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ETYMOLOGY OF LITERATURE

literature (n.)
late 14c., from Latin literatura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar,"
originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "letter"
(see letter(n.1)). Originally "book learning" (it replaced Old English boccrft),
the meaning "literary production or work" is first attested 1779 in Johnson's
"Lives of the English Poets" (he didn't include this definition in his dictionary,
however); that of "body of writings from a period or people" is first recorded
1812.
Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible
degree. [Ezra Pound, "ABC of Reading"]
Meaning "the whole of the writing on a particular subject" is from 1860; sense of
"printed matter generally" is from 1895. The Latin word also is the source of
Spanish literatura, Italian letteratura, German Literatur.

literature
literature

lidrCHr,lidrCHooor/
noun
noun: literature; plural noun: literatures
1.
written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.
"a great work of literature"
synonyms written works, writings, writing, creative writing, literary
:
texts, compositions;
informallit
"English literature"
o
books and writings published on a particular subject.
"the literature on environmental epidemiology"
synonyms publications, published writings, texts, reports, studies
:
"the literature on prototype theory"
o
leaflets and other printed matter used to advertise products or give advice.
synonyms printed
:
matter, brochures, leaflets, pamphlets, circulars, flyers, handouts, handbills,bulletins, f
act sheets, publicity, propaganda, notices
"election literature"

Literature, in its broadest sense, consists of any written productions. More restrictively, it refers to
those deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, or which deploy language in ways that differ from
ordinary usage. Its Latin root literatura/litteratura (derived itself from littera: letter or handwriting) was
used to refer to all written accounts, though contemporary definitions extend the term to include texts
that are spoken or sung (oral literature). Literature can be classified according to whether it
is fiction or non-fiction and whether it is poetry or prose; it can be further distinguished according to
major forms such as the novel, short story ordrama; and works are often categorized according to
historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre).
The concept has changed meaning over time: nowadays it can broaden to include non-written verbal
art forms, and thus it is difficult to agree on its origin, which can be paired with that of language or
writing itself. Developments in print technology have allowed an evergrowing distribution and
proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature.

Contents
[hide]

1Definitions

2Major forms
o

2.1Poetry

2.2Prose

2.3Drama

3History

4Awards

5Essays

6Other prose literature


o

6.1Natural science

6.2Philosophy

6.3Psychology

6.4History

6.5Law

7Other narrative forms

8Genres of literature

9Literary techniques

10Legal status
o

10.1UK

11See also

12References

13Further reading

14External links

Definitions[edit]
Literature

Major forms

Novel

Poem

Drama

Short story

Novella
Genres

Comedy

Drama

Epic
Erotic

Nonsense

Lyric
Mythopoeia

Romance

Satire
Tragedy

Tragicomedy
Media

Performance

play

Book
Techniques

Prose

Poetry
History and lists

History
modern

Outline
Glossary of terms

Books

Writers

Literary awards

poetry
Discussion

Criticism
Theory (critical theory)

Sociology

Magazines
Literature portal

There have been various attempts to define "literature". [1] Simon and Delyse Ryan begin their attempt
to answer the question "What is Literature?" with the observation:
The quest to discover a definition for "literature" is a road that is much travelled, though the point of
arrival, if ever reached, is seldom satisfactory. Most attempted definitions are broad and vague, and
they inevitably change over time. In fact, the only thing that is certain about defining literature is that
the definition will change. Concepts of what is literature change over time as well.

[2]

Definitions of literature have varied over time; it is a "culturally relative definition". [3] In Western
Europe prior to the eighteenth century, literature as a term indicated all books and writing. [3] A more
restricted sense of the term emerged during the Romantic period, in which it began to demarcate
"imaginative" literature.[4][5] Contemporary debates over what constitutes literature can be seen as
returning to the older, more inclusive notion of what constitutes literature. Cultural studies, for
instance, takes as its subject of analysis both popular and minority genres, in addition to canonical
works.[3]
The value judgment definition of literature considers it to cover exclusively those writings that
possess high quality or distinction, forming part of the so-called belles-lettres('fine writing') tradition.
[6]

