Preview Quiz 1

As a preview to what will be discussed in Part One, try to answer this question:

Which types of writings may be considered "literature"?

  1. Only those that are fictional.
  2. All those that deal with human experiences.
  3. Only those that have a narrator.

Begin reading Part One to discover the correct answer.

The purpose of this booklet is to help you distinguish among various forms of literature in order to understand figurative language.

In this booklet we use the term literature to include all writings which deal with human experiences and universal ideas in graceful and accurate language. All of the following types of writing may be considered literature: poetry, novel, short story, play, biography, autobiography, letters, diaries, journals, history, essay, documentary, book review, movie review, and so on. Even a well-written magazine article or an effective editorial may be considered literature.

Poetry is a branch of literature which explores ideas, emotions, and experiences in a distinctive form and style. Poetry, sometimes called verse, depends greatly on the natural rhythms and sounds of language for its special effects. Poetry, even more than prose (all other writings), depends on precise and suggestive wording. In other words, a poem says much in little space.

Poetry differs from prose in obvious ways, also. Most often the first word of every line begins with a capital letter, even in the middle of a sentence. Poems sometimes contain rhyme, and often they have a particular rhythm, like music.

Generally speaking, everything which is not poetry is called prose, a broad category of writing which divides into two major areas: fiction and nonfiction.

Fiction is imaginative writing. It involves characters who do not really exist, events (plot) which have never occurred, and places (settings) which may not be real. Like poetry, fiction may entertain, present (/prI"zent/) a universal truth of life (theme), or teach a lesson (moral). It is through fiction that we escape from the worries and cares of everyday life and explore new worlds. Our imagination is stimulated so that we become part of the action as it unfolds, sympathetic towards characters as they develop, and aware of the world in which these characters "live".

Short stories, novels, and plays are fictional writings, and since each of these writing types has a narrator—someone who tells the story—we call them narrations. Fiction and narration, then, mean just about the same thing.

Like fiction, nonfiction, too, may deal with people, places, and events, but with one important difference: the people, places, and events are real. Nonfiction, then, is less an outgrowth of a writer's imagination, and more a realistic recording of real people, involved in real activities, in real places.

If the nonfictional writing is about a person's life, it is called biography. If someone writes his own life story, he writes an autobiography (auto- means self). People in the fields of sports, politics, and entertainment are often subjects of biographies and autobiographies because their lives present a wealth of interesting experiences.

Preview Quiz 2

As a preview to what will be discussed next, try to answer this question:

A book which argues the pros and cons of eating organic foods can be placed in which of the following categories?

  1. Non-fiction/biography.
  2. Fiction/novel.
  3. Non-fiction/argumentation.

Continue reading to discover the correct answer.

Another important difference between fiction and nonfiction is that nonfiction can deal solely with the expression of an author's ideas, views, and attitudes. Exposition (/'ekspG"zISHn/) and argumentation are the literary forms which deal with ideas, views, and attitudes. Notice the word "argument" in argumentation. Although argumentation is not really an argument, it is concerned with differing views and controversial issues.

Exposition, the other category of nonfiction, includes the formal essay and the many types of informal essays found in newspapers and magazines. Included are news stories, travel reports, book and movie reviews, sports stories, feature articles (articles which deal in depth with a topic or person), fashion articles, editorials, and so on. Whether formal or informal, expository (/Ik"spDzGtri/) writing generally informs or instructs. Exposition concerns itself with ideas, rather than with telling a story or with presenting opinions.

In literature there is much more to enjoy and discover than the plot, character, and setting of narration; the author's opinions in argumentation; the author's ideas in exposition; and the writer's observations in description. In all these forms of literature extra discovery and enjoyment comes through an understanding of figurative language.

Figurative language is language which departs from the straight-forward use of words. It creates a special effect, clarifies an idea, and makes writing more colorful and forceful. Figurative language adds an extra dimension to writing, giving plain writing richness and depth.

Part Two will explore figurative language in detail and discuss many figures of speech commonly found in literature.

It is not necessary to memorize any of the definitions in this section or in Part Two. It is important, however, that you develop a general awareness of literary forms as outlined in this section and an understanding of figurative language as it is presented in Part Two.