Elements of Form - Part 1 - Introduction, Plot, Setting and Characterisation

Elements of Form - Part 1 - Introduction, Plot, Setting and Characterisation


UNIT 15: Elements of Form - Part 1 - Introduction, Plot, Setting and Characterisation 
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:
- Introduction 
- Plot
- Setting 
- Characterisation 
- Conclusion 

Form is the superstructure of any literary work. It entails how a work of art is arranged or organized.
Form in other way means the way information is presented. The form is what makes literature take many forms and shapes. Literature can take many forms like poem, letter to the editor or letter to a friend, an essay, a story or a play. From can also relate to the choice of words that designate ideas in a colloquial or in a more formal manner.
Form in other way produces meaning. It is thus worth examining how it does that. When examining the style of a text, one scrutinizes mainly two aspects: diction (the choice of words) and syntax (the sentence structure). In other words, one examines which words are used and how these words are put together. Closely related to such questions is the use of rhetorical devices. Particularly in poetry and verse-drama one also focuses on the rhythmical patterns and sound effects. The question at the center of such examinations is how the use of diction, syntax, and rhetorical devices produce certain effects and are aimed to evoke certain responses in the reader.
Form or style involves the expressive qualities that really distinguish an author’s work including word choice, sentence structure and figures of speech.
Style in its broadest definition is the way in which language is used. Style is thus not restricted to literature; it is necessarily part and parcel of any utterance, because for each context one chooses the way one speaks; one uses different vocabulary and probably different syntax when talking to one’s granny than one uses when talking to one’s examiner in the final oral exam; a report in the newspaper is expected to display and in most cases does a different style then love letter.
Form can also be defined as a shape or an arrangement of parts of particular thing or the mode in which something exists or manifest itself. For instance, the form of book.
It is also referred to as the structure of a literary work that is how such literary work is organized or arranged so as to ensure the smooth delivery of the content.

Analysis of a work of art in terms of its form and a good mastery of a form of a story helps students to;
(1) Read and understand the story.
(2) Make a good analysis of a story in terms of its organization, structure and content, and
(3) Improve a good response to various readings.

Here are some of the useful elements or components of form. They are found in most of the literary genres, that is, novel, drama, and poetry. However, these genres may have their own elements in addition to these components of form:

PLOT. Is an arrangement or organization of events in a literary work. It also refers to the series of related events that together make up a story. Thus, a story is what happens, and a plot is the action in the story.
A plot is what happens in a story, novel, play, or poem from the beginning of a literary work, that is exposition, through conflict, rising action, climax, falling action to the resolution.
Plot is the interplay and sequence of events in a story artistically arranged so that the author may attain his/her desired goal to the intended audience. A history book or any chronological account of events would seldom make a plotted story. A plot as it is explained, implies causality.
A plot also includes the division of a literary work into sections, parts, chapters, acts and scenes for the play. A writer divides the narrative into parts and chapters for novels and short stories and into acts and scenes for the plays so as to arrange the events dramatically and artistically, thus he/she may attain the desired artistic effect.
A plot helps the readers to reflect and understand the organizational structure of the literary work.

According to Freytag, the plot structure has the following stages:
Exposition - setting, characters and story's theme are introduced. 
Rising action - things start to get complicated in a story. 
Conflict - now there is clear clash, argument, and misunderstanding in a story. 
Climax - the highest and decisive point of the story. 
Falling action - the story's conflicts and events are slowing down. 
Resolution - the story's conflict(s) is resolved. Some conflicts are not always resolved in a story. 

Is the time and place in which the events of a literary work occur. Apart from physical surroundings or environments, the setting also includes the ideas, customs, values, and beliefs of the people who live there at a particular society. It is any place in which a character’s story takes place. Therefore, the setting of a story includes time (historical period like after or before independence) and place (area where events take place like Kenya, Tanzania, Manzese, forests and any other larger or minor places.
The elements making up a setting can be the actual geographical location, the occupations, and daily manner of living of the characters, the time or period in which the actions take place and the general environment of the characters. For example, religious, mental, moral, social, and environmental conditions through which the people in the narrative more constitute the setting of a work of art.