This sort of definition is that used in the Encyclopdia Britannica Eleventh Edition (191011) when

it classifies literature as "the best expression of the best thought reduced to writing." [7] Problematic in
this view is that there is no objective definition of what constitutes "literature": anything can be
literature, and anything which is universally regarded as literature has the potential to be excluded,
since value judgments can change over time.[6]
The formalist definition is that the history of "literature" foregrounds poetic effects; it is the
"literariness" or "poeticity" of literature that distinguishes it from ordinary speech or other kinds of
writing (e.g., journalism).[8][9] Jim Meyer considers this a useful characteristic in explaining the use of
the term to mean published material in a particular field (e.g., "scientific literature"), as such writing
must use language according to particular standards. [1] The problem with the formalist definition is
that in order to say that literature deviates from ordinary uses of language, those uses must first be
identified; this is difficult because "ordinary language" is an unstable category, differing according to
social categories and across history.[10]
Etymologically, the term derives from Latin literatura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar,"
originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "letter".[11] In spite of this, the term has also
been applied to spoken or sung texts.[1][12]

Major forms[edit]

Poetry[edit]
Main article: Poetry

A calligram by Guillaume Apollinaire. These are a type of poem in which the written words are arranged in such
a way to produce a visual image.

Poetry is a form of literary art which uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke
meanings in addition to, or in place of, prosaic ostensible meaning.[13] Poetry has traditionally been
distinguished from prose by its being set in verse;[a] prose is cast in sentences, poetry in lines;
the syntax of prose is dictated by meaning, whereas that of poetry is held across metre or the visual
aspects of the poem.[18] Prior to the nineteenth century, poetry was commonly understood to be
something set in metrical lines; accordingly, in 1658 a definition of poetry is "any kind of subject
consisting of Rythm or Verses".[13] Possibly as a result of Aristotle's influence (his Poetics), "poetry"
before the nineteenth century was usually less a technical designation for verse than a normative
category of fictive or rhetorical art.[19] As a form it may pre-date literacy, with the earliest works being
composed within and sustained by an oral tradition; [20][21] hence it constitutes the earliest example of
literature.

Prose[edit]
Main article: Prose
Prose is a form of language that possesses ordinary syntax and natural speech rather than rhythmic
structure; in which regard, along with its measurement in sentences rather than lines, it differs from
poetry.[18][22] On the historical development of prose, Richard Graff notes that "[In the case of Ancient
Greece] recent scholarship has emphasized the fact that formal prose was a comparatively late
development, an "invention" properly associated with the classical period".[23]

Novel: a long fictional prose narrative. It was the form's close relation to real life that
differentiated it from the chivalric romance;[24][25] in most European languages the equivalent term
is roman, indicating the proximity of the forms.[25] In English, the term emerged from
the Romance languages in the late fifteenth century, with the meaning of "news"; it came to
indicate something new, without a distinction between fact or fiction. [26] Although there are many
historical prototypes, so-called "novels before the novel", [27] the modern novel form emerges late
in cultural history roughly during the eighteenth century.[28] Initially subject to much criticism,
the novel has acquired a dominant position amongst literary forms, both popularly and critically.
[25][29][30]

Novella: in purely quantitative terms, the novella exists between the novel and short story;
the publisher Melville House classifies it as "too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story".
[31]

There is no precise definition in terms of word or page count. [32] Literary prizes and publishing

houses often have their own arbitrary limits,[33] which vary according to their particular intentions.
Summarising the variable definitions of the novella, William Giraldi concludes "[it is a form]
whose identity seems destined to be disputed into perpetuity". [34] It has been suggested that the
size restriction of the form produces various stylistic results, both some that are shared with the
novel or short story,[35][36] and others unique to the form.[37]

Short story: a dilemma in defining the "short story" as a literary form is how to, or whether
one should, distinguish it from any short narrative; hence it also has a contested origin,
[38]

variably suggested as the earliest short narratives (e.g. the Bible), early short story writers

(e.g. Edgar Allan Poe), or the clearly modern short story writers (e.g. Anton Chekhov).[39] Apart
from its distinct size, various theorists have suggested that the short story has a characteristic
subject matter or structure;[40][41] these discussions often position the form in some relation to the
novel.[42]

Drama[edit]
Main article: Drama
Drama is literature intended for performance.[43] The form is often combined with music and dance,
as in opera and musical theatre. A play is a subset of this form, referring to the written dramatic work
of aplaywright that is intended for performance in a theatre; it comprises
chiefly dialogue between characters, and usually aims at dramatic or theatrical performance rather
than at reading. A closet drama, by contrast, refers to a play written to be read rather than to be
performed; hence, it is intended that the meaning of such a work can be realized fully on the page.
[44]

Nearly all drama took verse form until comparatively recently.

