© 2009 Steve Campsall
kwikguide - analysing fiction
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WHAT IS FICTION?
Fiction is imaginary writing, which, at school, most often takes the form of the short story or the novel - both of which are forms of narrative. The word narrative is the technical term for a story told from a particular viewpoint that is built around a climax of action and which tells of a main character called a protagonist. Another important feature of narrative is its structure it has a ' beginning-middle-end' in which each event is linked by a ' cause and effect' relationship.
Understanding how to analyse a narrative and comment on its form and structure is important to your English and English Literature GCSE exams (as is knowing how to construct your own effective narrative, i.e. writing an interesting story).
SOME IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF FICTION
NARRATIVE VIEWPOINT & VOICE
All stories need a storyteller. From whose viewpoint is your story told? Which ' narrative voice' or ' narrator' can your ' hear' telling the story? Is it the protagonist's or some other character? Is it an ' outside' voice or the author's? Is the voice totally reliable? Naive? Innocent? What effect does this have on what details you hear and how you ' hear' them can you believe all you hear? Why? Always work out and consider what effect the author's choice of ' narrative voice' or ' point of view' has on the way you receive and understand events and detail.
Most stories, at their heart, are quite straightforward - a series of chronological events that occurred either in the real world or in someone's imagination. The skill of a storyteller is to transform a straightforward story into a tense, absorbing and interesting narrative by slowly releasing details and building up what is called the plot.
Try to analyse the structure of any story you are currently reading (i.e. the way its details and events unfold) to recognise how its writer has built up its parts progressively and effectively. The climax of a story needs to be gripping and, often, exciting. Can you tell how the author has built up the plot to a satisfying and effective climax and resolution?
Stories don't have to end happily but the reader usually demands a satisfying ending - an end that leaves the reader feeling that the story was, in some way, worthwhile. What makes the story you are reading (or writing!) worthwhile? With which characters do you feel sympathy? How has this been achieved? What themes has the writer explored? Do you feel better informed in some way about some aspect of life having read the story?
Learn to be reflective. Authors make many choices when writing a short-story or novel for example, they use description to set a suitable atmosphere or mood they use dialogue and description to create realistic characters they weave a convincing and absorbing plot by releasing information slowly and building tension. Think of how and why the author of your story did these things.
' Conflict and rising action'
Stories usually open with an introduction to the main character (protagonist) the place and the time a suitable mood or atmosphere is set the main character's life is, for the time being, seen to be balanced or in a state of ' equilibrium' .
The writer brings the ' protagonist' into a ' conflict' which disturbs the equilibrium the action is built up to a climax the protagonist deals with the conflict the reader will sympathise with the protagonist during the conflict.
The conflict is resolved in a way that will be satisfying to the reader the story ends the protagonist has dealt with the conflict and grown ' wiser' from a state of ' innocence' to a state of ' experience' .
EXPOSITION, SETTING and MOOD
In the exposition the reader must be put into the right frame of mind to accept the story. This is often done by creating a suitable mood or atmosphere and setting is often used to do this. Make sure you can identify how this is done in your story.
Characters need to be created to be realistic and believable. The main character, called the protagonist, is always a person with whom the reader can empathise. Make sure you can recognise what techniques the writer uses to make this happen and why it is done. How is it you do not feel the same way about the other characters, especially the ' bad guys' . How true to life is this in reality? Why do we accept such things in stories and feel they are ' realistic' ?
IN THE EXAM
1. Read the question with great care and highlight the key words or bullet points (these must be covered in your answer).
2. When you begin to write, don't waffle. Tackle the question immediately and directly. Always very briefly summarise what the text is generally about (its theme) and specifically about (its content) end your first paragraph by briefly suggesting what the author's overall message is for the reader and why you feel the author was motivated to write about this subject in this way.