West Chester University

Fall 2002

West Chester University

Spring 2002

Fall 2001





Course Information
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Effective Writing I
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Writing Descriptively
  What Makes a Good Story?
  Building a Thesis
  Notes on 'Purpose'
  Strategies for Writing Introductions
  Strategies for Writing Conclusions
  Assignment #5: Argument
  Understanding Rational Argument

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Fundamental Questions About Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Notes on Four Short Stories
  The Genesis of the Short Story
  Defining the Short Story
  The Art of the Short Story
  A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond
  Notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne
  Responding to 'The Birthmark'
  A Guided Reading of 'Bartleby the Scrivener'
  Bartleby--Questions for Analysis
  A Cultural Context for 'Bartleby the Scrivener'
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Study Guide for Fiction Exam
  Billy Collins - 'Introduction to Poetry'
  A Catalogue of Poems for Study
  Approaching a Definition of Poetry?
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry: Imagery
  Readings from 'The United States of Poetry'
  The Craft of Poetry: Sound
  The Craft of Poetry: Structure
  Lines of Continuity
  Study Guide for Poetry Exam
  The Birth of Drama
  On Tragic Character
  Stepping Through 'Oedipus the King'
  Analyzing 'Oedipus the King'
  The Relevance 'Oedipus'Today
  Study Guide for the Drama Exam

Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assignments
  LIT 165 Announcements
  Lit 165 Assignments


Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Weblog for LIT 165
  Writing Assistance on the Web

Join an Online Forum
  WRT 120 Composition Forum
  LIT 165 Introduction to Literature Forum


~~ A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond ~~

Use your Bedford's Online Glossary (or the hard copy included at the back of your textbook) to help you define or help you supplement your definitions of the following terms.




Character Motivation: Another way of thinking about character is to try to understand what motivates characters to think, feel or act the way they do. Most likely you'll examine the story's main character. Is she acting out of her own internal center, her own values or desires, or is she reacting to outisde forces, influences, pressures? (Another way of putting this might be: Is the character instrinsically or extrinsically motivated?) What is driving the character to action is largely driving the plot. Some questions to ask might be: How believable is the character's motivation? How well can we understand it? How much of it do we have to guess?

"Character determines fate": (From my "Notes on the Art of Fiction") In life, things happen chaotically. It isn't always possible to trace the causal sequence that binds events to one another. But like practicing Buddhists who believe in causation as an inherent truth—the law of karma—a traditional short story operates on the premise that everything that happens as a result of cause and effect. You may have learned the famous dictum in your high school lit class when you studied Oedipus—one theme of that artful, ancient play is that "character determines fate." Things happen for a reason. In life we can't always discern the reasons why certain things happen. But in an expertly crafted short story, it's possible to discover how we create our circumstances by being the kind of people we are. We create our own fate. Character determines fate. The traditional short story very much lives by that rule.


Major / Minor
Protagonist / Antagonist
Round / Flat
Dynamic / Static

Point of View

Omniscient narrator
Limited omniscient narrator
Objective "camera eye" narrator (your textbook calls this "neutral omniscience")
First Person narrator
Reliable / Unreliable narrator



Theme: The McGraw-Hill Book of Fiction (Robert Di Yanni and Kraft Rompf, Eds. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995) defines theme as "an idea or point formulated as a generalization. The theme of a fable is its moral; the theme of a parable is its teaching; the theme of a short story is its implied view of life and conduct. Unlike the fable and parable, however, most fiction is not designed primarily to teach or preach. Its theme, thus is more obliquely presented. In fact, theme in fiction is barely presented at all; it is abstracted from the details of character and action that compose the story."

The kind of literary works that have the most merit themeatically generally go beyond what's expected or predictable; the ideas they "obliquely present" are not likely cliched truisms. More likely, they're fresh ways of looking at old problems, or fresh interpretations of common experience, or new ways of thinking entirely. A work's theme is often related to what's happening in the larger culture; the author may (consciously or unconsciously) be giving voice to the spirit of the age. A writer may fight or embrace what's going on in the world around him, but he can never escape it entirely. Literature is always situated in a particular time and place. Great literary works have the power to bring forth and illuminate the enduring truths particular to that time and place and at the same time communicate them in ways that reach audiences well beyond their immediate ones. Great literature gives voice to a kind of truth that is unbounded by time and culture (its "timeless" and "universal"), able to interest people across cultures and across the centuries. Theme is highly involved here; it's the agent of that transmission. The more provocative the theme of the work, the more it causes us to think and reflect and think some more, the more likely it will be to last.

Ambiguity: When we engage in interpretation—figuring out what different elements in a story "mean"—we're responding to a work's "ambiguity." Defined simply, this means the work is open to several simultaneous interpretations. Language, especially when manipulated artistically, can communicate more than one meaning—it invites interpretation. Readers can enjoy interpreting literature, and stories, in ways they find individually satisfying.

Symbol: Language can also communicate on more than one level of meaning. Any person, object, image, word, or situation represented in literature may be capable of evoking a range of additional meaning, beyond its original, literal one. Symbols in literature evoke complex ideas without explicitly (tiresomely?) explaining them.

Irony: Defined simply, irony is the perception of a clash between appearance and reality, between what "seems" and what "is." When something strikes you as ironic, it's usually because the truth turns out to be quite different from what you might have expected.

Paradox: Paradox involves two statements or conditions which seem incongruous and nonsensical on the surface--however, when you study beneath the surface, they turn out to make perfect sense.






Questions? Contact me.

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