Elements of Fiction- The Big Ponderings
Before we head into today’s post make sure you read all about the Big W’s as they are the foundation for your writing house! As a quick review the Big W’s include the who, the what, and the where of your story—also known as your characters, plot, and setting.
If those were the only things you needed to worry about while writing, where would the challenge be in that? Yeah... I know! Those are complex enough, but we’re going to require more out of ourselves than the bare minimum. So let’s talk about the Big Ponderings.
So what exactly are the Big Ponderings? They’re more commonly discussed as Point of View, Theme, and Style and they’re pretty large concepts that I will break into entire posts all by themselves, but this post will give us a place to start.
Theme and style, in particular, constitute zoomed out, big picture concerns. Some authors don’t finagle with them until the completion of their first draft. However, having some sort of idea of what they are, before you head full fledged into the depths of your work’s world, can be helpful. So let’s do it!
Point of View
Unlike the other two peas in the Big Pondering ‘pod’ you need to choose your point of view before getting too far into your writing. I am currently struggling with this decision with my novel! So hopefully explaining the concept will joggle loose the perfect answer for what I am working on.
When speaking colloquially people use the phrase point of view to talk about how someone views the world around them. While you will certainly think about that point of view in relation to your characters, when writer’s talk about POV they mean different things.
Some of the confusion surrounding point of view stems from the fact that writers use it to talk about two different things that are closely linked. For one, point of view means who is telling the story, which is not always the narrator. Rather it’s who’s pocket we are sitting in, if we were teeny-tiny people hitching a ride with one character.
In a later post, I will work through an example of what I mean by this in a scene. For now, here are some examples from works you might know to help you get the idea.
Creative Work POV Character
Harry Potter Harry Potter
Grey's Anatomy Meredith Grey
Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet (usually)
Did you see that ‘usually’ at the end of Mrs. Bennet’s name there? That’s why POV really is two things that while distinctly different are difficult to separate. The other aspect of POV is more technical. How does the author write the story?
There are five major points of view in the crafting sense, and two dominate today’s fiction which I will signal with a *. They are:
First Person* (Using ‘I’ pronouns)
Second Person (Using ‘you’ pronouns)
Third Person Limited* (Using ‘she/her’ pronouns—following one person closely)
Third Person Omniscient (Using ‘she/her’ pronouns—entering multiple minds)
Third Person Objective (Using ‘she/her’ pronouns—entering no minds)
So the ‘usually’ regarding the POV of Pride and Prejudice stems from the fact that Jane Austen wrote it using Third Person Omniscient. Hence, we sometimes jump into the thoughts of other characters besides ‘Lizzy’.
In a following post, I will break each of these down to the specifics so you can choose the correct POV for your creative work, but this post is a fast and furious drive through the Big Ponderings so let’s keep that accelerator down!
Goodness! If there was one thing I struggled to help my students understand in the one year I taught ELA, it was how to pick out a theme! I will try to do my best here. Theme is the overarching picture. The big concept. The reason we read the book besides to get to know the characters and the events as they unfolded. Think of it as the lesson.
Fables are a great place to start when discussing theme. Think of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” What is the lesson of that story? Slow and steady wins the race, right? Another example would be “The Three Little Pigs”. What could the lesson be behind it? If you work hard and diligently, you’ll reap the rewards, which just happens to be one theme of this blog!
So if we expand out of fables into other works, such as Harry Potter, what do we arrive at? Well, think of everything that happened in Harry Potter. As soon as he was born, He Who Shall Not Be Named attacked him and his family. In every single book, that’s the guy Harry has to defeat because if he doesn’t, the world is going to look pretty gloomy for everyone but the Death Eaters. So what’s one theme here? It’s the ever popular ‘good vs. evil’.
If you noticed, I said one theme. The larger your work, the more likelihood it is that you will have multiple themes. So what could be another in Harry Potter? Well, let’s think about Harry as a person. We meet him briefly as a baby, but the real action begins when he was eleven years old and the series follows him until he turned 18. Now I don’t know about you, but for almost everyone on the planet, those years are pretty significant. They are the transition years from childhood to adulthood where you feel all the feels for the first time and learn how to deal with them. First love? Got it. Betrayal? Yup, Harry faces that too. So another theme here could be ‘coming of age’.
Finally, that leads us to style!
Style, like theme, is another tricky one to describe. In part, that’s because there is no linear way to experience or explain it. So whenever something is so difficult to put into works, I tend to use metaphor as my aid.
I want you to think about yourself. You, my friend, are a very complex person. Often, when we think of ourselves, we think of someone singular. But that’s not really the case. You change all the time, sometimes many times a day, based on where you are, if you’ve eaten, and what kind of emotions are boiling in your pot that day.
When I am teaching, I am Ms. S. I’m not Heidi. Heidi hates public speaking; Ms. S will speak in front of packed auditoriums because she’s wearing that hat. Ms. S will communicate with her students about many things; Heidi is so shy she finds it difficult to know what to talk about in a social situation with adults. I’m willing to bet that you to act and feel differently in different situations. In other words, the style of ‘you’, changes.
Just like your chameleon act in life, your writing can change based on its purpose. When I am writing for the blog, I use many more exclamation points than I would ever dream of using in my fiction writing. I also use contractions because I feel like I’m having a casual conversation with my readers rather than lecturing them. When writing fiction, my contractions come out when I am writing dialogue for that same reason. When I write for my graduate history courses, however, I almost never use a contraction, avoid asides, and write in much lengthier sentences.
Another thing that can alter your style are the words you use, and the way you use them. Some pieces of writing use larger vocabulary well, but in others it would be inappropriate. Some pieces allow slang, while using it in others would create an automatic dismissal of your skills.
And while your style changes from one type of writing to another, it can also be something longer lasting. Hemingway is famous for his ‘simple’ style. He used common vocabulary and sentence syntax to create complex ideas. Short sentences were often his friend. He used little conjunctions to connect ideas, often smashing two smaller sentences (think ideas) up next to each other.
On the other hand, there’s William Faulkner who wrote sentences so long they can extend past a single page. He used complex sentence structure to lead the reader toward an understanding of how the ideas link, and which ideas hold more importance than the others. Hemingway expected his readers to do this work for themselves.
Either style is perfectly fine. Your job as an author is to establish the style that works best not only just for you but also the story you are telling. This is one area I am still working on (it’s always a good thing to assess your strengths and weaknesses as you go along in this journey and I will try to be open about mine).
So there it is! The Elements of Fiction broken up into two posts. The Elements of Fiction are so essential to your understanding of writing that I will further break them down into their own separate discussions; however, it takes the intricate weaving of all of them to create fiction, hence we must have a larger goal in mind. Until then, I wish you...