Greek drama exemplifies the earliest form of drama of which we have substantial
knowledge. Tragedy, as a dramatic genre, developed as a performance associated
with religious and civic festivals, typically enacting or developing upon well-

known historical or mythological themes. Tragedies generally presented very serious themes. With
the advent of newer technologies, scripts written for non-stage media have been added to this
form. War of the Worlds (radio) in 1938 saw the advent of literature written for radio broadcast, and
many works of Drama have been adapted for film or television. Conversely, television, film, and radio
literature have been adapted to printed or electronic media.

History[edit]
Main articles: History of literature and History of modern literature

Egyptian hieroglyphs withcartouches for the name "Ramesses II", from the Luxor Temple, New Kingdom

History of literature
by era
Bronze Age

Sumerian

Ancient Egyptian

Akkadian
Classical

Avestan

Chinese

Greek

Hebrew

Latin

Pali

Prakrit
Sanskrit

Syriac

Tamil
Early Medieval

Matter of Rome

Matter of France

Matter of Britain

Armenian

Byzantine

Georgian

Kannada

Middle Persian

Turkish
Medieval

Old Bulgarian

Old English

Middle English

Arabic

Armenian

Byzantine

Catalan

Dutch

French

Georgian

German

Indian
Old Irish

Italian

Korean

Japanese

Nepal Bhasa

Norse

Telugu

Turkish

Welsh
Early Modern

Renaissance

Baroque

Modern by century

18th

19th

20th

21st
Literature portal

The history of literature follows closely the development of civilization. When defined exclusively as
written work, Ancient Egyptian literature,[45] along with Sumerian literature are considered the
world's oldest literatures.[46] The primary genres of the literature ofAncient Egyptdidactic texts,
hymns and prayers, and taleswere almost entirely written in verse; [47] while use of poetic devices is
clearly recognisable, the prosody of the verse is unknown.[48]
Different historical periods are reflected in literature. National and tribal sagas, accounts of the origin
of the world and of customs, and myths which sometimes carry moral or spiritual messages
predominate in the pre-urban eras. The epics of Homer, dating from the early to middle Iron age,
and the great Indian epics of a slightly later period, have more evidence of deliberate literary
authorship, surviving like the older myths through oral tradition for long periods before being written
down.
The roots of all our modern academic fields can be found within the pages of literature.

[49]

Literature

in all its forms can be seen as written records, whether the literature itself be factual or fictional, it is
still quite possible to decipher facts through things like characters actions and words or the authors
style of writing and the intent behind the words. The plot is for more than just entertainment
purposes; within it lies information about economics, psychology, science, religions, politics, cultures,
and social depth. Studying and analyzing literature becomes very important in terms of learning
about our history. Through the study of past literature we are able to learn about how society has
evolved and about the societal norms during each of the different periods all throughout history. This
can even help us to understand references made in more modern literature because authors often
make references to Greek mythology and other old religious texts or historical moments. Not only is
there literature written on each of the aforementioned topics themselves, and how they have evolved
throughout history (like a book about the history of economics or a book about evolution and
science, for example) but we can also learn about these things in fictional works. Authors often
include historical moments in their works, like when Lord Byron talks about the Spanish and the
French in Childe Harolds Pilgrimage: Canto I[50] and expresses his opinions through his character

