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Terminologies That Describe Literary Narrative Strategies


In narrative, there are countless ways to use language. A writer’s distinct style comes from choices about how to organize and present a story, how to describe its characters, and when to use figurative language. The field of literary analysis offers a variety of categories for describing these myriad uses of language.

Structure

The narrative structure is the way writers organize different elements of a story. A story itself is just a sequence of events; when writers decide how to present those events, they turn the story into a plot. Freytag’s pyramid is a common way to describe plot segments. It begins with an inciting action and moves through rising action, which includes exposition and complication. At some point, the main conflict reaches a climax, or crisis. After that, the plot enters its falling action until it arrives at the moment of last suspense. Finally, the denouement dispels any remaining tension and gives the audience closure. Narrative pace is another structural consideration.

Point of View

Point of view refers to the perspective from which the story is told. Narration can take place from a first-, second- or third-person perspective, although second-person narration is rare in literature. Third-person narrators can be omniscient, knowing everything about the characters and events; omniscient narrators can be intrusive, injecting their judgments into the text, or unintrusive, simply reporting action and speech. Alternatively, in limited third-person narration, the narrator has no information beyond that of his character. First-person narration generally also uses a limited perspective. The narrative’s point of view can affect, among other things, how the audience perceives different characters.

Characterization

Almost all narratives involve at least one character, a person whose actions and speech the text represents. Conflict arises in narrative when the protagonist, or main character, encounters an antagonistic force or person trying to thwart his goals. Protagonists aren’t always sympathetic characters -- Macbeth is an example of a highly flawed protagonist. Writers can develop characters in two main ways: showing and telling. A text shows readers the characters when it simply presents their dialogue and action without interpreting it, as many dramas do. An author can also tell readers about the characters by interjecting his perspective -- often in the form of a third-person omniscient narrator’s voice.

Figurative Language

Figurative language can add meaning and nuance to a narrative by communicating ideas beyond those that the text presents literally. Metaphor, simile, symbol and allegory are just four of the many figures available to writers. Metaphor and simile are comparisons of two usually unrelated things, as in John Donne’s metaphor, “No man is an island, / Entire of itself.” A symbol is an object, person or image that can represent a number of ideas (like the whale in “Moby-Dick”), while an allegory is something in the text that points to something else in reality (like the animals in “Animal Farm”).

About the Author

Elissa Hansen has more than nine years of editorial experience, and she specializes in academic editing across disciplines. She teaches university English and professional writing courses, holding a Bachelor of Arts in English and a certificate in technical communication from Cal Poly, a Master of Arts in English from the University of Wyoming, and a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota.

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