West Chester University
~~ 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 truththe law of karmaa 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 Oedipusone 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
Point of View
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."
Ambiguity: When we engage in interpretationfiguring 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 meaningit 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.
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.
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