Childe Harold. Through literature we are able to continuously uncover new information about history.
It is easy to see how all academic fields have roots in literature. [49] Information became easier to pass
down from generation to generation once we began to write it down. Eventually everything was
written down, from things like home remedies and cures for illness, or how to build shelter to
traditions and religious practices. From there people were able to study literature, improve on ideas,
further our knowledge, and academic fields such as the medical field or trades could be started. In
much the same way as the literature that we study today continue to be updated as we continue to
evolve and learn more and more.
As a more urban culture developed, academies provided a means of transmission for speculative
and philosophical literature in early civilizations, resulting in the prevalence of literature in Ancient
China, Ancient India, Persia and Ancient Greece and Rome. Many works of earlier periods, even in
narrative form, had a covert moral or didactic purpose, such as the Sanskrit Panchatantra or
the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Dramaand satire also developed as urban culture provided a larger
public audience, and later readership, for literary production. Lyric poetry (as opposed to epic poetry)
was often the speciality of courts and aristocratic circles, particularly in East Asia where songs were
collected by the Chinese aristocracy as poems, the most notable being the Shijing or Book of Songs.
Over a long period, the poetry of popular pre-literate balladry and song interpenetrated and
eventually influenced poetry in the literary medium.
In ancient China, early literature was primarily focused on philosophy, historiography, military
science, agriculture, and poetry. China, the origin of modern paper making and woodblock printing,
produced the world's first print cultures.[51] Much of Chinese literature originates with the Hundred
Schools of Thought period that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (769-269 BCE). The most
important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well
as works of military science (e.g. Sun Tzu's The Art of War) and Chinese history (e.g. Sima
Qian's Records of the Grand Historian). Ancient Chinese literature had a heavy emphasis on
historiography, with often very detailed court records. An exemplary piece of narrative history of
ancient China was the Zuo Zhuan, which was compiled no later than 389 BCE, and attributed to the
blind 5th century BCE historian Zuo Qiuming.
In ancient India, literature originated from stories that were originally orally transmitted. Early genres
included drama, fables, sutras and epic poetry. Sanskrit literature begins with the Vedas, dating back
to 15001000 BCE, and continues with the Sanskrit Epics of Iron Age India. The Vedas are among
the oldest sacred texts. The Samhitas (vedic collections) date to roughly 15001000 BCE, and the
"circum-Vedic" texts, as well as the redaction of the Samhitas, date to c. 1000-500 BCE, resulting in
a Vedic period, spanning the mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE, or the Late Bronze Age and
the Iron Age.[52] The period between approximately the 6th to 1st centuries BC saw the composition
and redaction of the two most influential Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, with
subsequent redaction progressing down to the 4th century AD.

In ancient Greece, the epics of Homer, who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Hesiod, who
wrote Works and Days and Theogony, are some of the earliest, and most influential, of Ancient
Greek literature. Classical Greek genres included philosophy, poetry,
historiography, comedies and dramas. Plato and Aristotle authored philosophical texts that are the
foundation of Western philosophy, Sappho and Pindar were influential lyric poets,
and Herodotus and Thucydides were early Greek historians. Although drama was popular in Ancient
Greece, of the hundreds of tragedies written and performed during the classical age, only a limited
number of plays by three authors still exist: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The plays
of Aristophanes provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy,
the earliest form of Greek Comedy, and are in fact used to define the genre. [53]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,German writer and author of the Faustbooks

Roman histories and biographies anticipated the extensive mediaeval literature of lives of saints and
miraculous chronicles, but the most characteristic form of the Middle Ageswas the romance, an
adventurous and sometimes magical narrative with strong popular appeal. Controversial, religious,
political and instructional literature proliferated during the Renaissance as a result of the invention of
printing, while the mediaeval romance developed into a more character-based and psychological
form of narrative, the novel, of which early and important examples are the Chinese Monkey and the
German Faust books.
In the Age of Reason philosophical tracts and speculations on history and human nature integrated
literature with social and political developments. The inevitable reaction was the explosion
of Romanticism in the later 18th century which reclaimed the imaginative and fantastical bias of old
romances and folk-literature and asserted the primacy of individual experience and emotion. But as
the 19th-century went on, European fiction evolved towards realism and naturalism, the meticulous
documentation of real life and social trends. Much of the output of naturalism was implicitly
polemical, and influenced social and political change, but 20th century fiction and drama moved
back towards the subjective, emphasising unconscious motivations and social and environmental
pressures on the individual. Writers such as Proust, Eliot, Joyce, Kafka and Pirandello exemplify the
trend of documenting internal rather than external realities.

Genre fiction also showed it could question reality in its 20th century forms, in spite of its fixed
formulas, through the enquiries of the skeptical detective and the alternative realities of science
fiction. The separation of "mainstream" and "genre" forms (including journalism) continued to blur
during the period up to our own times. William Burroughs, in his early works, and Hunter S.
Thompson expanded documentary reporting into strong subjective statements after the second
World War, and post-modern critics have disparaged the idea of objective realism in general.

Awards[edit]
Main article: List of literary awards
There are numerous awards recognising achievement and contribution in literature. Given the
diversity of the field, awards are typically limited in scope, usually on: form, genre, language,
nationality and output (e.g. for first-time writers or debut novels).[54]
The Nobel Prize in Literature was one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred
Nobel in 1895,[55] and is awarded to an author on the basis of their body of work, rather than to, or for,
a particular work itself.[b] Other literary prizes for which all nationalities are eligible include:
the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Man Booker International Prize and the Franz
Kafka Prize.

Essays[edit]
An essay consists of a discussion of a topic from an author's personal point of view, exemplified by
works by Michel de Montaigne or by Charles Lamb.
Genres related to the essay may include the memoir and the epistle.

