Genres of Literature and their Elements

We will look at the distinctive qualities of each of the four literary genres. But first, let’s discuss what we mean by “literary.” By “literary” we strictly mean artistic written expression as opposed to traditional forms like myths, epics, folktales, legends, ballads, proverbs, folk drama which had oral culture as their life and basis. When we “read” such verses and narratives from print sources, what we’re reading are versions or variations that were recorded from selective moments in their highly dynamic oral circulation in the communities that originated them. In their purely oral state, these tales and songs constantly evolve as members of the community retell them countless of times among one another. As for epics, a bard composes as he or she performs, or recites from memory but freely recomposing at times and drawing from a rich stock of communal tropes and knowledge. They don’t originate content in the way we understand modern authors do—bards and storytellers of the oral universe defer to tradition and are self-effacing and anonymous. In contrast, modern authors of print culture are self-expressive, have bylines, and hold copyrights to their individual works.


Strictly speaking, an “author” is a modern concept tied to the notion of “authority” and a culture of possessive individualism. That is, an author is an individual who asserts himself and holds authority over the meaning of his composition. How different is this concept of authorship compared to older and more communal understandings of storytelling?

Because print culture encourages the solid formation of words on the page rather than the creative flux of oral and communal composition, literary authors are likelier to develop their own voice and style, a self-conscious view of the world and their own art. It is in this context that fiction emerged as a modern genre in contrast to older forms of narrative in the oral tradition. Fiction—aside from its being written down rather than orally transmitted, and it’s being attributed to a named author rather than communally composed—differs from older forms of narrative in its status as imaginative writing, whereas myths, epics, and the like are thought of by their communities as circumstantially true (that is, not the “fictive” product of the someone’s imagination). The content of myths, epics, and folktales appear marvelous to us only because we tend to contrast it to the “realism” of our daily ordinary lives, but in the consciousness of those in the oral communities who shared these myths and tales, reality is just that, marvelous. (We will pursue this point later in Unit 3 Lesson 4 on magical realism or the “marvelous real” in Latin American literature.) 

As imaginative writing, fiction (as well as modern poetry and drama) is written by authors who self-consciously make use of creative techniques and devices to render their theme (the intended meaning of the poem or story, the main point or insight) in the best way possible. Ironically, it is in creative distortion and the use of figurative rather than plain language that the truth for a literary author is most clearly expressed. Even works of fiction written in plain language will, when analyzed, reveal itself to have been creatively distorted too, with the use of plain language itself just another device for producing the author’s intended truth effects.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “Fiction reveals the truth that reality obscures.” Fiction, rather than plainly reflecting reality, creatively refracts it to show something that would have otherwise escaped our attention (and this is true even in realism, the mode of fiction that aspires to verisimilitude).

In the formalist view, literariness is the apt use of devices, techniques, and figurative language in the careful shaping of the elements of a poem or story to communicate a point or insight. The use of creative techniques must not feel forced or artificial; verbosity or shallow, decorative applications of figurative language do not qualify as literariness.

Fiction is basically prose narrative, its distinctive feature being the centrality of plot action. The propeller of plot action is the presence of conflict (a disturbance in the statue quo or the way things are), and the narrative proceeds as complications arising from the conflict add up and reach a climax wherein the situation becomes finally unbearable and begs to be resolved.

This is the turning point of the story, when the protagonist arrives at a very important realization or makes a decision that changes the course of events, and the conflict is resolved. A critical question to ask is the nature of the conflict’s resolution—what insight is offered by the particular way the conflict was resolved? In realism with fully fleshed-out, well-developed complex characters, the resolution is accompanied by psychological insight into the depth of human personhood. In social realism, an oppressive social issue is critiqued as played out in the characters’ personal circumstances, usually ending with an insight intended to raise awareness in the readers. There are also problematic resolutions as those pointed out by Resil B. Mojares in Origins and Rise of the Filipino Novel (1983): according to him, at an early point in the development of the Filipino novel (early 20th century), when writers in the vernacular languages rooted in the rich tradition of romance in the awit and corrido were learning the ropes of writing social realism, there came hugely popular serialized novels in local magazines that were of the uneasy realist-romantic hybrid kind, dealing with new historical anxieties but using tropes familiar to the common folk.

