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How to Approach Literary Fiction When Reading One
Literature is a pair of binoculars with which we are able to see clearly and vividly what seems so distant and incomprehensible. An author's intention in a literary work is to open our eyes in order for us to gain valuable insight in situations within their works that are similar to what we face in real life. In order to identify a literary fiction work from other types of fiction, we have to first and foremost acknowledge and understand the underlying theme of the work, by taking note of the various characters and their traits, the setting, and the overall plot in the story. The theme in question could lie around a character (be it the protagonist or antagonist), the circumstance surrounding the conflict of the plot, or it could even lie in the settings or environment where the characters find themselves.
The author's aim in literary fiction is to show us what is happening in the story, rather than simply narrating the events. It is necessary to pay attention to how the author shows the events to us with the words they use, how the words are structured and arranged, and not just reading the words as they appear on print. We have to ask ourselves, what is the author trying to tell us by what he/she is showing us? By showing, the author is painting a picture and letting us see what he/she has already envisioned and hopes that we see.
When it comes to literature, we are put in the place of the characters, we feel what they feel, and even though we might not react in reality as dramatically as they do, we come to understand what they're feeling, and why they take such drastic actions.
Let's take the story of Oedipus The King by Sophocles, as an example. All along we, the readers, know something that Oedipus, the protagonist, does not know, which builds up the suspense and heightens the level of the turning point. Eventually he finds out what he has done: that he has unintentionally killed his father and married his mother, and although we may not exactly react the way he does (by plucking his eyes out), we can understand the sorrow, depression, and self-loathe he feels in realizing the atrocity he has committed, albeit unknowingly. We feel his pain, his good heart, his love for his wife and for his people, and we feel the shame he feels. We empathize with him, even though we know he's a murderer and an incest perpetrator.
This is how literary fiction should make us feel. It is sublime, even if the situations surrounding some literary themes can be ugly, sorrowful and nostalgic. We feel things we would not normally feel, and look at situations a little or lot more differently than we normally would. It leaves us with pondering thoughts, gives us the opportunity to explore our imagination, expand the limits of our mind and break the boundaries surrounding our intellect. With literary fiction, we learn to 'think outside the box' in a real sense.
So the next time we read a work of fiction, let's see if it passes the literary test. Try to read between the lines, see beyond what the printed words are telling. Is there an underlying theme? Is there a character (or two) that stands out? How does the plot evolve? Are any of the characters evolving with the storyline? Are they evolving for better, or for worse? If we're able to answer any of the questions in an affirmative light, then our work has passed the literary test!
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