Other prose literature[edit]


Philosophical, historical, journalistic, and scientific writings are traditionally ranked as literature. They
offer some of the oldest prose writings in existence; novels and prose stories earned the names
"fiction" to distinguish them from factual writing or nonfiction, which writers historically have crafted in
prose.

Natural science[edit]
As advances and specialization have made new scientific research inaccessible to most audiences,
the "literary" nature of science writing has become less pronounced over the last two centuries. Now,
science appears mostly in journals. Scientific works of Aristotle, Copernicus, and Newton still exhibit
great value, but since the science in them has largely become outdated, they no longer serve for
scientific instruction. Yet, they remain too technical to sit well in most programmes of literary study.
Outside of "history of science" programmes, students rarely read such works.

Philosophy[edit]
Philosophy has become an increasingly academic discipline. More of its practitioners lament this
situation than occurs with the sciences; nonetheless most new philosophical work appears
in academic journals. Major philosophers through historyPlato, Aristotle,
Socrates, Augustine, Descartes, Kierkegaard, Nietzschehave become as canonical as any writers.
Some recent philosophy works are argued to merit the title "literature", but much of it does not, and
some areas, such as logic, have become extremely technical to a degree similar to that
of mathematics.

Psychology[edit]
Literature allows readers to access intimate emotional aspects of a persons character that would not
be obvious otherwise.[56] It benefits the psychological development and understanding of the reader.
For example, it allows a person to access emotional states from which the person has distanced
himself or herself. An entry written by D. Mitchell featured in The English Journal explains how the
author utilized young adult literature in order to re-experience the emotional psychology she
experienced as a child which she describes as a state of wonder. [57]
Hogan also explains that the temporal and emotional amount which a person devotes to
understanding a characters situation in literature allows literature to be considered ecological[ly]
valid in the study of emotion. [58] This can be understood in the sense that literature unites a large
community by provoking universal emotions. It also allows readers to access cultural aspects that
they are not exposed to thus provoking new emotional experiences. [59] Authors choose literary device
according to what psychological emotion he or she is attempting to describe, thus certain literary
devices are more emotionally effective than others.[60]
Furthermore, literature is being more popularly regarded as a psychologically effective research tool.
It can be considered a research tool because it allows psychologists to discover new psychological
aspects and it also allows psychologists to promote their theories. [61] For example, the print capacity
available for literature distribution has allowed psychological theories such as Maslows Hierarchy of
Needs to be universally recognized.
Maslows Third Force Psychology Theory even allows literary analysts to critically understand how
characters reflect the culture and the history in which they are contextualized. It also allows analysts
to understand the authors intended message and to understand the authors psychology.[62] The
theory suggests that human beings possess a nature within them that demonstrates their true self
and it suggests that the fulfillment of this nature is the reason for living. It also suggests that
neurological development hinders actualizing the nature because a person becomes estranged from
his or her true self.[63] Therefore, literary devices reflect a characterss and an authors natural self.
[64]

In his Third Force Psychology and the Study of Literature, Paris argues D.H. Lawrence's

pristine unconscious is a metaphor for the real self.[65] Thus Literature is a reputable tool that allows
readers to develop and apply critical reasoning to the nature of emotions.

History[edit]
A significant portion of historical writing ranks as literature, particularly the genre known as creative
nonfiction, as can a great deal of journalism, such as literary journalism. However, these areas have
become extremely large, and often have a primarily utilitarian purpose: to record data or convey
immediate information. As a result, the writing in these fields often lacks a literary quality, although it
often(and in its better moments)has that quality. Major "literary" historians
include Herodotus, Thucydides and Procopius, all of whom count as canonical literary figures.

Law[edit]
Law offers more ambiguity. Some writings of Plato and Aristotle, the law tables
of Hammurabi of Babylon, or even the early parts of the Bible could be seen as legal
literature. Roman civil law as codified in the Corpus Juris Civilis during the reign of Justinian I of
the Byzantine Empire has a reputation as significant literature. The founding documents of many
countries, including Constitutions and Law Codes, can count as literature; however, most legal
writings rarely exhibit much literary merit, as they tend to be rather Written by Samuel Dean.

Other narrative forms[edit]

Electronic literature is a literary genre consisting of works that originate in digital


environments.

Films, videos and broadcast soap operas have carved out a niche which often parallels the
functionality of prose fiction.

Graphic novels and comic books present stories told in a combination of sequential artwork,
dialogue and text.