In these transitory novels situated between two traditions of differing conventions (romance and realism), a social issue is raised as plot conflict, but the resolution tends to be romantic rather than realist in nature, in effect not resolving the social issue at all. For example, in a conventional plot that is still very much used in its many permutations in today’s television dramas, a pair of lovers who come from conflicting social classes and whose families object to their union are in the end either married, because one of them turns out to be a long lost heir, or unable to marry because they turn out to be siblings or cousins (or, if the conflict turns out to be totally unresolvable, they both die and are united in the afterlife). In the happy ending of a marriage, the status quo initially disturbed is restored with the social structure and its injustices still intact; at best, there is hope that the heir who experienced class mobility is now in a better position to create some change but from a new position of power and influence in the same social structure. In the unhappy ending of the lovers finding out that they are relatives, the conflict is resolved by invoking a moral taboo rather than by constructive social means. Yet, however problematic these resolutions might be, Mojares reads in them a nascent resistance that comes from realist elements adjusting a romantic framework: “The mere act of dramatizing these conflicts is already a [form of] criticism…in that it shows that this order has ceased to be stable and monolithic. By stressing the individual sensibility, it weakens the absolute claims of dogma. By showing the triumph of love over parental authority, of the individual over social custom, it points the way to the subversion of this order” (1983, 198).

Fiction is not just about plot, however. Fiction is an interplay and interlayering of other elements like character, setting, point of view, and tone. Like the other genres, fiction makes use of figurative language, especially symbol (when an ordinary object in the story acquires great significance, for example a house whose physical features are symbolic of what the family members are like) and irony (or a disparity, which is usually a site of complexity or critical insight, for example characters whose words conflict with their actions, or events that turn out to be the opposite of expectations). 

Fill in the blanks. Choose from the answers from the table below.


classic plot

falling action




point of view 




 in medias res










rising action





  1.  __________ is the element that shapes how the events are told in a sequence or a pattern.
  2. A type of plot wherein events are chronologically sequenced (beginning, middle, and end) is called __________.
  3. A plot is one that begins in the middle of the story’s action.
  4. A plot device called __________ is used when what is happening in the present is explained by recalling an event in the past.
  5. A plot device called __________ is used when a hint is provided about what will happen later in the narrative.
  6. The part of the plot where the initial state of things is being described is called __________.
  7. That which disturbs the initial state of things is called the plot’s __________.
  8. Events that increase the intensity of the disturbance comprise the __________ and subsequent complication of the plot.
  9. The turning point of the plot, the point of its highest intensity, is called the __________. This is where a kind of decisive crisis is reached such that whatever decision made at this point changes the course of events and determines the ending.
  10. __________ refers to the unraveling of the consequences of the major decision made at the turning point of the plot. Sometimes, a new state of things is created, a return to equilibrium as ending.
  11. A type of plot that doesn’t follow a typical chronological sequence but orders events in a fragmentary way is called __________ plot.
  12. The time and space or the physical and social contexts where a story takes place is called the __________.
  13. The mood or general feeling evoked by the setting is called the __________.
  14. The narrator is the person or persona (as distinguished from the author) who is telling the story An __________ narrator knows and reveals everything, including what’s in the mind of the characters.
  15. An __________ narrator gives his or her comments or opinions, in contrast to an objective narrator who does not.
  16. An __________ narrator cannot be trusted for some reason (because he or she is lying, mad, prejudiced, etc.). Narrators tell the story using the first, third, or in rare instances second person.
  17. The feeling hovering over the story is not only created by the setting, but also by the narrator’s attitude toward the characters or story that he/she is telling. The narrator’s attitude sets the __________ of the story.
  18. Narrative perspective, also called __________, refers to the “eyepiece” or angle from which readers witness the events as told by the narrator.
  19. In many stories, a godlike, omniscient narrator shows everything, but in stories with narrators of __________ omniscience, the perspective is restricted to one character (the narrator or somebody else), or angled to the way that one character sees it.
  20. Characters (human or not) are the movers of the plot. Characters can be major or minor, complex or simple, dynamic or static. A character’s __________ explains his or her actions or decisions.
  21. A __________ is an object that is literally present and serves a literal purpose in the story but also seems to have a deeper, layered, or figurative meaning.
  22. A __________ irony occurs when the opposite of what is expected to happen is what actually happens.
  23. A __________ irony is created when the intended meaning is the opposite of what is stated.
  24. __________ irony refers to the disjunct between what a character knows, and what you as reader is made to know or understand about the story.
  25. The story’s __________ is its critical point, its unique in-sight about its chosen subject.

