Literature 101


Filed under: Elements — espierspectives @ 1:19 AM
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Setting refers to the time and location  in which the story happens.   It has  the following functions:

  • The setting gives the geographical location of the events in the story.  As such, the setting  may or may not  have a great significance in the events of the story.
  • The setting indicates the time of day, year, season, weather, historical period in which the story unfolds.
  • The setting establishes the mood and atmosphere of the story, or the general feeling that the reader is supposed to experience as he reads through.
  • The setting describes the social environment in which the character exists: language, culture and lifestyle of the people in the place.
  • The setting reveals the economic condition prevailing in the time the story happens.
  • The setting influences the personality and behavior of the characters.


In most cases, the author removes himself from his creation by using a voice to narrate the story.  This voice, called a  persona, may or may not be  part of the story.  The persona may be an active part of the story or a passive one, like an on-looker.


This term may refer to any of these:

  • A character is a person, animal, god, object or an abstract entity that is active participant in the action in a story, play, or film.
  • Character may mean the totality of the qualities of a person such as his integrity, behavior, personality and other such traits  that contribute to his individuality.


    • MAIN or MAJOR– a character with a major role, dominating the whole story, and on whom the conflict is focused.
    • MINOR– a character whose role is  not the focus of the story; rather, a support  whose significance  lies in his interaction or relationship with the main characters.  He may not be as important as the major character, but not unimportant altogether. He can serve as a confidant/e or a foil; he can be a source of conflict as well.
    • PROTAGONIST– the primary character around which the conflict in story revolves, and the one who gets the most attention, concern and empathy from the readers.
    • ANTAGONIST– is the  character, or may also be an object or situation, that proves to be a hindrance to the objectives of the protagonist.
    • HERO or HEROINE– is a character whose strong positive values make him act and aim for the good of others, and  who puts his interests aside to prioritize those of others’.  Such is the essence of heroism or heroic deeds.
      •  This term, according to Wikipedia and I quote verbatim from there, refers to “characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good of all humanity. This definition originally referred to martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.”

    Ms Espie says: Better check out the site for a more comprehensive discussion of the term because we do have some sort of misconception about it, equating it carelessly with another character, the protagonist.

    • VILLAIN– a character whose traits are totally the antithesis to the hero–unsympathetic, self-centered, and evil.
    • ROUND– A character who is presented as  having many personality traits, often contradictory, therefore complex and developing.
    • FLAT— a character who shows only one side or two of his personality.
    • DYNAMIC– a primary character  who encounters conflict and is significantly transformed by it.
    • STATIC– are usually minor characters who do not undergo significant transformation or growth in the course of the story
    • STEREOTYPE–a stereotypical character relies on cultural conventions or formulaic image for its character, appearance, language and manners of speech
    • STOCK — is another term for stereotype character
    • FOIL— a character, major or minor, whose personal qualities that are in total contrast with the protagonist highlights, develops or unfolds the protagonist’s own character traits.
    • CONFIDANT or CONFIDANTE– a character — a trusted friend or servant, maybe a good pet, or maybe a journal or diary– to whom a primary character pours out his secret feelings, thoughts and emotions.   A dialogue with the confidant/e  is an effective device to disclose the inner thoughts or intentions of a main character in the story.


See also Seven Common Character Typesby Terry W. Ervin II



“What does characterization do for a story?  In a nutshell, it allows us to emphatize with the protagonist and secondary characters, and thus feel that what is happening to these people in the story is vicariously happening to us; and it also gives us a sense of verisimilitude, or the semblance of living reality.  An important part of characterization is dialogue, for it is both spoken and inward dialogue that afford us the opportunity to see into the characters’ hearts and examine their motivations.  In the best of stories, it is actually characterization that moves the story along, because a compelling character in a difficult situation creates his or her own plot.”— KAREN BERNARDO, Characterization in Literature:: source:

Characterization is the method used by the author to portray  his characters  in a story.   Through characterization, the reader learns about the character’s physical looks, his thoughts, motives, and personality.  The author may use direct or indirect character development.

1.  There are different methods of characterization:

  • Physical description— the author, through his voice (persona), provides the reader an adequate description of how a character looks like.  The author may include details like age; color of the skin, hair or eyes; physique; clothing; scars and other marks like tattoos; and other distinguishing features.   This is a direct way of characterization.    How do we know that Abdullah (The Eyes) is a mountain of  ugliness?  The author lets Abdullah describe himself in full details:

I am a short man, black like coal, with disproportionate limbs. My huge head is the crown of that deformity as well as my ugliness. On my face are two round eyes in deep hollows, a snub nose, a big frog-like mouth, and a narrow forehead between two over-sized ears. There are also marks showing greedily smallpox, which attacked me in my twelfth year, pecked at the flesh of my face; a fall in my boyhood has left me lame of the right leg. Yes, I am indeed a mountain of ugliness. They tell me that at first sight I create in everyone an impression of a black monkey.