Genres of literature[edit]
Literary genre is a mode of categorising literature. The term originates from French, designating a
proposed type or class.[66] However, such classes are subject to change, and have been used in
different ways in different periods and traditions.

Literary techniques[edit]
Main article: Literary technique
A literary technique or literary device can be used by authors in order to enhance the written
framework of a piece of literature, and produce specific effects. Literary techniques encompass a

wide range of approaches to crafting a work: whether a work is narrated in first-person or from
another perspective, whether to use a traditional linear narrative or a nonlinear narrative, or the
choice of literary genre, are all examples of literary technique. They may indicate to a reader that
there is a familiar structure and presentation to a work, such as a conventional murder-mystery
novel; or, the author may choose to experiment with their technique to surprise the reader.
In this way, use of a technique can lead to the development of a new genre, as was the case with
one of the first modern novels, Pamela by Samuel Richardson. Pamela is written as a collection of
letter-writing correspondence, called "epistolary technique"; by using this
technique, Pamela strengthened the tradition of the epistolary novel, a genre which had been
practiced for some time already but without the same acclaim.
Literary technique is distinguished from literary device, as military strategy is distinguished
from military tactics. Devices are specific constructions within the narrative that make it effective.
Examples includemetaphor, simile, ellipsis, narrative motifs, and allegory. Even simple word
play functions as a literary device. The narrative mode may be considered a literary device, such as
the use of stream-of-consciousness narrative.
Literary criticism implies a critique and evaluation of a piece of literature and, in some cases, it is
used to improve a work in progress or a classical piece, as with an ongoing theatre
production. Literary editors can serve a similar purpose for the authors with whom they work. There
are many types of literary criticism and each can be used to critique a piece in a different way or
critique a different aspect of a piece.

Legal status[edit]
This section requires expansion.
(February 2014)

UK[edit]
Literary works have been protected by copyright law from unauthorised reproduction since at least
1710.[67] Literary works are defined by copyright law to mean any work, other than a dramatic or
musical work, which is written, spoken or sung, and accordingly includes (a) a table or compilation
(other than a database), (b) a computer program, (c) preparatory design material for a computer
program, and (d) a database.
It should be noted that literary works are not limited to works of literature, but include all works
expressed in print or writing (other than dramatic or musical works).[68]

5 Important Elements of a Short Story

A short story is a short work of fiction. Fiction, as


you know, is prose writing about imagined events
and characters. Prose writing differs from poetry
in that it does not depend on verses, meters or
rhymes for its organization and presentation.
Novels are another example of fictional prose
and are much longer than short stories. Some
short stories, however, can be quite long. If a a
short story is a long one, say fifty to one hundred
pages, we call it a novella.
American literature contains some of the world's
best examples of the short story. Readers
around the world enjoy the finely crafted stories
of American writers such as O. Henry, Stephen
Crane, Jack London, Mark Twain and Edgar
Allen Poe.
What makes these authors such remarkable
short story writers? They are true masters at
combining the five key elements that go into
every great short story: character, setting,
conflict, plot andtheme.
The ELLSA web-site uses one of these five key
elements as the focus of each of the five on-line
lessons in the Classics of American Literature
section. In each lesson, you will explore a single
American short story from the USIA Ladder
Series and discover how the author uses a
certain element.
The definitions on the right are repeated on the
first page of each short story lesson.

map of ELLSA: American Literary Classics


top of page
contents: American Literary Classics

A character is a person, or sometimes


even an animal, who takes part in the
action of a short story or other literary
work.
see The Green Door by O. Henry

The setting of a short story is the time


and place in which it happens.
Authors often use descriptions of
landscape, scenery, buildings,
seasons or weather to provide a
strong sense of setting.
see The Last Leaf by O. Henry

A plot is a series of events and


character actions that relate to the
central conflict.
see The Open Boat by Stephen Crane

The conflict is a struggle between two


people or things in a short story. The
main character is usually on one side
of the central conflict.
On the other side, the main character
may struggle against another
important character, against the
forces of nature, against society, or
even against something inside himself
or herself (feelings, emotions, illness).
see To Build a Fire by Jack London

March 22, 2004

The theme is the central idea or belief

in a short story.

