How To Read Fiction

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Post by Admin on Sun Jul 15, 2007 6:10 pm

How To Read Fiction



In well-chosen words and artfully arranged imagery, literary fiction tells a story about characters in conflict or expresses an emotion or idea. But how do we as readers become involved in these narratives?
The scope of literary fiction
There’s enormous diversity in fiction as this partial list of genres demonstrates: satirical, biographical, religious, romantic, the novel of manners, naturalistic, allegorical, political, utopian, historical, regional, national epic, ethnic, family saga, experimental, and proletarian or protest. Popular (mass-market) fiction genres include Western, science fiction, detective, romance, and horror/occult. If you haven’t found what you want, try another genre.
Why read fiction?
We read for entertainment and/or instruction, according to some critics. Others assign a slightly different purpose to novels and short stories: to delight and/or enlighten through the various expressions of the imagination. The first explanation emphasizes escape and message, while the second refers to the art of exploring and explaining the human experience. Popular or commercial literature may also aim to shock, amaze, or provide us with an escape from reality into another world.
Understanding popular literature is easy, because it typically employs simple characters, clearly resolvable conflicts, and familiar techniques. But many readers find it relatively difficult to respond fully—emotionally, imaginatively, and intellectually—to all the worthwhile aspects of literary fiction. It’s possible to overcome this difficulty by responding to the techniques of fiction that writers employ.
Responding to literary fiction
First, determine what point of view, or perspective, the writer is using. Writers most commonly use one of the following three. In third-person omniscient, the author tells the story, as British author Thomas Hardy does in The Return of the Native (1878). In first person the author lets a character tell the story, as Ralph Ellison does in Invisible Man (1952). In third-person central intelligence, the author filters everything through a single character’s perceptions, as Katherine Mansfield does in the short story “Miss Brill.” Confusion results when the reader does not respond to the way the author’s choice of point of view functions in a story or novel.
Next, pay attention to the author’s style—the choice and use of words to achieve effects line by line. The point of view employed somewhat controls the style. A first-person narrator of average intelligence, for example, can only use words that are part of his or her vocabulary. Some other literary devices to notice include figures of speech, such as metaphors and similes; symbolism; major images; motifs (repetition of images), and abrupt transitions. Think about how these devices function in creating the author’s style.
Appreciating literature
You can enjoy literary fiction more if you have some knowledge of the development of the novel and of its different types, techniques, and styles. Reading Thomas Pynchon’s massive novel Mason & Dixon (1997), for instance, is a richer experience if you know that the subject matter, theme, and techniques Pynchon employs have evolved since ancient times. They came down from the Greek bard Homer, to the late Middle Ages with English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, to the Renaissance era of Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes, to the Victorian era of English novelist Charles Dickens, to the modern era of Irish author James Joyce and the post-modern era of French-Algerian writer Albert Camus.
You can also enhance your experience by reading about the author and the era in which the author lived. The colorful life of American writer Ernest Hemingway offers much insight into his work. Another tactic is to compare a given novel or story with others you have read. In addition, discussing authors and titles with friends will give you new perspectives on the works while turning literature into a social experience.

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