2.  Other ways of characterization are the following:

  • Speech— the character’s dialogue reveals a lot about the kind of person he is; the way that he speaks may give a hint as to his place of origin, or the social class he belongs to, or the kind of education he has attained or even the lack of it.
  • Action— what the character does, or how he does things, also reveal a lot about his personality.  The way he walks, or carries himself, would tell a lot about how the character perceives himself.
  • Thoughts— a reader gets a glimpse into the thoughts of a character only if the author allows him to through stream-of-consciousness method or by directly telling the reader what the character thinks.  Allowing the reader access to the character’s journals or diary is also another way of revealing the latter’s inner thoughts and feelings.
  • Opinion/ reaction of others— the other characters are also a good source of information on the personality of an important character.  Their opinions of him, what they say and think of him,  would be very helpful to the reader in imagining.   Are the others scared of him? Do they hate or admire him ore love him?  Do they mock him or respect him or ignore him?
  • Name analysis— this is the method of studying a character through his name.  A character’s  name  is usually reflective of his traits, mannerisms, or interests; or his name may be significant to the story.
 Also, refer to this site, which gives the mnemonic STEAL so that one easily remembers the methods.


This refers to the sequence of events as they take place in the story.  The framework of a short story consists the following:

  • EXPOSITION–the introduction of the story where the groundwork is laid: the setting is presented, and the characters are introduced.
  • INCITING FACTOR–also known as the motivating or initiating incident, this event triggers the main conflict and sets the whole action in the story rolling. Without this factor there is no story.
  • RISING ACTIONS–a series of events that take place after the inciting force has taken place.
    • These  events are complications of the  conflict that arises  from a decision made by the main character earlier in the story.
    • These complications pile up as causes and effects, and wind up all the way to the climax.
    • These complications are the trials, challenges, hindrances that come in the way of the main character.
    • It begins with the inciting force and ends with the climax.
    • MS. ESPIE SAYS: Sometimes people refer to this part as just one event, which, I think, is quite misleading, unless one is able to summarize the whole series in just one sentence, all encompassing.

  • TURNING POINT–The point at which a very significant change occurs, creating an issue or crisis that the main character must deal with later on; it is the ultimate decisive moment that would break the normalcy of a character’s life.   It is the point where the reader wonders whether the main character’s personal crisis will be resolved or not.  The turning point may happen before or simultaneously  with the climax.   Like I always tell my students, this is the “to-be-or-not-to-be” moment in the story…like when a character finds himself on the verge of a ravine and he has to choose whether to jump to his death or turn back.
  • CLIMAX–It is the highest point of interest and most intensely  emotional moment  in the story.
    • It happens as the outcome of the crisis at the turning point.
    • It is the point at which the reader can predict the result of the conflict.
    • This is the moment when the character finally enacts his decision…he jumps in, or he turns his back away from the edge of  the ravine.
  • FALLING ACTION–It is the series of events that come rolling  after, or as a result of,  the climax, easing the story down to its conclusion.
    • If your teacher insists on a single-sentence falling action, all you have to do is summarize the events that come between  the climax and the conclusion.
  • DENOUÉMENT or RESOLUTION–It is the conclusion of the story.  Here conflicts are finally resolved and the main character experiences a realization.  This change is usually a positive one where the main character emerges as winner.  If the story ends otherwise, then it is a tragic ending.

MS. ESPIE SAYS:  The  diagrams below are very good visual representations of plot structure, and would be very useful to you, students, in your story analysis.  These diagrams are derived from the Freytag pyramid (named after the dramatist who revived it during the Renaissance period; see this link for thorough discussion:   )

 Here is another illustration of how a plot structure looks like:

The inciting factors are included in the exposition parts. For the Cinderella story, it is when the invitation for the ball comes.  The invitation disturbs the natural flow of life of Cinderella and her stepsisters.  It is the instrument that lead Cinderella to her “happily-ever-after”.



 This is the struggle between two opposing forces, particularly the main character against himself, another character, beast, object or a particular situation. Conflict is very important because without it, the story will not stand.  Conflicts are the heart and soul of any story. They get the action going, along with the interest of the reader, as they become complicated and pile up one on top of each other.

 There are two kinds of conflicts:

  • INTERNAL — this is more of a psychological kind wherein the character experiences a mental strife against his inner self.
  • EXTERNAL– the character faces antagonism from  forces outside of him, whether physical or abstract.  

