Elements of Fiction:
Idea: Fiction embodies ideas and themes that underlie and give life to stories. Authors rarely state
them directly, because as we’ve already discussed, good fiction SHOWS, not TELLS. It’s up to you to
look below the surface for embedded concepts or thoughts.
Issue: These are kind of like ideas, except they are usually a matter of public or private concern, and
the author is probably taking a stance on it, using the story as an implicit argument. In “The Story of
an Hour,” for example, Kate Chopin’s narration and choice of detail provides a commentary on a
public issue: the oppressive nature of 19th century marriage.
Point of View: Point of view is the voice of the story. Not only does this refer to the person who is
speaking, but how and why they are speaking, and to what effect. Stories in the first person typically
have a voice that is very unique to the speaker’s character, and the narrator is unable to see other
people’s thoughts. In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” the author creates such a strong first person
voice that even the style of the story reflects how this character would speak. When utilizing the third
person, we are sometimes deeply fixed in one character’s head; other times, the voice of the author
does most of the speaking.
Style: The style refers to the author’s use of language. For example, Hemingway writes in a very
short, concrete style using simple words, and this creates a certain tone and effect on the story’s
meaning. The author chooses the style that works best with the story’s content. When thinking about
style, examine the author’s word choice (simple or complex), their sentence structure (long or short),
their use of details (concrete, abstract, metaphors), as well as the tone.
Tone: Have you ever noticed how emails often get misinterpreted because the reader cannot hear the
way you are saying something? This is because the tone of language—the way we say it—has a
dramatic effect on our responses and the text’s meaning. This is also true when writing fiction, and
authors take great pains to ensure that the tone of the story is appropriate for what they are trying to
say. This tone includes not only the style (word choice), but the effect those words have on the reader
(the mood they evoke, their connotation, etc.) Does the author sound sarcastic or honest? Mysterious
or straightforward? Dark or pleasant? How does this affect your reading?
Characteristics of Critical Essays:
Just like your other assignments, you begin with a question, explore possible answers, make
judgments and interpretations, and offer evidence that supports or complicates your judgments.
The text is the most important source of information. You might bring in an outside source of
another critic, but the best material is drawn directly from the text—closely analyzing the words,
metaphors, and lines for additional meaning.
Your essay will have an argument that is supported throughout.
You might incorporate outside sources, but this isn’t required. If you do, you must incorporate
them meaningfully, not just adopting their argument and claiming it’s your own.
Most critical essays assume that readers are not familiar with the text; however, you can assume
that since your class is the audience, we are familiar with it. We might just need a refresher as you
go along. (The example essay on “Everyday Use,” pages 352-353 is a good representation of this)
Introductions don’t start with general statements we all know. For example, “Shakespeare is one
of the greatest writer’s that’s ever lived,” or “Writing about literature is important because…”