Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Let's Talk Terms

Let's talk terminology. It's easy for English teachers to bandy around words like conflict, antagonist, protagonist, plot line, building action, falling action, denouement and point of attack. To us, it's normal lingo. Others will discuss story arcs and even throw in words like pacing, foreshadowing and flashback.

What do these terms mean? I'll do my best to explain.

Conflict—think of this like Murphy's Law. If anything can go wrong, it will. This is what makes a story great. We throw our characters into impossible situations and watch them dig themselves out. Some people claim that authors are sadistic. This right here pretty well confirms that.

Antagonist—this is your bad guy. He's the villain, the meany head who wants to kill or otherwise cause trouble for your Protagonist. (Boo Hiss)

Protagonist—this is your good guy, your hero/ heroine. S/he's the one you want your readers to cheer and root for. (Hooray!)

Plot Line—what happens in the story is the Plot or Plot Line. A good plot should start small and build. (see building action)

Point of Attack—The point of attack is where the story begins. There might be a very brief introduction (Exposition Phase) before the story actually starts, but it's best to keep this short. The point of attack is the incident that spurs the story into its upward climb.

Building Action—this is the upward movement of the plot. Building Action isn't usually a straight line. It goes up like stairs.

Climax—The top of the Building Action. It can't get any higher than this. The only way is down.

Falling Action—this is any of the story left after the Climax. Generally, this is the shortest portion of the story. Once you have your Climax, you don't want a long, detailed wind-up. Keep it simple.

Denouement—is the finale. This is where all the loose ends are tied up and the sub-plots are concluded (at least they should be). After the denouement, the author types THE END.

Exposition Phase—I'd better define this too. Simply put, introduction and backstory. Keep it SHORT. VERY short. You want your Point of Attack early on. Backstory can be woven into the plot later.

Pacing—pretty self-explanatory. How quickly does the author tell the story? (more on this later)

Foreshadowing—“She had no idea what was coming next” Cue mysterious, suspenseful music. This is one way of telling the reader that something important is going to take place. Use it sparingly.

Flashback—This is another thing to use sparingly, unless separate sections are devoted to it. I have a story I told on two levels, the character's past and her present. It works because I carefully delineated the past from the present.

These are only a few of the terms an author may encounter. If you have others, please feel free to ask me. Yes, you can look things up, but you may not always understand the explanation. I used to teach this and some of the definitions still confuse me.
I go on the K.I.S.S. Principle: Keep It Simple Sweetie.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share articles discussing different literary terms. Some, like today, will be brief definitions. Others, I will discuss in depth. If there is something I don't cover in as much detail as you'd like, please leave me a comment and I'll do my best to clarify it for you.

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1 comment:

writerchick said...

really meany head? excellent explanation of the literary terms