Aside from the elements, we also have what we call the modes of fiction: realism and romance (which we had briefly touched on and will discuss a little bit more later), a wide range of modes under speculative fiction (marked by the presence of fantastical or elements that don’t belong to this world we consider “rear —fantasy, science fiction, futurist fiction, horror, gothic, magical realism, traditional/modern/retold fairy tales and folktales, slipstream, and many more), and metafiction (which is best approached not as a mode but as a tendency in fiction to reflect upon the fictional [or constructed] quality of the “real” lives we live). For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on realism (but will discuss its opposite, romance) and touch on a bit about metafiction because these will be the main generic concerns when we read the literary texts selected for this lesson (for fantasy as a variant of speculative fiction, refer back to Philippine Literary History).

In studies of the modes of fiction, realism and romance are considered opposites (not realism and fantasy, as one might expect). At this point, it’s going to be helpful to think of modes as versions of reality that skillful authors self-consciously choose as frameworks through which their narratives will unfold.

In the romance mode, according to Northrop Frye “the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended” (1973, 33). It’s like looking at reality through rose-tinted glasses. The characters are rendered superior to other people and the environment: for instance, the characters are able to overcome conflicts and restrictions posed by social or environmental structures. The romance mode is empowering—it idealizes, aggrandizes, positively exaggerates; it enables us to look at the banal or ordinary with a sense of wonder; it reconfigures the flatly normal as infused with rich symbolisms. (Note that the romance mode is different from Romanticism as literary movement, and a story in the romance mode need not always be a love story.) In romance mode, a story may or may not have fantastical elements; in stories without fantastical elements, the setting is realistic but presented in a highly imaginative way, in very strong and perhaps poetic or symbolic imagery.

The romance mode, however, is also escapist. Nonreflexive stories in the romance mode are unapologetically escapist—that is, there is no indication in the story whatsoever of any critical attitude to the escapism espoused in it. On the other hand, the more sophisticated stories in the romance mode tend to betray a self-consciousness about the escapism that is built in it (an example of a metafictional tendency). This is called the “romantic paradox,” or the motif of the failed ideal. In a story with a romantic paradox, the romantization appears only as a translucent veil over a reality that is still shown to be less-than-ideal. For example, in the Palanca winning short story “The Apartment” (1996) by Clinton Palanca, the setting is overlaid with a dreamy, golden glow, but the ugliness of the apartment and the eccentricity of the tenants are also stressed rather than denied. The romance mode thus comes across as an outlook, a choice to see beauty in the unsightly, the unattractive, the repulsive.

Another example of the romantic paradox at work: in trauma fiction that uses the romance mode, a past traumatic event that keeps on haunting the present and opening old wounds finds closure in a therapeutic choice to see the good or beautiful in the traumatic event. Romantic closure in the realm of the imaginary, in this case, crosses over to the painful reality of unresolved trauma. Fictive closure gives way to the real, and healing becomes possible.

Realism, by its very name, claims to be the most transparent in its imaginative depiction of reality. If stories in the romance mode are told in expressive, hyperbolic language, stories in the realist mode are told in sparse, clinical, straightforward, rational, plain, and prosaic language. Realism aims for verisimilitude, or the empirical and objective depiction of ordinary people living in the everyday world. 

However, it’s also worth questioning how “real” is the reality depicted in realism. How does realism define reality? Is it possible to think of realism as an outlook rather than as the most “truthful” of all the modes of fict
ion? Is it possible that what we assume to be the “everyday world” mirrored in realist fiction is actually an ideologically shaped reality?

