Prose Fiction: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Narrative
Copyright Year: 2020
Publisher: Open Book Publishers
Conditions of Use
The text approaches the question and possibilities of narrative from seven entry points (e.g., setting, language), including a general overview of major threshold concepts, terms, and approaches to narrative in the first chapter. read more
The text approaches the question and possibilities of narrative from seven entry points (e.g., setting, language), including a general overview of major threshold concepts, terms, and approaches to narrative in the first chapter.
I noticed no major issues with the quality of analysis.
The insights of the text will likely remain viable as long as we continue to have narratives; however, it does tend towards older, Euro-centric examples (e.g., Decameron, Oedipus Rex) and would benefit from more contemporary, multicultural exemplars.
The text does tend towards theoretical argot in its elaborations of core ideas (e.g., real vs. implied vs. ideal reader). While still legible, students may have difficulty following the nuances of the argument without corresponding classroom discussions of the material.
The text offers a wide range of possible theoretical entry points and frameworks. While none are mutually exclusive, there are more than a single course could likely apply.
The text approaches the question and possibilities of narrative from seven entry points (e.g., setting, language), including a general overview of major threshold concepts, terms, and approaches to narrative in the first chapter. The thoughtful arrangement of the chapters and subchapters allow instructors to select small excerpts for class instruction which can be taken out of context without an overall loss in meaning.
The overall organization of the text is a clear strength. It both builds on itself over the course of its seven major divisions and each of these divisions could be engaged with independently of the others.
I had no interface issues with this text.
I noticed no major grammatical oversights.
This text could be improved by moving away from centuries-old, Eurocentric examples and incorporating a wider range of classical and contemporary texts by writers of color and other marginalized groups.
I would recommend this book as a useful supplement to introductory courses focused on creative writing or literary analysis.
The book is comprehensive in that it is broad, covering the bases of narrative; however, chapters tend to be brief (students will likely appreciate this, although we might wish for more examples in the form of actual quotations). The glossary... read more
The book is comprehensive in that it is broad, covering the bases of narrative; however, chapters tend to be brief (students will likely appreciate this, although we might wish for more examples in the form of actual quotations). The glossary definitions are underdeveloped and do not necessarily illuminate the purposes of literary techniques discussed.
Much of the book is accurate, although there are glaring omissions (e.g., Janet Burroway's co-authors are not listed, nor is the edition of the book noted; direct and indirect characterization are inaccurately described, as mentioned by other reviewers; the concept of genre is oversimplified; and interior monologue is not synonymous with stream of consciousness).
Many students will appreciate the references to Harry Potter throughout (a nice complement to the more historical and canonical works used to illustrate concepts and terms).
I found the book to be clearly written in general; sentences tend to be short, which many students may appreciate.
More examples in the form of quotations are used in later chapters compared to earlier chapters; it would be good to make this consistent throughout.
Most chapters, in my opinion, could be assigned out of sequence.
The book is well organized into chapters and clearly indicated sections.
The interface is impressively smooth; I found it easy to navigate. In addition, the author used a variety of images that were clear and useful (and clearly labelled).
The editing for grammar was excellent.
The examples used in the book do not represent a broad diversity of cultures / genders, but the author acknowledges that this lack of representation can be seen as an artifact of historical marginalization.
I would personally consider assigning some chapters; the author has clearly put significant time and thought into developing this book, and it is an impressive accomplishment. (On a more minor note, I would recommend that the author omit the section of the book that quotes Wikipedia, as that source is not generally regarded as being credible.)
The text offers tools for students to read and engage in critical discussion through a comprehensive discussion of narrative theory and narrative elements, including plot, characterization, language, theme, setting, and narration. The introduction... read more
The text offers tools for students to read and engage in critical discussion through a comprehensive discussion of narrative theory and narrative elements, including plot, characterization, language, theme, setting, and narration. The introduction serves as a succinct but expansive introduction to narrative theory, and the text is appropriate in terms of its scope. The text is admirable for its attention to concepts that get overlooked in narrative theory textbooks, including language and theme, and for its accessible and introductory-level approach, which is particularly suitable for early-level college students who may be unfamiliar with rhetorical concepts and terms for literary analysis. The text concludes with a comprehensive and effective glossary that is easy to use. Although the text lacks an index, which could have been helpful, the glossary alone was helpful as a reference tool.
The text relies well on seminal thinkers within narratology and narrative theory, and it provides accurate and objective terms for literary analysis. The text contains no notable errors.
In general, the text is relevant and up-to-date. It makes good use and offers a nice blend of seminal texts in narratology and literary theory (like Barthes and Abbott) and more recent publications on narratology and prose fiction. The text also uses 21st-century references to film and television (like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones), making it relevant and appropriate for young readers but risking potentially quick obsoletion. Indeed, the text relies almost exhaustively on Harry Potter as its "contemporary" example, despite that Harry Potter at this point is no longer relevant for many young students.
