Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative

Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative Ignasi Ribó
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[The book] covers a wide array of concepts necessary in introductory courses on narratology, creative writing, and literary criticism. Although available digitally (open access) through the publisher’s website, the physical book is attractively designed and worth purchasing. In short, Prose Fiction will serve as a helpful companion text in any introductory course in which students analyze, critique, or compose narratives.
—J. D. Harding, Saint Leo University, CHOICE Connect, September 2020 Vol. 58 No. 1.
 
This book deserves to be read by anyone embarking on the thorny study of narratology. It guides the reader through a tricky welter of concepts with admirable critical aplomb and a wealth of apposite examples, ranging from the high-brow to the popular.
—Professor Clive Scott, University of East Anglia.

Given the increasing popularity of narrative inquiries across multiple disciplines, a textbook on narrative is much needed. Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative satisfies such a lacuna. The book concisely informs readers of such important conceptions of narrative as characterization, setting, narration, language, and theme. It will be of great interest to both teachers and students in the area of literature, semiotic, media, etc.
—Professor Shang Biwu, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative achieves exactly what it sets out to do: it is a short, clear and easily comprehensible textbook, which provides basic level students with an overview of what is accepted knowledge in narrative theory.
—Professor Florence Goyet, University of Stendhal.


This concise and highly accessible textbook outlines the principles and techniques of storytelling. It is intended as a high-school and college-level introduction to the central concepts of narrative theory – concepts that will aid students in developing their competence not only in analysing and interpreting short stories and novels, but also in writing them.

This textbook prioritises clarity over intricacy of theory, equipping its readers with the necessary tools to embark on further study of literature, literary theory and creative writing. Building on a ‘semiotic model of narrative,’ it is structured around the key elements of narratological theory, with chapters on plot, setting, characterisation, and narration, as well as on language and theme – elements which are underrepresented in existing textbooks on narrative theory. The chapter on language constitutes essential reading for those students unfamiliar with rhetoric, while the chapter on theme draws together significant perspectives from contemporary critical theory (including feminism and postcolonialism).

This textbook is engaging and easily navigable, with key concepts highlighted and clearly explained, both in the text and in a full glossary located at the end of the book. Throughout the textbook the reader is aided by diagrams, images, quotes from prominent theorists, and instructive examples from classical and popular short stories and novels (such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis,’ J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, or Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, amongst many others).

Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative can either be incorporated as the main textbook into a wider syllabus on narrative theory and creative writing, or it can be used as a supplementary reference book for readers interested in narrative fiction. The textbook is a must-read for beginning students of narratology, especially those with no or limited prior experience in this area. It is of especial relevance to English and Humanities major students in Asia, for whom it was conceived and written.



Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative
Ignasi Ribó | December 2019
262 | 45 colour illustrations | 7" x 10" (178 x 254 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783748099
ISBN Hardback: 9781783748105
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783748112
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783748129
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783748136
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783748143
DOI:10.11647/OBP.0187
Categories: BIC: H (Humanities), YQE (Educational: English Literature), FYB (Short stories), JNM (Higher and further education), DSB (Literary studies: general); BISAC: EDU015000 (EDUCATION / Higher), YAN030020 (YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION / Language Arts / Composition & Creative Writing), FIC029000 (FICTION / Short Stories (single author)), EDU029050 (EDUCATION / Teaching Methods & Materials / Arts & Humanities)


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About the author
Acknowledgements
Preface

1. Introduction
1.1 What Is Narrative?
1.2 Genres
1.3 Prose Fiction
1.4 Story and Discourse
1.5 Beyond Literature
Summary
References

2. Plot
2.1 The Thread of Narrative
2.2 Emplotment
2.3 Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
2.4 Conflict and Resolution
2.5 Suspense and Surprise
Summary
References

3. Setting
3.1 The World of Narrative
3.2 Topography and Atmosphere
3.3 Kinds of Setting
3.4 Description
3.5 Verisimilitude
Summary
References

4. Characterisation
4.1 The Actants of Narrative
4.2 Individuation
4.3 Kinds of Character
4.4 Representing Characters
4.5 Dialogue
Summary
References

5. Narration
5.1 The Expression of Narrative
5.2 Narrators and Narratees
5.3 Focalisation
5.4 Telling and Showing
5.5 Commentary
Summary
References

6. Language
6.1 The Style of Narrative
6.2 Foregrounding
6.3 Figures of Speech
6.4 Symbolism
6.5 Translation
Summary
References

7. Theme
7.1 The Meaning of Narrative
7.2 Identity
7.3 Ideology
7.4 Morality
7.5 Art and Politics
Summary
References

Bibliography
Illustrations
Examples of Short Stories and Novels
Glossary of Narrative Terms
Ignasi Ribó (Ph.D. in Modern European Literature and Thought, University of Sussex) has been teaching Literary Theory and Semiotics at university level for more than ten years and currently works as a Lecturer in the School of Liberal Arts at Mae Fah Luang University (Chiang Rai, Thailand). He is the author of books and articles, including several novels, as well as academic essays on literary theory, comparative literature, ecocriticism, biosemiotics, cultural ecology, and
environmental philosophy.
1. Introduction

In this chapter, we will introduce some basic ideas about storytelling, and in particular about the narrative forms of literature and the ways in which they create meaning. We will also present the main genres into which literary narratives have been divided historically, and how these genres have evolved from their origins until today. We will then try to define and frame the two genres of prose fiction that are more common nowadays and from which we will draw the examples in this textbook: short stories and novels.