Moreover, is it possible to think of “objectivity” as not reality itself but another version of it? The truth claim in realism sets the rational outlook as the standard, as though magical thinking is less valid or inferior in value.

There is a variety of realism called “naturalism” or “social realism” that makes apparent this ideological nature of perceived reality. Stories in this mode take up themes generally considered disturbing: extreme poverty, horrible crimes, victimization, social inequality; the aim is to shock readers into realizing that their comfortably sheltered life is just a version of reality, and that horribly unthinkable realities happen in the everyday for some people who live outside their realm of “real” experience. In fact, at closer inspection, stories in the realist mode are almost always ideologically oriented towards this direction—while claiming to be objective and clinical in its dissection of everyday reality, realist fiction actually aims to present life as worse than it is: a disillusioned, demystified, disenchanted take on life as filled not just with banality or boredom, but with violence, inequality, injustice, and brutality.

Opposite the romance mode, the realist mode involves the shattering of (false) idealism. As an outlook, the realist mode looks at life in its bleak materiality, its harshness. The characters are typically constrained or overwhelmed by societal, cultural, or environmental limits. Stories in the realist mode are usually devoid of a moral center, though characters are driven to make moral choices in a seemingly amoral universe.

Like the romance mode with its “romantic paradox,” realism has its “realist paradox” too, which can go in either of two directions, or both. Realist stories depict life in its ordinariness, its boredom, but also its horrid monstrosity: for example, in Timothy Montes’s “The Housemaid” (2007), 16-year-old Cirila’s very ordinary life in the province is shattered when she is sold by her father to an older man who can take sexual liberties with her. Such disturbing events are depicted as ordinary. In the other direction of the paradox, residual beauty is found in starkly disconcerting environments. In the same story, Cirila who has all her life felt abandoned finds a genuine friend in a prostitution house, of all places, in the person of a prostitute named Gina.

Before we move forward to discussing poetry, let’s talk about this hybrid genre that incorporates elements of fiction and poetry in the retelling of a personal experience. In autobiography, biography, autobiographical narratives, memoir, and essays in the tradition of “new journalism” or “literary journalism,” literariness (as explained above) is considered in the depiction of real events and people. It is through the use of literary devices that insight about real people (oneself included) and events are best teased out.

Memoirists understand that in unearthing memories of the past, we can’t help being selective in the details to include in or exclude from the memory. Nobody can fully remember the past, nobody can access the past in its pure objectivity. To some degree, then, narrating a memory inevitably involves fictionalization of the past; memories are constructions of past events rather than objectively retrieved data from the past. It inescapably involves reimagination and revaluation of the past based on who we are at present. Of course, to say that memories are fictional constructs does not mean they did not happen; the events actually happened, but our recall of them is heavily mediated by our interpretation of them. Works of creative nonfiction like the memoir are built on this idea which is similar to metafiction.

In another short story by Clinton Palanca titled “In Days of Rain” (1996), the first few paragraphs establish not only the romance mode of the story as a nostalgic recollection of childhood. It is also metafiction that works around the fine lines dividing nonfiction, fiction, poetry (and to some extent, cinema). It is a work of 4ction that possibly uses actual childhood memories as material for creative but truthful reconstruction. In the story, the past is remembered as poetic imagery, with a “cinematic soundtrack” underscoring the narrative. The narrator sees his younger self and his childhood friends as though they are living in a novel or film. This brings up the idea (or fact?) that we tend to remember the past in cinematic or novelistic terms, i.e., we see it as a movie playing in our heads, complete with soundtrack, characterizations of the people in the memory, symbolization of the setting, reconstruction of dialogue, and other literary devices. 

