Components of Literature

 You may quake at the thought of reading and writing about fiction, remembering traumatic episodes with English teachers. What may have been enjoyable when read turns to torment when you’re forced to “analyze” a story and write about it as if you’re some kind of literary critic. But by looking at the parts of a story one at a time, we can learn what to look for in stories.

This, in turn, enables us to better understand what the story is about–even if no two of us will agree exactly.


Most students have read and studied stories, but let’s review the list of various aspects that make up most stories.

   You may want to focus on the events--plot.

   You may be fascinated by the motivations of the protagonistcharacter.

   You may find that the description of the surroundings is key–setting.

   You may notice that a narrator or character’s thinking is curious, contradictory, etc.–point-of-view.

   Or, you focus on what the author seems to be saying about human nature–its theme.



 atmosphere: mood or feeling conveyed by the author’s choice of language

complication (of plot): the introduction and development of a conflict between characters or characters and a situation.

chronological/linear plot flow: telling a story in order of events as they take place in time

conflict: some form of opposition presented to the main character

crises: turning point in a narrative as it moves close to the story’s climax

distance: an author’s or narrator’s spatial, temporal, or emotional removal from plot events

flashback: breaks up chronological flow of plot events to tell what happened at some past time

foreshadowing: introduction of specific words or images that anticipate later events

frame story: story within a story, the “outer” story implying an important theme within the “inner” story  

irony: reader’s awareness that reality differs from that of the character’s perspective

metaphor: metaphor: an image used to make concrete an abstract idea--doesn't use like or similar to Ex: My love is a Grand Canyon of longing.

magical realism: use of magical elements to          mood: at     motivation: eternal and internal forces that cause characters to perform specific acts

*omniscient: knows all thoughts of characters, and events
*limited omniscient: knows the thoughts and feelings of certain characters
*first-person: uses “I” to tell the story, and may be a character
*unreliable: narrator who lies or misrepresents reality on purpose
rate at which the action progresses

pathos: quality of a work that evokes pity. Too much=sentimentality

protagonist: main character of a story

resolution: the “falling action” of a story in which the conflict has been settled

reversal: any turnabout in the fortunes of a character

simile: an image used to make concrete an abstract idea. Uses words such as “like” or “similar to.” Ex: My love is like a Grand Canyon of longing. (compare with metaphor)

subplot: a minor plot that somehow affects and interacts with the main plot

symbol: a person, event, place, etc., that represents, by association, some other idea (often abstract).

unity: the relation of all the story’s parts to one central organizing principle that forms an organic whole

types of tales:
*fall from innocence
use of certain lifelike details to give the semblance of reality

                                             READING AND ANNOTATING THE STORIES

Remember, you’re required to do more than simply read an assigned story. You must also annotate in the margins as you read. Otherwise, you’ll finish and remember what you’ve read for a few minutes, but by the next day or so, you will have forgotten specifics. To be able to review the story with ease, and be able to discuss and write about it, you need to have underlined and noted key ideas, questions, interesting language, abrupt surprises, etc.

For those who may not want to write in their books--remember, you won't get more money for clean books if you sell them back--please write your annotation in your notebook.