2. Plot

First, we will discuss more precisely the distinction between story and plot, clarifying what we understand by an ‘event’ and the different ways in which the events of a narrative can be connected. Then we will look at the mechanisms of emplotment, the specific operations that can be applied to a story when arranging it into a plot. By arranging events in a meaningful and coherent structure that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, these mechanisms can result in many kinds of plot. We will look at a few of these, which are quite common in prose fiction. Most of these plots are motivated by a conflict, which can be external or internal, and lead to some form of resolution. We will look at this ‘story as war’ analogy and present a five-stage general structure that can be found in many narrative plots. Finally, we will discuss two important mechanisms of emplotment at the micro level, suspense and surprise, which are often used by writers to engage readers and hook them to the narrative.

3. Setting

In this chapter, we will discuss in some detail how the environments of the storyworld are arranged in narrative. We will begin by defining what we understand by environment and the crucial role of environments in building the world of short stories and novels. We will then distinguish two basic ways to arrange environments into a fictional setting: as a topographical layout of natural and artificial things in space or as atmospheric relationships between those same things and the characters of the story. This distinction will allow us to present a typology with four major kinds of setting that may be found in prose fiction: irrelevant, functional, mental, and symbolic. We will then see how literary narratives use description to represent the setting and induce in the reader’s mind a vivid image of the storyworld. Finally, we will discuss the notion of verisimilitude and show how literary description can be used to encourage readers to read fictional stories as if they were happening in the ‘real’ world.

4. Characterisation

In this chapter, we will start by discussing how the nature of characters changes when we analyse them at the level of narrative, discourse, or story. We will then consider the notion of individuation in order to show that characterisation in prose fiction is generally aimed at constructing fully individuated characters, but very often also produces typical and universal characters. When analysing fictional characters in psychological/realistic terms, it is common to distinguish their degree of individuation (flat vs. round characters), as well as their degree of personal development throughout the plot (static vs. dynamic characters).  After looking at these typologies of character, we will discuss the most common approaches to representing them in narrative: indirect and direct characterisation. An important method of direct characterisation is dialogue, which will be the topic of the last section in this chapter.

5. Narration

First, we need to define more precisely what we mean by narration and the relationship between narration and the story being narrated. Then we will look more closely at the two figures of discourse involved in narration, the narrator and the narratee, outlining the types most commonly found in prose fiction. We will then examine the concept of focalisation, an important and closely related aspect of narration, which refers to the point of view or perspective adopted by the narrator of the story. Next, we will discuss in more detail the basic means by which narrators can represent events, characters, and environments: telling and showing. But narrators, besides representing the existents of the storyworld, often also make comments about them. To conclude the chapter, therefore, we will consider the use of explicit and implicit commentary in prose fiction.

6. Language

In this chapter, we will present some key insights about the language of short stories and novels, mostly derived from rhetoric and stylistics, without fleshing out all the linguistic details. To begin with, we need to explain what we mean by style, a characteristic set of linguistic features that is sometimes attributed to the implied author of a story, but also to the real author, or even to a group of authors or to a whole culture. Then, we will discuss the notion of foregrounding, which can help us to identify with more precision the features that distinguish literary from everyday language. Foregrounding in prose fiction can involve different aspects of language, such as the use of figurative devices or figures of speech. After reviewing the most significant of these devices for narrative prose, we will examine the use of symbols and allegory in short stories and novels, an aspect of discourse that brings together language and theme. We will end the chapter by briefly pointing out the importance of literary translation in giving readers access to the rich variety of prose fiction stories written all over the world.

7. Theme

In this final chapter, we will first examine in some detail the concept of theme and will try to locate its expression in prose fiction. Then we will discuss how narratives often explore themes relating to identity and alterity, particularly in connection with gender and ethnicity. An important notion in the analysis of meaning in narrative is ideology, which encompasses the ideas, values, and beliefs that structure a worldview. As we will see, every narrative is ideological, but ideology can be expressed in different ways in each text. This will lead us to some final considerations regarding the moral and political significance of prose fiction, particularly in the modern world. We will see that some narratives attempt to persuade readers of a moral truth, while others provide a more ambiguous or complex representation of human morality. The function of short stories and novels, as well as other literary texts, has often been the object of passionate discussions. As a conclusion to this textbook, we will consider whether writers should use prose fiction to intervene in society or confine themselves to purely artistic pursuits.