Mina Roy defines poetry as “prose bewitched.” If fiction is mainly concerned with plot action, poetry is “life distilled” (says Gwendolyn Brooks) through words and language. (This is of course not to say that action is not present in poetry, and that language play is not used in fiction.) Poetry works via suggestion, implication, and ambiguity rather than via literal, straightforward communication—which, though clear and singular in meaning, is too rigid or flat for the rich, multifarious, fresh, intense, complex, even unusual ways of looking at the world that poetry is mainly concerned to express. Poems are primarily relished as words as the building blocks of this art—how their meticulous selection, arrangement, and calculated interplay deliver ideas, feelings, perspectives, shades, flavors, and layers of meaning.

There are three general types. Lyric poetry expresses the thoughts, ideas, or feelings of the speaker or persona. It is often in the first person, with the speaker either directly involved in the dramatic situation or speaking from a detached observation point. Whereas lyric poetry tackles a condensed moment, draws a single scene, or focuses on a single event, narrative poetry deals with a series of events (i.e., plot action). In dramatic poetry, the speaker is an imaginary character addressing another imaginary character who remains silent; this is also called dramatic monologue. If the listener replies, or if there is a conversation, the poem is called a dialogue.

  1. Theme: the main point or the insight to ‘be derived from the poem.
  2. Speaker/persona: the fictitious character whose voice we hear in the poem. In the same way that a narrator is not necessarily the author, the speaker is not necessarily the poet and not necessarily human (though usually possessing human traits). The speaker may either be an observer or a direct participant in the dramatic situation that he/she/it is speaking about.
  3. Dramatic situation: the moment (in lyric poetry) or series of events (in narrative poetry) that the speaker speaks about in the poem.
  4. Diction: the poem’s choice of words, with each word suggestive in terms of its meaning, sound, and placement together with other words. Words may be abstract/concrete, general/specific, formal/informal, denotative/connotative. An allusion is a word chosen for its direct reference to a well-known historical or fictitious person, place, thing, or event. Typically used as shortcuts, allusions convey compressed ideas in a single reference.
  5. Figurative language/figures of speech: comparisons or substitutions that, for the sake of freshness, emphasis, or surprise, depart from the usual denotation of words. In other words, nonliteral use of language.
    • Simile and metaphor: express similarity between dissimilar things (whereas literal language would express similarity between obviously similar things). Simile focuses on a single aspect of the likeness and uses connectives (like, as, than, such as, resembles, etc.). Metaphor does not use connectives but states that one thing is so
      mething else, imply-ing a likeness in nature. Metaphors suggest several aspects of likeness. A conceit is an elaborate and complicated metaphor.
    • Metonymy: a word is substituted by another closely associated with it, e.g., “between the cradle and the grave” (between birth and death), “the pen is mightier than the sword” (pen is a metonym for writing, sword for fighting). In synechdoche, a part stands in for the whole (or vice versa), e.g., “sail” standing in for ship; asking for one’s “hand” in marriage.
    • Paranomasia/pun: a form of wordplay involving two similar sounding words but with different meanings. In “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man” (a line in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), two meanings of the word “grave” are used: “grave” which means serious, and grave as a metonym for death.
    • Personification/anthropomorphism: human qualities are given to inanimate objects, animals, or abstract terms (like love, nature, truth, death, etc.).
    • Apostrophe: the speaker addresses someone or something who is absent, dead, does not/cannot respond, or is not ordinarily spoken to.
    • Hyperbole: an overstatement or an exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. An understatement, on the other hand, implies more than what is said.
    • Oxymoron: a combination of contradictory words or ideas, e.g., “wise foolishness,” “bittersweet.”
    • Paradox: a strange or self-contradictory statement that is
      apparently (or surprisingly) true.
  6. Image: word or words that appeal to any of the five senses (nor just visual as the term “image” may suggest) to convey a Hash of understanding. Imagery refers to a cluster of sensory perceptions, all the images in a poem taken to mean something together rather than separately; in most cases, the sequencing of the images is significant as well. In sensory crossovers called synesthesia, one sensory perception is expressed in terms of another, e.g., “loud shirt.” A symbol is an object with literal presence in the poem but whose meaning or significance is greater and beyond the literal.
  7. Tone: the manner of the poem, could be the speaker’s attitude toward a subject (himself/herself/itself, an object, another character, an event, or an idea). Tone is usually an effect of diction and may be affectionate, hostile, earnest, playful, sarcastic, respectful, serious, humorous, surprised, angry, nostalgic, tender, expectant, etc.
  8. Irony: saying one thing but meaning another; a manner of speaking that implies a discrepancy between words and their meanings, actions, and their results, between appearances and reality.
    • ironic point of view: the speaker’s tone differs from the poet’s (i.e., the intended meaning contradicts the tone).
    • Verbal irony: a word is used to actually mean the opposite. Sarcasm is a type of verbal irony with a bitter or mocking tone.
    • Dramatic irony: a character says, does, or encounters some-thing whose significance is greater than what he/she understands—and the reader is aware of this. In tragic irony, the reader is aware of the impending downfall of a tragic hero who does not foresee it.
    • Situational irony: discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. Cosmic irony or irony of fate is a type of situational irony wherein there is a discrepancy between a character or speaker’s aspiration and what is actually received at the hands of fate.
  9. Sound: patterns of consonants and vowels, in tandem with meaning, that contribute greatly to the poem’s effect. For example, the sibilant “s” in “calm is the sea, the waves work less and less” suggests the sound of swishing water.
    • Euphony: the sound of the words are harmonious together. Cacophony: the sounds are harsh or discordant, e.g., the grating sound in “Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw.”
    • Onomatopoeia: a word that imitates the sound it denotes, e.g. “zoom,” “crash,” “bang,” “buzz.”
    • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of or inside successive words (e.g., “so smooth, so sweet, so silvery is thy voice”). Assonance: the repetition of the same vowel sound at the beginning or inside successive words (e.g., “eager beaver”).
    • Rhyme: two or more words contain the same combination of vowel and consonant sounds.
  10. Rhythm: the recurrence of stresses and pauses in a poem. A stress or accent is a greater amount of force (breath, loudness, pitch) given to one syllable. Meter refers to stresses that occur at fixed intervals. Poems that follow a rhyme scheme, stanza pattern, or a particular meter are said to have fixed forms (blank verse, sonnet, limerick, villanelle, rondeau, triolet, sestina, haiku, tanka, ghazal, pantoum, sapphics). Poems that don’t follow the conventions of fixed forms are called free verse or open form. However, open forms still follow internal organizing principles in terms of spacing, lineation, repetitions, indentations, pauses and stresses, visual effect, etc.
    • Iambs, anapaests, trochees, dactyls: terms referring to rhythm and meter,
    • Couplet, tercet, quatrain, sestet, octave: terms referring to numbers of lines.
    • Enjambment/run-on: one line carries over into the next line without any punctuation. The opposite called end-stopping is when a line ends with punctuation (full stops, semi-colons, or colons).
    • Scansion: marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem to determine its meter. 