There are specific types of conflicts:

  • Man vs. Self–is an example of internal conflict; the character struggles with himself in decision-making, moral choices , self-control, overcoming grief or pain.  This run-in reveals the strength or weakness of his inner self.
  • Man vs. Society–the character struggles against social traditions, customs, practices, values or concepts within the society within which he exists.
  • Man vs. Nature –the character struggles against forces of nature (flood, typhoon, earthquake and any such disasters).  This run-in shows how strong or weak man’s will to live is, or how insignificant human life is when pitted against cosmic elements.
  • Man vs. Man— the character struggles physically against another human character in the story.
  • Man vs. Beast –the character struggles physically  against a fierce beast.
  • Man vs. Supernatural–the character struggles against any supernatural force (God, deities, monsters, aliens, vampires, ghosts, aswang, kapre, manananggal, tiyanak, etc…)
  • Man vs. Fate –the character is confronted with issues between destiny and free will.
  • Man vs. Machine/Technology places a character against man-made entities which may possess “artificial intelligence“.  (Miss Espie says:  This one is from Wikipedia and is quite a new concept, but rightly so to be included considering that technology is pretty much a significant part of our daily encounter in this modern world we’re living in.)


This is the vantage point or the narrative mode from which the story is told.   Other terms used for this are “angle”, “focus”, and “perspective”.


1. FIRST PERSON — the account is limited to only  one person’s viewpoint.

  • the narrator uses “I” or “we”;  he is an active participant in the story.
  • he may be a major character, usually the protagonist, or a minor one, an observer.
  • the narration has a more personal feel.
  • he gives a reliable, first-hand account, hence an authentic and powerful rendering.
  • however, it is also possible that his account might not be the objective truth;  might be biased and unreliable or may lack credibility.

2. SECOND PERSON — a perspective very rarely used because authors don’t usually address directly the readers.

  • the author uses you and your.
  • When you encounter this point of view, pay attention. Why? The author has made a daring choice, probably with a specific purpose in mind.
  • Usually, second-person point of view would draw the reader into the story, almost involving him as a participant in the action.

3.  THIRD PERSON —  a more versatile account than the first person; the narrator uses “he”, “she”, “it”, and “they”.

 This point of view has three types:

a.  Third person objective — the narrator is detached and unbiased; he tells the story as it happens without revealing more than what the actions and dialogues allow.  The narrator does not give the reader access  to the characters’ thoughts and feelings.

b. Third person omniscient— the  narrator  knows everything about his characters; he does not only reports the facts but may also interpret events and relate the thoughts and feelings of any character; thoughts and feelings of every characters are open to the readers.

c.  Third person limited–a narrator reports the facts and interprets events from the perspective of a single character.  He has access to the minds of one or few characters.


“The theme of a fable is its moral. The theme of a parable is its teaching. The theme of a piece of fiction is its view about life and how people behave.

In fiction, the theme is not intended to teach or preach. In fact, it is not presented directly at all. You extract it from the characters, action, and setting that make up the story. In other words, you must figure out the theme yourself.”–

THEME. The main idea or underlying meaning of a literary work. A theme may be stated or implied, but most of the times implied.  Theme differs from the subject or topic of a literary work in that it involves a statement or opinion about the topic.  Themes may be major or minor.  A major theme is an idea the author returns to time and again. It becomes one of the most important ideas in the story. Minor themes are ideas that may appear from time to time.

Ms. Espie says:  In fiction, the theme is the point, main idea, or message that the author wishes  to convey in a literary work.  Once figured out, it is stated in only one sentence, NOT one word or one phrase; it is NOT the moral of the story.  Rather, the moral of the story is derived from it. This is what I often tell my students, because whenever I get to the point that I ask them about the theme of the story we have just discussed, they start their sentences with “Do not…” or “We should not…”, or some other proverbs or sayings or classic quotes.   To visualize the difference, I give them this diagram:  

subject/ motif ———————–> theme —————-> moral lesson

where subject is the topic, stated in one word or phrase, e.g. love.  Now, love is a very general term. What kind of love? Unrequited love? Unconditional love?

For the theme, ask: What does the story say about unconditional love?  “People who love unconditionally do not expect much from their partners.”  Well, this is just one way of saying it. There are one thousand ways to kill a cat.  Of course, that’s metaphorical.  It only means to say that a theme can be stated in many other ways.  Just remember that in stating a theme, you have to apply it to mankind, so avoid saying: the character loves unconditionally and does not expect much from his partner.  Remove the individual now.  It  has to be elevated to a general sense, hence, say: “People who love unconditionally do not expect much from their partners.”   So, after composing your theme in a statement, you are ready to determine what moral lesson the story imparts to you.  Perhaps you can say then,  “Do not expect much from your partner if you love him unconditionally,” or you may start quoting from Corinthians.