Is the method used to reveal the personality (or personalities) of a character (or characters). By definition, personality is the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral response patterns of an individual. It is also defined as the creation of imaginary persons so that they exist for the reader as life-like people in the society.
There are two main methods of revealing the personality of a character; both main and minor characters. These two methods are:

Direct Characterization. This is a first method of revealing a character in which the writer tells us dire3ctly what the character is like. This is the easiest and straight forward way for a writer to present and reveal a character as he/she just describes the character’s personality to us (the readers) through his/her description of the character. The ability to characterize is a primary attribute of a good writer. For example, an author may directly tell us that “Jane was a beautiful woman I ever seen before”. So from this sentence we know that Jane was beautiful because the writer has told us already.
Indirect Characterization. It is the second method of revealing a character in the story in which we (readers/audience) have to put our clues together so as to figure out what a character is like, just as we do in real-life situations when we aare getting to know someone. Here, readers must keep up their own minds about a character. For instance, instead of telling us directly what Jane is like, a writer can reveal Jane’s character or personality through indirect methods and we may be told about her appearance with another character like this: Henry said, “Jane has nice blue eyes and she is well-built athlete with a strong determination”. So, here the reader is the one who can use the clues/details to determine the appearance of Jane. Jane herself is not directly introduced by the author, but by another character in the story.

A character is a person in a story. Or a character may be defined as the representation of persons. Characters have personalities which distinguish one fictional person from another. Even when the characters are animals, they almost invariably represent human beings or exhibit human attributes.
Both writer and readers can reveal characters through several ways. By using indirect methods of revealing the characters, we can reveal the characters personalities by;
- Their appearance,
- Their actions and motives,
- Their speech,
- Their private thoughts, and
- Their responses to other characters.

Other methods of indirect characterization are identified by looking at the following types of characters:
Round character. This is more complex character that has many different traits, sides and dimensions to his or her personality. He/she undergoes variety of changes throughout the story. We can learn a lot from this type of character and he/she is most of the time the main character of a story.
Flat character. This is less complex and has only one or two personality traits and can be described in a single phrase or sentence. This character does not change his/her single or double traits and he/she is like a something with only one surface. Thus, we learn one or two traits from them, not many traits like a round character.
Dynamic character. This is a character that changes in some only important ways as a result of the story’s actions or events. This is a kind of character who changes his/her personality traits because of the events or changes he/she experiences in the story. For example, a drunkard can stop drinking just because he was arrested by the police for his involvement in one serious fighting.
Static character. This is the character that does not change in the course of the story. He/she remains the same and totally unchanged throughout the actions and events in the story.
Developing character. This is a character who changes his/her personality traits or who grow to a new awareness of life, e specially an outlook of life he/she did not have earlier in the story.
Stock character. This is a person who fits our preconceived (earlier) notions about a type of such a character like a typical old man or a typical teenager. These characters are called ‘stock’ (stored) character because they are borrowed from other fictions or from general features that we know people have in real life. For example, parents of two different households who disagree the love affair for their children just because two families are hostile or one family is rich while the other is poor. This is a typical story that involves typical characters of all times. The famous example of this typical conflict between two hostile families is ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
Protagonist and antagonist. The two concepts are clear in popular films. A protagonist is a hero, tragic hero, central character or a main character who is the admirable figure in the whole story and that embodies some of our ideas. While, the antagonist is a conflict character, opposing character, a villain character, or any other opposing force which the protagonist will be engaged with in the struggle in the story.
Main character. Is the character that embodies the aspirations of the readers throughout the story. This is the one who is sympathized with by the readers because he or she carries most of readers’ experiences in real life. Major or main character is just another name or term for the protagonist.
Minor character. This is a character that interacts with the protagonist. He/she helps the story move along.
Foil character. This is usually a minor character that has traits in aversion to the main character. This is the character that frustrates the main character.
Point-of-view character. This is the character by whom the story is viewed. The point-of-view character may or may not also be the main character in the story.

Abrahams, M.H (1971) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.


Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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