Like poetry, drama is also an ancient form of communal expression. Unlike modern fiction that encourages reflective isolation and individuation in the act of reading, poetry and drama are best enjoyed when performed (or read aloud rather than using just the eyes), with the sounds and rhythms in poetry heard and the spectacle in drama seen by an embodied audience. Like the storytellers of the oral tradition (as opposed to the authors of modern fiction), those who composed plays long ago did not exactly originate content but rather recycled stories and characters already known in the community into fresh artistic expressions on stage.

However, traditional theater did not always require a stage. In the Philippines, folk and indigenized dramatic forms like the panunuluyan are communal reenactments of familiar stories, in this case the biblical tale of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay on the night Jesus was born. The basic structure of the panunuluyan as described by Nicanor G. Tiongson includes a procession with candles and a brass band, with Mary and Joseph either as human actors or images on floats. The procession leaves the church and winds its way through the streets, stopping at three or more designated houses where the holy couple (or the procession singers) make a request to stay for the night. “The dialogue, which is cast in the octosyllabic quatrains associated with the korido and called hakira or romance, is sung in the style of the kundiman, the native love song which is slow and sad” (2008, 57). The couple is turned away by the house owners, citing different reasons. The procession returns to the church where a belen or nativity scene is unveiled for the midnight mass.