It is important to recognize the difference between the theme of a literary work and the subject of a literary work. The subject is the topic on which an author has chosen to write. The theme, however, makes some statement about or expresses some opinion on that topic. For example, the subject of a story might be war while the theme might be the idea that war is useless.

Four ways in which an author can express themes are as follows:

1. Themes are expressed and emphasized by the way the author makes us feel.  By sharing feelings of the main character you also share the ideas that go through his mind.

2. Themes are presented in thoughts and conversations. Authors put words in their character’s mouths only for good reasons. One of these is to develop a story’s themes. The things a person says are much on their mind. Look for thoughts that are repeated throughout the story.

3. Themes are suggested through the characters. The main character usually illustrates the most important theme of the story. A good way to get at this theme is to ask yourself the question, what does the main character learn in the course of the story?

 4. The actions or events in the story are used to suggest theme. People naturally express ideas and feelings through their actions. One thing authors think about is what an action will “say”.  In other words, how will the action express an idea or theme?




Subject is also defined as the salient or central idea.  But in literature, it is specifically  a limited concept such as recurring elements (leitmotifs or simply motifs), contrasts,  devices,  and  mere topics  from which the themes are developed.  Like, what is the subject–false pride; the theme derived from it–false pride can bring one to his own destruction.   I’m pretty sure you know which story this theme is applicable to.

Good vs Evil is a very common subject or motif (oftenly repeated element) in literature; it refers to the classic struggle between the wily forces of evil and the innocence of good.




“Reading literature is best described as an act of discovery through which individuals participate in the lives and experiences of others, explore possible selves and possible worlds, and acquire insights that make their own lives more meaningful and comprehensible. In this regard, literature is unique in its ability to provide readers with a “lived through” understanding of experience and not simply “knowledge about” themselves and the social world.” by Bill McGinley, Professor of Education, University of Colorado (read more at

Value is an ideal that refers to  the important and enduring beliefs of an individual or culture, delineating what is good and acceptable or what is not.

Values are considered subjective and vary across people and cultures.

Values greatly influence the behavior of an individual and serve as general guidelines that one may use as reference in all situations.

Types of values include:

  • ethical/moral values,
  • doctrinal/ideological (political, religious) values,
  • social values, and
  • aesthetic values
  • intellectual values



Tone encompasses the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work.  Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, somber, playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many other possible attitudes.  Tone and mood are not interchangeable.  (

Tone is the ambiance that the author wants to set in the  narrative. It is achieved by his diction, style, and the opinion that his character expresses.



Mood is the feeling, atmosphere or climate  perceived by the reader.  It  is associated with how the reader emotionally responds to these elements like sadness for a tragedy.   It is achieved by the author’s choice of words, objects, details, images and setting.

For a list of tone and mood words, click here.    


Imagery is the total mental picture achieved in a literary work as a result of the author’s use of words and phrases that appeal to the senses.  Through these descriptive words that evoke the senses, the reader experiences the  imaginary world that is created by the author.

There are different forms of imagery:

  • Visual imagery is perhaps the most frequently used form.  The words and phrases used appeal to the sense of sight.
  • Auditory imagery represents a sound; the use of onomatopoeic words is not uncommon.
  • Kinetic imagery represents movement; verbs or action words are highly utilized.
  • Olfactory imagery appeals to the sense of smell.  Words like aroma, fragrance, stinky, rancid all describes the smell of something.
  • Gustatory imagery represents a taste. Sample words are bitter, sweet, tangy, minty.
  • Tactile imagery represents touch.  Sample words are velvety, silk, rough, jagged.


An author’s writing style is as unique as his fingerprints.

Ms. Espie says: Style has always been a not-so-easy topic to explain.  Although we can always say that style is not much concerned with what one writes but with how one writes.  I guess that is, in reality, easier said than done.    The entries that follow, limited to this element,  have been lifted from Wikipedia. Although some of the terminologies have been discussed earlier, I decided not to omit them since their descriptions here are brief anyway.

Components of style

Style in fiction includes the use of various literary techniques.

