First of all we have to remember that we are considering prose writing. Prose is used for a lot of type of written work such as: essays, pamphlets, biographies, autobiographies, diaries, journals, guidebooks and other.
Fiction is the technical word for two literary genres of wide popularity in the last two and a half centuries: the novel and the short story. The word ‘fiction’ derives from the Latin word “fingere”, that is ‘to imagine’.
In the Middle Ages the romance was about improbable, fantastic stories of adventure of heroic kings and knights who fought in battles but also against dragons or other monster, often to save a beautiful princess. By the 18th century the romance was eventually replaced by the novel. It told a story which, although invented, was quite realistic.
There are different sizes (=length) and different types of novel, grouped in subgenres. Novels can be: realistic, utopian, epistolary, picaresque, sentimental, about growing up (=bildungsroman).
We speak of chronological time when the sequence of events is presented as they really happen: it is the time of the story. We speak, instead, of fictional time when the sequence of events is combined in a different order by the author: it is the time of the plot. Place setting is where the story takes place: this influence the people in the story. A setting may include outdoor scenery or detailed descriptions of interiors; it may also include details of the behavior, clothes and so on of the characters, which provide the social setting.
The characters were recognizable as people who lived in a world shared whit the reader. And the things that happened were things that could happen to real people. Many novels of the 18th and the 19th centuries took as their main theme the growth of the central character from youth to maturity. The presentation of characters may be direct- when the writer gives the character’s personality and appearance through description- or indirect- when the reader has to infer the features of character from his/her actions and behavior, or other characters’ reactions. Characters may be stereotyped or realistic, more like real people. It is also possible to distinguish between round characters, who show psychological awareness and development and are dynamic, and flat characters, who show little psychological development and are static.
The narrator in not to be identified with the novelist. He/she can have a name, or be the anonymous voice who tells the story and provides the point of view from which the story is told.
A story can be told in the first or third person:
• The first person narrator speaks as “I” and may be the main characters of the story, an internal narrator, or an external narrator, commenting on the story and sometimes directly addressing the reader. It usually gives an air of authenticity to the story, and causes greater emotional involvement in the reader.
• The third person narrator is not usually part of the story; he/sh is an external observer of the events, introduces the characters, describes what happens, and may or may not made comments.
• The commenting narrator who steps into the novel to comment on the action or th characters or to digress is called obtrusive, while the narrator who never intervenes is unobtrusive.
We can distinguish between:
• An omniscient narrator who knows and sees everything about the story, can comment on or explain the actions, words, thoughts of the characters, privilege certain characters over others- to influence the reader.
A non-omniscient narrator tells the story from the outside and from a neutral point of view. His position is comparable to that of the camera in the cinema.
We may have a fixed point of view, when the story in told from a single prospective moves from one character to another. We can say that the point of view is wide with an omniscient narrator, or narrow usually with a non-omniscient narrator.
Style is the way in which an author chooses to tell the story. The story is told through dialogues, descriptions, narration of past or contemporary events, interior monologue and association of ideas. These different modes of narration are often interwoven. The language of novels varies extremely: syntax may be simple or complex, sentences short or long; the vocabulary used may be concrete and realistic or abstract and symbolical.
Theme is the main topic of the story, developed and analyzed through the characters and the events told.