Still practiced today as part of Christmas festivities, the panunuluyan retains its basic structure while incorporating new elements responsive to the times, like the one in Palo, Bulacan in 1983 when the couple were turned away by a house owner who reasoned “they might be the NPA rebels that the government is looking for,” and another who refused because times were hard with “the peso depreciating to P14 to a US do
llar” (Tiongson 2008, 66). A modern play also cited by Tiongson is by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) titled Ang Panunuluyan ni Birheng Maria at San Jose sa Cubao, Ayala, Plaza Miranda, at Iba. Pang Lugar sa Loob at Labas ng Metro Manila (1979). This stage play features Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay and along the way encountering slum dwellers, hypocrite society matrons, fishermen and casual employees exploited for their labor (66-67). Both the 1983 Bulacan panunuluyan and the PETA play, by drawing from a rich stock of tales and characters familiar to the common folk, are able to critique new social formations as they incorporate new elements into these revitalized traditional forms. 

The elements of drama are the same as in fiction (the narrative aspect) and poetry (the verbal aspect), with the addition of the following:

Let’s do it!

Fill in the blanks. Choose from the answers in the word cloud below.

soliloquy            tragic hero           spectacle           monologue           dialogue           tragic flaw           pity           fear           catharsis           tragic fall           aside           pathos

  1. In drama, there is usually no narrator; the audience is invited to infer meaning from the characters’ actions, words, and the props on stage and other sensorial embellishments (costumes, lighting, music and sound effects, etc.) that make up the play’s __________.
  2. Spoken words onstage may be classified into four: when a single character delivers a long speech, it’s called a __________.
  3. When that long speech is delivered as though the character is speaking to himself/herself alone on the stage, it’s called a __________.
  4. When characters speak to one another, the exchange of words is called __________.
  5. When a character steps out of the scene for a while to confidentially address the audience, perhaps to comment about the scene or another character, it’s called an __________.
  6. Plays are largely classified into two according to purpose: tragedy and comedy (with tragicomedy as a combination). The purpose of tragedy is to elicit two emotions from the audience, (6.1) __________ and (6.2)__________, to produce (6.3) __________ or emotional release in the audience.
  7. To attain the purpose of tragedy, the protagonist called a must be highly relatable to the audience in that he/ she, like a typical human being, possesses a noble character yet afflicted with a weakness called a __________.
  8. This weakness, minor in comparison to the hugeness of the character’s noble traits, nevertheless causes his/her downfall. The result is called __________, or an overdetermined series of events that have snowballed into inevitable, and to some degree undeserved, ruin.
  9. Tragedy, however, is only truly attained when the protagonist realizes his or her flaw. Otherwise, what is attained is simply __________ or mere sentimentality.

Let’s do it!

The elements of tragedy are taken up above in the “fill in the blanks” exercise. Comedy, on the other hand, deals with less serious subjects, but the humor is usually created by the unmasking of pretentious characters, exposing their folly and doubleness in a satirical way. Comedy ends happily, but the happy ending can only be achieved after the main characters, say a couple, have surmounted seemingly insurmountable obstacles for the sake of their love (it is in this way that comedy is a lot like the romance mode of fiction). The happy ending has to be deserved in this ideal universe where the characters have fought hard for their happiness.

Tragedy and comedy can be seen as frameworks for understanding life. Tragedy (like realism) teaches us that bad things happen even to the best of people, and these bad things are not always caused by external matters. Catharsis or emotional release is achieved when we realize in awe and fear that if great people of noble character can still have flaws and suffer tremendously because of it, how much more we ordinary folks in the audience? We watch in dread as a minor character flaw causes major catastrophe; even great people cannot control the fickle workings of fate (and this insight runs counter to modern hubris that believes that everything can be rationalized and controlled). But life is not all tragedy; in ancient Greek drama, a series of three tragedies is accompanied by one comedy for comic relief. In comedy is the possibility that there are rewards for good people doing hard work, that no obstacle is too difficult to overcome. In the positive outlook of comedy, deceit is frowned upon and eventually exposed. A happy ending is attainable for those who are prepared by difficult circumstances to receive and cherish it.