can be very surprising because he or she will reverse a position with another character. Now going back to that idea of the western, you have the good guy, the protagonist and he usually has a confident or somebody who’s going to come up to him and tell him what the problem is try and relate that information. Then we also have a lot of stock characters [again these are the same kind of characters we see over and over again their normally more flat than round because we don’t normally learn about them]. But for example for some stock characters we might see in a western, we might see the sheriff, the sheriff usually unable to take care of the problem [very foolish, gets drunk a lot], sometimes we get a couple of braggarts in the bar [they usually end up getting shot because their mouths are bigger than their abilities]. We usually have a victim [often that’s the woman who’s tied to the train tracks who needs to be saved], and we often will get some comical characters who are running through the town who makes us laugh and they bring a little levity to the story.

I think that as you read pieces of fiction, you will see these kinds of characters over and over again and so just remembering them as characters out of a western can be really help, because most people are familiar with that genre.

10. “Social class and Economic Factors”- Now we get a really clear picture usually in fiction about social class in economic factors that affect our main characters because we’re reading about them. We’re usually pretty quickly learn their gender, what their social classes are, their age, race and ethnicity and this often contributes to the way that they act in the novel, and so knowing this right off helps us predict what they should do. And when they do something against that, then that’s something we should really pay attention to because it’s suppose to be surprising to us.

11. “Point of View” – Something different from dramatic structure is point of view. Now in point of view, we see how the story is told. In a play or a drama, the story is told pretty much the same way. You have actors up on the stage, and the male actors do something or the female actress does something and we watch it. However in a book or a short story, we actually can hear people differently and we can hear more of their thoughts and feelings. So, a book can be written like an autobiography and so we might get it narrated by first person where the narrator says “I did this and I did that”.

Now most stories are written in third person “he did this, or she did that”, however depending on the book and the narrator, we get a different level of information. An omniscient, third person narrator will tell us what he and she did and that narrator will tell us everything all the characters are thinking because that narrator knows everything. Now sometimes we’ll get a third person limited omniscient narrator, this narrator will tell us what few characters are thinking and feeling but that narrator will not tell us all the characters are thinking and feeling.

Sometimes we will get an intrusive narrator and can be interesting, what’ll happen is the narrator is telling a story, for example “he walked and knocked on the door, she opened the door and smiled and said hello”, suddenly the narrator will stop telling the story and say, “reader what do you think, do you think he is happy to see her, do you think they will fall in love?” So this narrator intrudes into the story and suddenly addresses the reader and breaks that story line. You really need to pay attention when this happens because the writer is doing it for a specific reason, the writer wants you to think about something or notice something of the story.

We also get third person narrators who are objective recorders - they kind of act like a camera and they just record exactly what people do. But we don’t tend to get into anybody’s head because a camera can’t get into someone’s head. We can only see what they say and how they act. Finally, we sometimes get stream of conscious novels - this is kind of a newer thing that’s happening in more modern times and there has been some pretty famous writers like James Joyce who write in a stream of conscious model. We’re really not going to have time to get into that in this class, but stream of conscious means that you have a person who kind of writes all of his or her feelings down and thoughts, it doesn’t have a real order - it’s almost like someone is dreaming upon a piece of paper, but it can be really fascinating.

12. “Theme-Central idea of story”- Similar to drama, short stories and pieces of fiction often have a theme or some kind of central idea that the writer’s trying to express to the reader. Now as we analyze theme, we’re going to take a look at two different kinds of ideas: one is called archetypes or repeated patterns that we see over and over again in literature, religion or art. They usually express some kind of universal truth. And then we’re going to talk about literary motifs which is details or patterns that are repeated in a single work.

Now when we talk about archetypes, these are ideas that happen over and over again [like the birth of a hero, the quest, we’ll see wise men, the eternal child like Peter Pan, the seducer / temptress that would be like Adam and Eve, with Eve offering the apple] The idea is that we see these patterns over and over again when we read literature and we look at art. These are huge ideas that are repeated, so they are almost like culture ideas or culture icons. So when we talk about these kinds of ideas, we often talk about the piece of fiction we read and we talk about these ideas outside of fiction. For example I might read a story about a hero, and then I’ll say well it’s not just this hero in this book but this hero is like these other books I have read or it’s like this painting I’ve seen.

Now, when we want to talk about the piece of fiction itself and not go outside, then we usually talk about a literary motif [and this again it’s a pattern in a single piece of work]. For example in “Through the Tunnel” I might want to talk about the idea of holding one’s breath, because this little boy holds his breath over and over again trying to hold it long enough to get through the tunnel. So looking at the literary motif, he’s kind of on a quest, he’s trying to get through the tunnel, it’s a struggle between mind and body as he tries to train his body to do it and it’s a right of passage. Before he goes through the tunnel he’s a boy, but after he finishes going through the tunnel he’s a man. So these are all kinds of literary motifs that are in my story and if I just want to talk about my story I would call them literary motifs. Now the idea of a quest, can also be an archetype or a theme that goes to many ideas, so if I want talk about the right of passage, or the quest that this boy goes on and I want to compare it to outside then I would probably call all that an archetype then, because I want to go outside my book to talk about this idea.

So that’s the real difference so when you analyze short pieces of fiction or novels you’re going to talk about either something just what’s inside the novel itself which would be a literary motif or if you want to talk about an idea that’s in the novel, but also in many other areas then that’s more like an archetype or outside theme.

13. “Symbolism”- When we talk about symbolism, we usually focus on personal symbolism [which is the personal symbolism of the writer of the piece of fiction] or we talk about culture symbolism. Now culture symbolism is a little bit easier. These are ideas that are in our culture - for example a rose usually means love or a diamond ring means marriage or engagement. So these are ideas that are in our culture that are very clear, and so we can usually pick up those symbols easily, but sometimes writers have personal symbols, something that means something to them personally. For example there is one famous writer who felt that a swan meant love and so one of his stories he said, as Bill looked at the lovely girl he thought of swans. Well unless you knew that writer equated a swan with love, you probably wouldn’t understand what he meant. So as we analyze fiction, not only are we going to look for culture symbols, but we’re probably going to learn a little bit about each of these authors to see if we learn a little bit about their personal life, because that might reveal what the story is all about.

14. “Irony”- Just like dramas and plays, short fictions and longer pieces of fiction often can have irony in them. Now we have dramatic irony [just like we see in a play, which is the difference in what the reader and what the character in the book knows]. So for example, as we’re reading a book we might know that there’s a monster behind door, and so we get very tense and upset as we see a character just about to open the door, because we know the monster is there and the character does not and this creates a lot of tension.

But in addition to dramatic irony, we often have circumstantial irony, and I have a picture of Alanis Morrisette here on the slide. If you know that song, “Isn’t It Ironic” the ideas you have a man who’s afraid of flying on a plane, he say’s the plane will crash if he does, he finally flies on a plane and it does crash. So that circumstantial irony, and so we often will take a look at the too. Irony again gives us more clues as to what the writer was intending when he or she wrote the piece, and it gives clues as to what the meaning of the piece is, so we like to take a look and figure it out.

Last Updated: 02/05/2015
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