SHORT STORY ELEMENTS

SETTING
CONFLICT
POINT OF VIEW

PLOT
CHARACTER
THEME

SETTING -- The time and location in which a story takes place is called the
setting. For some stories the setting is very important, while for others it is
not. There are several aspects of a story's setting to consider when
examining how setting contributes to a story (some, or all, may be present in a
story):
a) place - geographical location. Where is the action of the story taking
place?
b) time - When is the story taking place? (historical period, time of day, year,
etc)
c) weather conditions - Is it rainy, sunny, stormy, etc?
d) social conditions - What is the daily life of the characters like? Does the
story contain local colour (writing that focuses on the speech, dress,
mannerisms, customs, etc. of a particular place)?
e) mood or atmosphere - What feeling is created at the beginning of the
story? Is it bright and cheerful or dark and frightening?
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PLOT -- The plot is how the author arranges events to develop his basic idea;
It is the sequence of events in a story or play. The plot is a planned, logical

series of events having a beginning, middle, and end. The short story usually
has one plot so it can be read in one sitting. There are five essential parts of
plot:
a) Introduction - The beginning of the story where the characters and the
setting is revealed.
b) Rising Action - This is where the events in the story become complicated
and the conflict in the story is revealed (events between the introduction and
climax).
c) Climax - This is the highest point of interest and the turning point of the
story. The reader wonders what will happen next; will the conflict be resolved
or not?
d) Falling action - The events and complications begin to resolve
themselves. The reader knows what has happened next and if the conflict
was resolved or not (events between climax and denouement).
e) Denouement - This is the final outcome or untangling of events in the
story.
It is helpful to consider climax as a three-fold phenomenon: 1) the main
character receives new information 2) accepts this information (realizes it but
does not necessarily agree with it) 3) acts on this information (makes a
choice that will determine whether or not he/she gains his objective).
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CONFLICT-- Conflict is essential to plot. Without conflict there is no plot. It


is the opposition of forces which ties one incident to another and makes the
plot move. Conflict is not merely limited to open arguments, rather it is any
form of opposition that faces the main character. Within a short story there
may be only one central struggle, or there may be one dominant struggle with
many minor ones.
There are two types of conflict:
1) External - A struggle with a force outside one's self.
2) Internal - A struggle within one's self; a person must make some decision,
overcome pain, quiet their temper, resist an urge, etc.

There are four kinds of conflict:


1) Man vs. Man (physical) - The leading character struggles with his physical
strength against other men, forces of nature, or animals.
2) Man vs. Circumstances (classical) - The leading character struggles
against fate, or the circumstances of life facing him/her.
3) Man vs. Society (social) - The leading character struggles against ideas,
practices, or customs of other people.
4) Man vs. Himself/Herself (psychological) - The leading character
struggles with himself/herself; with his/her own soul, ideas of right or wrong,
physical limitations, choices, etc.
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CHARACTER -- There are two meanings for the word character:


1) The person in a work of fiction.
2) The characteristics of a person.
Persons in a work of fiction - Antagonist and Protagonist
Short stories use few characters. One character is clearly central to the story
with all major events having some importance to this character - he/she is the
PROTAGONIST. The opposer of the main character is called the
ANTAGONIST.
The Characteristics of a Person In order for a story to seem real to the reader its characters must seem real.
Characterization is the information the author gives the reader about the
characters themselves. The author may reveal a character in several ways:
a) his/her physical appearance
b) what he/she says, thinks, feels and dreams
c) what he/she does or does not do
d) what others say about him/her and how others react to him/her
Characters are convincing if they are: consistent, motivated, and life-like
(resemble real people)
Characters are...
1. Individual - round, many sided and complex personalities.
2. Developing - dynamic, many sided personalities that change, for better or
worse, by the end of the story.

3. Static - Stereotype, have one or two characteristics that never change and
are emphasized e.g. brilliant detective, drunk, scrooge, cruel stepmother, etc.
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POINT OF VIEW
Point of view, or p.o.v., is defined as the angle from which the story is told.
1. Innocent Eye - The story is told through the eyes of a child (his/her
judgment being different from that of an adult) .
2. Stream of Consciousness - The story is told so that the reader feels as if
they are inside the head of one character and knows all their thoughts and
reactions.
3. First Person - The story is told by the protagonist or one of the characters
who interacts closely with the protagonist or other characters (using pronouns
I, me, we, etc). The reader sees the story through this person's eyes as
he/she experiences it and only knows what he/she knows or feels.
4. Omniscient- The author can narrate the story using the omniscient point of
view. He can move from character to character, event to event, having free
access to the thoughts, feelings and motivations of his characters and he
introduces information where and when he chooses. There are two main
types of omniscient point of view:
a) Omniscient Limited - The author tells the story in third person (using
pronouns they, she, he, it, etc). We know only what the character knows and
what the author allows him/her to tell us. We can see the thoughts and
feelings of characters if the author chooses to reveal them to us.
b) Omniscient Objective The author tells the story in the third person. It
appears as though a camera is following the characters, going anywhere, and
recording only what is seen and heard. There is no comment on the
characters or their thoughts. No interpretations are offered. The reader is
placed in the position of spectator without the author there to explain. The
reader has to interpret events on his own.
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THEME -- The theme in a piece of fiction is its controlling idea or its central
insight. It is the author's underlying meaning or main idea that he is trying to

