CHARACTERISTICS OF PROSE FICTION

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INTRODUCTION

We have defined prose fiction and discussed its evolution in our previous article. In the definition, we said that for a written work to qualify as prose fiction, it must be fictitious or imaginary and must be presented in prose form. In this unit, we are going to discuss the specific characteristics that make prose fiction unique. The characteristics include its ability to present life-like experiences through vivid descriptions of events presented in the works.

Verisimilitude

Verisimilitude in Prose fiction is used to describe the situation whereby the story is presented in such a way that the events are realistic. However you may come across the term slice of life-tranche de vie which is used to describe the level of realism that is advocated in naturalism. It is however prominent in the novel, the short story and the novella. It gives the sense that what one reads is “real,” or at least realistic and believable. For instance, the reader possesses a sense of verisimilitude when reading a story in which a character cuts his finger, and the finger bleeds. If the character’s cut finger had produced sparks of fire rather than blood, the story would not possess verisimilitude. It is difficult therefore for fantasy and science fiction stories that present impossible events to have verisimilitude.

However, it could have it if the reader is able to read them believing what is presented to be true though he knows that it is imaginary. This is known as the willing suspension of disbelief. Verisimilitude is having the quality of appearing to be true or real. In other words, it is something that has the quality of truth or reality.

Prose fiction is basically for entertainment so is enjoyed or appreciated in intimate reading situations. The reader, alone is immersed in the fictional world created by the author. This world is appreciated more if the element of verisimilitude is present. In ancient times, verse epics were recited to selected audiences and in this closer performance there was a greater intimacy between the audience and the performer than the performance of plays in theatres.

Have you watched a stage play in a theatre? The stage is usually set some metres away from the audience but in the recitation of epics or story-telling, the listeners sat very close to the performer and could even touch him or her. This is the greater intimacy.

The intimacy is closer in prose fiction where the reader is alone and is reading and at the same time visualising the performance of the characters in his mind as the narration unfolds. It was fashionable to read novel in those daysbecause the incidents portrayed were lifelike the readerswere able to identify with the characters and incidents. Also, in the early stages of the development of prose fiction, verisimilitude made it possible for realistic representation of incidents so, it became the medium of open secrets, rumours, private and public gossip.

Thus “…individualistic fashions, personal views, intimate feelings, secret anxieties, “conduct” and “gallantry” spread with novels. Love became the typical field of experience portrayed in prose fiction and with the introduction of satirical fictions, the scope of the subject matter widenedin the 17th and 18th centuries” (Forster 15). In prose fiction, the reader is invited to personally identify with the novel’s characters and this can only be achieved if the work presents a believable aspect of life.

Time and Space

The writer in prose fiction is not restricted like the playwright who is expected to condense the story within a limited time and place and in a dialogue. This means that the writer has the liberty to present graphic details about the character and action. This aids the writer’s ability to describe the environment, the actions of the characters and even their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Time: We all know what time is. It is a period when something happens. For instance, I am writing now. Later I might state the time when the writing was done. Time includes exact time according to the clock, the date in terms of day, month, and historical period.

Space: Space, on the other hand is a period of time. You see that both of them are inseparable and that is why sometimes they are confusing. It is that extent of time between a particular action and another one.

According to AkachiEzeigbo, time and space are very important in prose fiction because “…every action in which people are involved is concerned with the passage of time in space.

…the picture that is built…acquires concreteness as a result of its passage through time/space” (15). She presents two categories of time -functional time and chronological time as illustrated below:

Chronological: This is time that can be measured or quantified. for example, at 20, Tom began work, at 25 he left developmentfrom one level , and at 35 he married. Time is here gauged or determined by how much experience has been gained; not by how much time has elapsed or passed.

Functional: This is time that is not measured in terms of growth It is from one situation to another (higher one)

Time is therefore important both chronologically and functionally. The time and space range helps to determine the ‘goodness’ or progress of characters or otherwise. Characters finally become what they are as they are assessed based on the experiences they have undergone as they pass through time and space.

Illustration: If we take Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for instance, you may say that Okonkwo killed somebody when (time) he went to the funeral ceremony and the bullet he shot into the air inadvertently hit someone and the victim died. In the same work, you will recall the incidents that take place in the space between when he is on an exile and when he returns. This means that action takes place only when there is a passage of time. The space can be long or short. The space between your waking up from sleep and taking your breakfast is short but the space between your first year in this university and your graduation is a longer period.

Volume

In a literal sense, the volume here refers to the size of the work. This size is determined by the length of the work which is in turn evaluated by the number of pages of a particular type of prose fiction. The novel is the longest genre of narrative prose followed by the novella and the short story. Sometimes, students ask how long a novel should be – in order to be more than a novella or a short story. This question is very important but it is difficult to ascertain specifically, the number of pages in each category. The requirement of length has been traditionally connected with the notion that the novel presents an “epic length performances that try to cope with the totality of life” (Lubbock 30).

The novella is by contrast focused on a point, the short story on a situation whose full dimensions the reader has to grasp in a less complex process of interpretation. The requirement of length is actually secondary to the requirement of a certain perspective on life. The difference between the ancient Homeric epic and the modern novel is, according to Lukács, that the new genre is the perfect form to reflect the modern individual’s experience of the world: “Equilibrium, coherence and unity” had been features of the ancient epic. A “fragmentary nature of the world’s structure” is by contrast the typical experience modern novels provide”(Lubbock 23). As a guide on volume in prose fiction, we present the following:

  • Short story is a work of at least 2,000 words but under 7,500 words. (5-25 pages)
  • Novelette is a work of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words. (25-60 pages)
  • Novella is a work of at least 17,500 words but under 50,000 words. (60-170 pages)
  • Novel is a work of 50,000 words or more. (about 170+ pages)

Atmosphere

Atmosphere in prose fiction is the emotion that pervades the work. It is the emotional feeling that one gets as one reads a particular work. This feeling is stronger in some works than in others. The intensity of emotion in any particular work depends largely on the ability of the author to employ descriptive details that “…heighten the intensity of atmosphere. Language plays an important role here. The choice of words by the author helps to convey the desired atmosphere.

The atmosphere is further heightened by the tempo of the action, the quality and clarity of the dialogue (Ezeigbo 23). Many novelists evoke atmosphere very well in their works. For instance, Festus Iyayi evokes the atmosphere of violence and depravity in his novel, Violenceand this is achieved through dialogue and vivid description of events in the book. The atmosphere in a work can change from one event or situation to the other. This is why I see atmosphere as the mood/emotion of the moment.

Tone

The tone is closely related to atmosphere but is not as obvious as atmosphere. It is the writer’s attitude to theme that is being explored. It is usually elicited in the narration without the writer pointing it out or making direct comment. A good writer presents the story objectively without taking sides but the tone is clear. Tone could be that of contempt, ridicule, condemnation, admiration, exhortation and so on.Like in atmosphere, tone could change in the course of a narration. For instance, a writer’s tone for the good characters may be that of admiration and that of condemnation for the villain.

CONCLUSION

The writer in prose fiction tries to present an interesting story and this is achieved through the portrayal of life-like events and incidents. This is called the verisimilitude. She or he achieves this through a proper manipulation of language to create appropriate and credible atmosphere. In this article, we have presented the basic characteristics of prose fiction. We are concerned with the novel, the novella, and the short story, which are basically the same but differ in volume.

 

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