  • Fiction-writing modes.   Fiction is a form of narrative, one of the four rhetorical modes of discourse. Fiction-writing also has distinct forms of expression, or modes, each with its own purposes and conventions. Agent and author Evan Marshall identifies five fiction-writing modes: action, summary, dialogue, feelings/thoughts, and background (Marshall 1998, pp. 143–165). Author and writing-instructor Jessica Page Morrell lists six delivery modes for fiction-writing: action, exposition, description, dialogue, summary, and transition (Morrell 2006, p. 127). Author Peter Selgin refers to methods, including action, dialogue, thoughts, summary, scene, and description (Selgin 2007, p. 38). Currently, there is no consensus within the writing community regarding the number and composition of fiction-writing modes and their uses.
  • Narrator. The narrator is the teller of the story, the orator, doing the mouthwork, or its in-print equivalent. A writer is faced with many choices regarding the narrator of a story: first-person narrative, third-person narrative, unreliable narrator, stream-of-consciousness writing. A narrator may be either obtrusive or unobtrusive, depending on the author’s intended relationship between himself, the narrator, the point-of-view character, and the reader.
  • Point of View is from whose consciousness the reader hears, sees, and feels the story.
  • Allegory is a work of fiction in which the symbols, characters, and events come to represent, in somewhat point-by-point fashion, a different metaphysical, political, or social situation.
  • Symbolism refers to any object or person which represents something else.
  • Tone refers to the attitude that a story creates toward its subject matter. Tone may be formal, informal, intimate, solemn, somber, playful, serious, ironic, condescending, or many other possible attitude.
  • Imagery is used in fiction to refer to descriptive language that evokes sensory experience. Imagery may be in many forms, such as metaphors and similes.
  • Punctuation is everything in written language other than the actual letters or numbers, including punctuation marks, inter-word spaces, and indentation.
  • Word Choice. Diction, in its original, primary meaning, refers to the writer’s or the speaker’s distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression. Literary diction analysis reveals how a passage establishes tone and characterization; for example, a preponderance of verbs relating physical movement suggests an active character, while a preponderance of verbs relating states of mind portrays an introspective character.
  • Grammar. In linguistics, grammar refers to the logical and structural rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. Grammar also refers to the study of such rules. This field includes morphology and syntax, often complemented by phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics.
  • Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability to form mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through sight, hearing or other senses.[citation needed]
  • Cohesion is the grammatical and lexical relationship within a text or sentence. Cohesion can be defined as the links that hold a text together and give it meaning.
  • Suspension of disbelief is the reader’s temporary acceptance of story elements as believable, regardless of how implausible they may seem in real life.
  • Voice. In grammar, the voice (also called diathesis) of a verb describes the relationship between the action (or state) that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments (subject, object, etc.). When the subject is the agent or actor of the verb, the verb is in the active voice. When the subject is the patient, target or undergoer of the action, it is said to be in the passive voice.

At this point I would like to add a few more literary techniques that enrich the author’s unique style in prose writing.

  • Flashback is a literary or cinematic device in which an earlier event is inserted into the normal chronological order of a narrative.  This technique includes recollection of memories, dreams, and re-telling of old stories or past events.  Flashback is important in bringing into the present a background to a conflict or situation, or to inform the reader about the character or the place of interest.
  • Foreshadowing is the use of subtle  hints or clues to suggest to the reader what will happen later in the story.  This may be an object, an animal, a person, or an incident that appears or happens innocently earlier and will have a great impact later on as the plot thickens.
  • Sarcasm is a form of wit of which the user speaks of something which is the complete opposite of what he  means. Its purpose, generally, is to put its target to ridicule or contempt.  Sarcastic remarks  also attempts to introduce comic element into the narrative.
  • Satire.  The word refers to a literary composition, in verse or in prose, that makes  use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding human weakness, folly or vice, in an attempt to expose or correct it. Satire evokes attitudes of amusement, contempt, scorn, or indignation toward its  erring subject.
  • Irony is a literary device  in which the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same.

From Wikipedia: Types of Irony

Types of irony

Modern theories of rhetoric distinguish among verbal, dramatic and situational irony.

  • Verbal irony is a disparity of expression and intention: when a speaker says one thing but means another, or when a literal meaning is contrary to its intended effect. An example of this is when someone says “Oh, that’s beautiful”, when what they mean (probably conveyed by their tone) is they find “that” quite ugly.
  • Dramatic irony is a disparity of expression and awareness: when words and actions possess a significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not. For example when a character says to another “I’ll love you until I die!” not realizing a piano is about to crush them.
  • Situational irony is the disparity of intention and result: when the result of an action is contrary to the desired or expected effect. Likewise, cosmic irony is disparity between human desires and the harsh realities of the outside world. By some definitions, situational irony and cosmic irony are not irony at all.




  1. rezalene velez Says:

    hi ma’am…i know i can do better this time…i won’t quit!!!!!!!!hehehe

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