convey. The theme may be the author's thoughts about a topic or view of
human nature. The title of the short story usually points to what the writer is
saying and he may use various figures of speech to emphasize his theme,
such as: symbol, allusion, simile, metaphor, hyperbole, or irony.
Some simple examples of common themes from literature, TV, and film are:
- things are not always as they appear to be
- Love is blind
- Believe in yourself
- People are afraid of change
- Don't judge a book by its cover

Genres of Literature
Genres of literature are important to learn about. The two main categories
separating the different genres of literature are fiction and nonfiction. There
are several genres of literature that fall under the nonfiction category.
Nonfiction sits in direct opposition to fiction. Examples from both the fiction
and nonfiction genres of literature are explained in detail below. This detailed
genres of literature list is a great resource to share with any scholars.
Types of Nonfiction:
Narrative Nonfiction is information based on fact that is presented in a
format which tells a story.
Essays are a short literary composition that reflects the authors outlook or
point. A short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in
prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative.
A Biography is a written account of another persons life.
An Autobiography gives the history of a persons life, written or told by that
person. Often written in Narrative form of their persons life.
Speech is the faculty or power of speaking; oral communication; ability to
express ones thoughts and emotions by speech, sounds, and gesture.
Generally delivered in the form of an address or discourse.
Finally there is the general genre of Nonfiction. This is Informational text
dealing with an actual, real-life subject. This genre of literature offers
opinions or conjectures on facts and reality. This includes biographies,
history, essays, speech, and narrative non fiction. Nonfiction opposes fiction
and is distinguished from those fiction genres of literature like poetry and
drama which is the next section we will discuss.

Genres of Fiction:
Drama is the genre of literature thats subject for compositions is dramatic
art in the way it is represented. This genre is stories composed in verse or
prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are
expressed through dialogue and action.
Poetry is verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that evokes an emotional
response from the reader. The art of poetry is rhythmical in composition,
written or spoken. This genre of literature is for exciting pleasure by
beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.
Fantasy is the forming of mental images with strange or other worldly
settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality.
Humor is the faculty of perceiving what is amusing or comical. Fiction full of
fun, fancy, and excitement which meant to entertain. This genre of literature
can actually be seen and contained within all genres.
A Fable is a story about supernatural or extraordinary people Usually in the
form of narration that demonstrates a useful truth. In Fables, animals often
speak as humans that are legendary and supernatural tales.
Fairy Tales or wonder tales are a kind of folktale or fable. Sometimes the
stories are about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children.
Science Fiction is a story based on impact of potential science, either
actual or imagined. Science fiction is one of the genres of literature that is
set in the future or on other planets.
Short Story is fiction of such briefness that is not able to support any
subplots.

Realistic Fiction is a story that can actually happen and is true to real life.
Folklore are songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a person of folk that
was handed down by word of mouth. Folklore is a genre of literature that is
widely held, but false and based on unsubstantiated beliefs.
Historical Fiction is a story with fictional characters and events in a
historical setting.
Horror is an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by literature that is
frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting. Fiction in which events evoke a
feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader.
A Tall Tale is a humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering
heroes who do the impossible with an here of nonchalance.
Legend is a story that sometimes of a national or folk hero. Legend is based
on fact but also includes imaginative material.
Mystery is a genre of fiction that deals with the solution of a crime or the
unraveling of secrets. Anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or
unknown.
Mythology is a type of legend or traditional narrative. This is often based in
part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural
phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods. A
body of myths, as that of a particular people or that relating to a particular
person.
Fiction in Verse is full-length novels with plot, subplots, themes, with major
and minor characters. Fiction of verse is one of the genres of literature in
which the narrative is usually presented in blank verse form.

The genre of Fiction can be defined as narrative literary works whose


content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
In fiction something is feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story.
The Oxford English Dictionary is a great place to consult for any further
definitions of the different genres of literature explained here.