The text has a complex framework but approaches that framework with clarity and accessibility in mind as its primary goals. It explains complicated concepts in a clear and accessible manner. The text is especially successful in its essentialization—without risking the loss of integrity / depth of knowledge—of concepts like semiotic models of narratives. Indeed, one key benefit of the text, as an introduction for early-level college students, is its (self-admitted) avoidance of "overtly technical debates" within literary theory. Instead, the text prefers to streamline different key elements of narratological theory into a clear and simple framework.
The text aims to offer a "bare-bones presentation of narrative theory," and it is consistently successful in its goal to provide an easy-to-follow introduction for students without burdening them with excessive historical or theoretical details.
The text is designed to supplement a course but not dictate a course. It allows teachers the freedom to choose texts that they feel best reflect each chapter's main topic. Though the lack of examples for direct instruction can be seen as one drawback, the chapters are perfect for breaking into smaller sections in a course. The short length of chapters could also make for productive collaborative reading among students, where groups of students are assigned chapters and co-compose summaries or co-teach lessons based on the chapters.
The text is well-devised in its scope and structure. After a comprehensive introduction, the text moves to think about six different elements of narrative theory: plot, setting, characterization, narration, language, and theme. The first four or five chapters are meant to be the most accessible, and the final two are meant to respond to a gap in textbooks on narrative, which tend not to cover language and theme. Overall, the organization of the text is clear and helpful, and the development of chapters is logical. Within chapters, though, the progression between section--and especially the relationship between sections--is sometimes underexplained. In the introduction, for instance, the sections progress logically from “What Is Narrative?” to “Genres,” but the text fails to explain why the sections progress in this way, leaving the section on “Genres” to be under-contextualized for student readers.
In terms of quality and clarity, the interface of this text is solid. Ribó’s own diagrams and charts are excellent—they are very helpful in explaining intricate and complex concepts, like the semiotic model of narrative. The external images used in the text are clear and attractive on the page, though the use of images and figures is somewhat disconnected from the text itself in that the images only offer superfluous perspectives that go unaddressed and underexplained in the prose. The least effective diagrams are the word clouds that begin each chapter. While these offer a succinct visualization of key terms, it is unclear where the word clouds come from, so words end up being more confusing than helpful, and they tend to capture unnecessary terms. For instance, the word "Fig" (presumably referring to "Figure") appears in the word cloud that accompanies the introduction. Elsewhere, there seems to be a mismatch between the word cloud and the chapter it accompanies. For instance, prior to Chapter 7, on theme, the word “narrative” appears at the center of the word cloud.
There are no glaring grammatical issues in the text. There may be minor grammatical errors, specifically in the use of commas, but my attention to this issue may be highlighted by my closer familiarity with grammar in U.S.-American English.
According to Ribó, this text is designed specifically for Asian students who don't have high familiarity with Western literature and literary theories in their high school education. In this sense, Ribó acknowledges in the preface the book's European focus and influence. He writes, "I have tried my best to expand the cultural range of examples in order to reflect the rich diversity of world literature. However, I am not entirely sure if I have succeeded in this effort, and most likely my explanations and examples are too heavily determined by the European tradition, which is, after all, my own." While this blind spot is acknowledged in the text, it is glaring when the text relies so heavily on a white Western canon, and it verges on cultural insensitivity in its reference to ethnicity as a “theme” in modern narrative, especially when it is only given one or two paragraphs’ worth of attention. Moreover, the text’s only substantial discussion of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity in literary theory is reduced to a few paragraphs at the end of the final chapter. Indeed, the text accounts mostly for a normative perspective; its list of "Examples of Short Stories and Novels" contains almost exclusively works by Western, and usually white, authors. Despite this book's many benefits, its lack of cultural, ethnic, racial, gender, and sexuality diversity is a glaring issue.
The text’s dedication to being a “bare-bones presentation of narrative theory”—that is, to not imposing on instructors’ choice of accompanying texts—at times makes for missed opportunities in terms of giving students accessible examples. For example, in Chapter 2, Ribó describes seven kinds of plots found often in novels and short stories. While Ribó offers specific examples—for instance, Hansel and Gretel as an example of the “overcoming the monster” plot—he misses a good opportunity to offer a modern example of the plot type as well, which would enable students to see narrative plot in older, traditional texts as aligned with plot devices that they may be more interested in or familiar with. Nonetheless, Prose Fiction is noteworthy and successful for its brief, accessible overview of important elements of narrative theory. I can very, very easily imagine this being adapted in literature classrooms smoothly and productively.
Ribó sets out to create “a conceptual skeleton” of fiction writing, one that allows teachers to decide what readings to use in their classrooms. For a creative writing class, this means the textbook discusses various theories and craft elements of... read more
Ribó sets out to create “a conceptual skeleton” of fiction writing, one that allows teachers to decide what readings to use in their classrooms. For a creative writing class, this means the textbook discusses various theories and craft elements of fiction, as well as provides brief overviews of literary history. The textbook purposefully leaves out specific text samples, while at the same time referencing canonized or mainstream texts, so this textbook would work best as a teaching supplement. I believe introductory students would engage with the chapters regarding plot, setting, and characterization, and intermediate students would engage with the chapters regarding narration, language, and theme, as well as the glossary. Some of the terminology, concepts, and theories may be better discussed in advanced courses.
