Q. Well, it was only a suggestion; nothing more. How did you happen to meet Burr?

A. Well, I happened to be at his funeral one day, and he asked me to make less noise, and

Q. But, good heavens! If you were at his funeral, he must have been dead, how could he care whether you made a noise or not?

A. I dont know. He was always a particular kind of a man that way.

Q. Still, I dont understand it at all. You say he spoke to you, and that he was dead.

A. I didnt say he was dead.

Q. But wasnt he dead?

A. Well, some said he was, some said he wasnt.

Q. What did you think?

A. Oh, it was not of my business! It wasnt any of my funeral.

IV. Argumentationcan be in the form of expository writing (or reasoning) and lyrical digressions. In XVIII-XIX century prose authors could appear as a commentators and moralists, philosophers and publicists. In A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Dickens speculates how the noble goals of freedom fighters became the crazed bloodbath called the Reign of Terror: Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the days wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

The events in the narrative are arranged with respect to time. That arrangement involves the notions of order, duration, and frequency. Order refers to the relationship between the chronology of the story (the order in which the events of the story occur in the fictional world) and the chronology of the narrative (the order in which the narrative presents those events). The events and things described in the text can be presented:

In chronological order:in many types of writing short stories, biographies, and historical accounts, for example it is the most effective way of presenting a series of events. Notice how the following paragraph from a science fiction story uses chronological order to dramatize the hardship of the characters journey.

The summer was waning when Shann took his two sons and went ahead to explore the way. For three days they climbed, and for three nights slept as best they could on freezing rocks, and on the fourth morning there was nothing ahead but a gentle rise to a cairn of gray stones built by other travelers, centuries ago.

Arthur C. Clarke, History Lesson (1949)

A story may begin with a set-piece description of a landscape or townscape that is to be the primary setting of the story (for example, the sombre description of Egdon Heath at the beginning of Thomas Hardys The Return of the Native (1878)). It may begin with a self-introduction by the narrator (Call me Ishmael in Herman Melvilles Moby Dick (1851)). A writer may begin with a philosophical reflection. Many novels begin with a frame-story (Henry Jamess The Turn of the Screw (1898) consists of a deceased womans memoir which is read aloud to guests at a country-house party who have been entertaining themselves with ghost stories). Traditional beginnings of fairy-tales are ab ovo.

In non-chronological order: the story can be anachronic with a combination of diverse stories. Through time-shift, narrative avoids presenting life as just one thing after another, it allows the reader to make connections of causality and irony between widely separated events.The writermay start the storyin medias res:for example,begin a mystery story with a murder and then circle back to the events that led up to the murder (famous Agatha Christies detective novels and stories). The narrative of the Odyssey begins halfway through the heros hazardous voyage home from the Troyan War, loops back to describe his earlier adventures, then follows the story to its conclusion in Ithaca.

A flashback (analepsis) takes the reader to the event that happened prior to the present and clarifying it. It changes the interpretation of something which happened much later in the chronology of the story:

My feelings about Garfield are further bedeviled by what Garfield has become. He has shrunk almost literally from the strong, commanding figure he once was to the slighter, more tentative person that old age and illness have rendered him () He has a variety of cancer Im not sure which and has only about two years to live. Just after a strange request, stranger perhaps because he made it of me. He asked me to take a photograph from my fathers bedroom window, looking down towards the river. He wanted a photo that would show the path by the side of the field, the trees, the big pool and the fields and farms beyond. I agreed of course, but never got round to it. So here is the beginning of a feeling of guilt which is mixed in with all the other feelings making the whole lot more confused than before.

D.S. Mackenzie, The Language of Water (1991)

A flash-forward (prolepsis) interrupts the present chronology of the story and connects it to the future. Foreshadowingoccurswhenthe writer hints about something that may happen in the future, it can help build suspense or arouse curiosity:

With the reindeer it was more complicated. They were always nervous, but it wasnt just fear of Noah, it was something deeper. You know how some of us animals have powers of foresight? () The reindeer were troubled with something deeper than Noah-angst, stranger than storm-nerves; something long-term. () And it was something beyond what we then knew. As it was something beyond what we then knew. As if they were saying, You think this is the worst? Dont count on it. Still, whatever it was, even the reindeer couldnt be specific about it. Something distant, major long-term.

J. Barnes, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (1989)

Descriptions can be presented in the following way:

In order of impression:the writer begins with the image that creates the most powerful impact and then describes the peripheral or less compelling images: He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before this sleek, sinuous, bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man, who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea

Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows (1908)

In spatial order organizing physical descriptions of people and places:

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple.

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924)

Zoom in and zoom out techniques bring along a panoramic view then focusing on progressively finer and finer details and ending with a close-up description of one aspect of the scene or vice versa, these are two cinematography terms applied to writing:

The lawn started at the beach and ran towards the front door a quarter of a mile, jumping over sundials and brick walks and burning gardens finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.

F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)


Duration refers to the relationship between the length of time over which a given event occurs in the story and the number of pages of narrative devoted to describing it. Thus, duration is what produces the sense of narrative speed. To the Lighthouse (1927) by Virginia Woolf comprises three parts of different duration (the second one is the shortest but still covers the period of ten years, while the first and the third render the events of one day).

Frequencyinvolves the relationship between the ways in which events may be repeated in the story (the same event may occur more than once) and in the narrative (a single event may be described more than once).

The plot is the chain of events which are gradually unfolded in accordance with the authors conception and the way the novel is arranged. A long story or a novel may have several lines of the plot, interwoven, sometimes whimsically entangled. Subplot or side-story is a ploy line that has no direct connection to the main one, but is important for understanding various aspects of the characters personalities and the world created by the author.

The following elements of the plot are distinguished:

exposition sets the scene giving the revealing description of the main character or introducing the central conflict, it may contain a short presentation of time and place;

knot(the starting point and the subsequent unfolding of the main line of the plot);

complication(separate incident helping to unfold the action, it might involve thoughts and feelings as well);

climax(the highest intensive point in a story, the decisive moment on which the fate of the character and the final action depend);

denouement[dei'nu:maŋ] (the untying of a knot) subsequent events after the climax).

There are the following plot devices: plot twist (any unexpected turn of the story that gives a new view on its entire topic), foreshadowing, flash-forward and flashback, red herring (distracting the readers attention from the plot twists), meta-reference (the characters display an awareness that they are in a book).

The plot is based on the conflict as a driving force in literature. A realistic fictional disagreement must rise naturally out of the personalities and attitudes of the characters.


Questions: What is the plot structure of the story? Is the action linear, circular, or fragmentary? How predictable are the events in the unfolding story? Are there any events that seem similar or contrasting? What is the central conflict? Does the story use a particular idea or phrase as a recurrent leitmotif? Are there any events that dont relate to this conflict? Is it important to know the plot of the novel, not just in terms of what happens, but in terms of how the plot provides a framework for the themes and ideas? Which episodes were given the greatest emphasis? Where does the narrative begin (in medias res or ab ovo)? Does the narrative follow the chronological order of events or rearrange it? Is the end clear-cut and conclusive or does it leave room for suggestion? How does the objective, chronological time relate to the subjective, psychological time?

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