The text is informed by an impressive number of craft anthologies and essays, though a majority of the works are by white, male writers (which Ribó acknowledges in the preface). Also, the definitions of story and discourse (Chapter 1), and the definitions of direct and indirect characterization (Chapter 4) differ from my understanding of the craft elements. This may be confusing to students, and students should be made aware of alternate definitions and/or applications.
Ribó references many canonized books, essays, and works of fiction, as well as a number of modern texts. The Harry Potter references will be hard to update, since they permeate the textbook, but the other modern references could be easily swapped out for more timely references, as well as with works by more diverse writers.
Most of the more complex concepts or terms were clearly defined in the text or in the glossary. However, there was some niche language that might ostracize beginning writers.
Ribó shares in the preface that he purposefully left out specific text samples and readings so the book would be a framework for teachers. The author is consistent in this way, though there are plenty of text references that still contextualize the framework.
Each chapter is broken into sections, and each section is short enough that they can be discussed in class. If the teacher is prepared to contextualize the textbook content, then the sections can be presented out of order.
Each chapter begins with theoretical knowledge, then shifts to practical applications or specific examples or topics, and concludes with a helpful summary and references page.
The eBook version was easy to navigate, and I appreciated the clickable table of contents. I would have liked specific terms to be linked to the glossary entries, and the exampled short stories/novels could be linked to their brief descriptions.
I did not notice any typos or errors.
In the preface, Ribó summarizes the dominance of white, male voices in the Western literary cannon, and he goes more in depth regarding postcolonialism and feminism in Chapter 7, particularly in terms of identity, ideology, morality, and art and politics. Early on he also explains that his examples are heavily determined by the European tradition, but considering the text’s overview of literary history and the importance of perspective in fiction writing, I would have liked to see more writers of color and writers from the LGBTQIA communities represented in the references.
The glossary of terms would be a useful Week 1 resource in my intermediate fiction courses.
The text covers its topic very well, giving relevant and easy to understand examples appropriate to second year students. As writing about literature is generally required in literature courses, it would have been helpful to provide some guidance... read more
The text covers its topic very well, giving relevant and easy to understand examples appropriate to second year students. As writing about literature is generally required in literature courses, it would have been helpful to provide some guidance on how students can apply the information provided in the text to writing topics, and how they are to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate literature through these lenses. Additionally, some of the terms and concepts (Classical poet, sign/signifier, etc.) I would not expect second year students to be familiar with were not immediately defined and are not included in the glossary.
The text is informed by seminal studies in narrative theory and related theories, as shown by the cited works. I found no inconsistencies in theory. However, the text presents direct and indirect characterization in the reverse of what is commonly taught. (In this book, indirect characterization is the explicit attribution of characteristics as told by the narrator and direct characterization is when characteristics are revealed through speech, thoughts, and actions of the character.) If this is a common misconception (of which I am not aware), the author should alert the reader of the misconception to fend off confusion between what is presented and what they might have been taught in the past.
The text uses both current and seminal sources and relevant, up to date examples.
In terms of clarity, the diction and style is accessible by students and most jargon is defined, with the exception of a few concepts and words that I feel could be more clearly defined in the text, or be included in the glossary (sign, signifier, alterity, etc.).
The framework is the theory of narratology, which is consistent throughout the text.
The text is divided logically into smaller sections, which are easily digestible. However, it would be difficult to present the chapters in a different order to students, as the chapters build on information found in previous chapters.
The organization is logical and presents concepts that build on each other. The end of chapter summaries are very useful. It would have been useful to indicate words that can be found in the glossary, or even provide links between the word and it's entry in the glossary since it is an ebook.
There were no interface issues that I noticed.
I noticed no grammatical issues. The text is very well written.
The text is very sensitive to cultural difference and is inclusive in its use of examples. The author provides an acknowledgment at the beginning of the predominance of Western Literature and the English language in literary tradition, but attempts to present it in a global context. The text includes the discussion of ideologies, oppression, and themes of identity and alterity.
This book would provide a good foundation for an introduction to fiction course.
Table of Contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Plot
- 3. Setting
- 4. Characterisation
- 5. Narration
- 6. Language
- 7. Theme
About the Book
About the Contributors
Ignasi Ribó (Ph.D. in Modern European Literature and Thought, University of Sussex) is a Catalan writer and scholar. He has been teaching Literary Theory and Semiotics at university level for more than ten years and currently works as a Lecturer in the School of Liberal Arts at Mae Fah Luang University (Chiang Rai, Thailand). Ignasi is the author of several novels, as well as academic essays on literary theory, comparative literature, ecocriticism, biosemiotics, cultural ecology, and environmental philosophy.