Looking into Philippine Fiction

If there is one thing Filipinos love, it is a good dramatic story. Filipinos can easily find themselves in one of the characters whom they watch on TV: the optimistic little girl who is tormented by evil relatives; the poor rich girl who has everything but can never be as optimistic as the poor protagonist; and even the antagonist who has a vendetta against everyone but gets the wittiest lines in the TV show. Aside from this, Filipinos also relate the situations in the story to certain parts of their lives, such as the longing for a lost parent or child, the death of a relative, or a dramatic love story that is against the world. One of the most popular telenovelas in Philippine television is Mara Clara.

No matter how much Filipinos see themselves and their situations in popular TV shows, the fact remains that these are all products of fiction. A fiction is a story that is entirely made up and is not true. At times, fiction may resemble reality, but it is purely circumstantial. In Philippine literature, there are many stories that have shaped the way Filipinos read and view their surroundings. A good example is Jose Rizal’s books, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. These novels are a long and sustained critical story about the Spanish rule. Another good example is through short stories such as the ones in this module. These selected short stories have had an extensive influence on Philippine literature and society. So don’t be surprised if they have also influenced television and popular culture!

Techniques of Fiction

Fiction, just like any good story, starts with a great character. The character of the story is the one you relate with, converse with, or listen to the thoughts of. This character and the way he or she changes as the story progresses become the driving force of fiction—the reason that you as a reader will be interested or disinterested as you read. The character may be kind, rich, confusing, annoying, bratty, complicated, ever-changing, and so on. In the end, the character of a short story still holds the key to whether the fiction will be good or not.

Sometimes, characters also serve as symbols of a story. What is symbolism in fiction? A short story may use a character, object, or event to signify something else from its original meaning. A character may symbolize a community or an event in history. Two characters interacting in a story may symbolize the conflict or union between two different societies. There are times when you may not be sure what the symbolisms in a given story are. As the reader, you need to examine these symbols and come up with your own interpretations.

Francisco Sionil Jose (also known as F. Soinil Jose) is a fictionist, essayist, and novelist. He is currently considered one of the most widely-read Filipino authors, having been translated into many languages worldwide. His usual themes are social struggle and strife in Philippine society. He was also awarded as a National Artist for Literature in 2001.

READ: The God Stealer by Francisco Sionil Jose

“The God Stealer” is a short story that encapsulates perfectly how characters in fiction respond to the choices they make and what they do to attain these choices. What did Sam want, and how did he get it? What did Philip want and why did he not get it? Part of fiction, especially in short stories, is the challenge to the main characters: what do they want, and what do they do to get it? What is the intention of the character? This intention sets the plot for the short story, wherein you see how well-rounded the protagonist is and what he or she is capable of doing just to get what he or she desires. Depending on the outcome of the story, the character may either triumph or fail, and seeing how the character reacts to these changes also sets the tone for the climax, until the short story is concluded.

Short stories also express a lot of irony in life situations. There are three kinds of irony that you will encounter in short stories. The first one is verbal irony, when what is said by the character is not what he or she originally meant. The second is situational irony, when the actual outcome of a situation (say, the conclusion) is different from the expected outcome. This is also known as the twists and turns in a story. Finally, there is dramatic irony, which is when the readers know more than the characters in the story.

A short story that explores what a sad little girl wants is Merlinda Bobis’s “The Sadness Collector.” Read and discover how six-year-old Rica deals with her desires—and the problems and ironies that come along with it.

Merlinda Bobis is a dancer, visual artist, and writer who was born in Legaspi City, Albay. She completed her post-graduate degrees from the University of Santo Tomas and the University of Wollongong in Australia. She writes in English and Filipino (Tagalog and Bikolano). She tackles themes of diaspora, immigrant cultures, and magic realism in her fiction. She has won numerous awards for her literary works, more recently the Philippine National Book Award for Fish-Hair Woman in 2014. She currently teaches at the Wollongong University.

Another big element of fiction is the world created by the writer. This world, as imagined by the writer, may be fictional or real depending on the choice of setting. The characters move in this world—they interact, talk, win, lose, leave, or stay in this world. In fiction, more often than not, these worlds and those in them have meanings or symbolisms, too. For example, a place may not just be a place—it was chosen by the writer because it fits perfectly the situation the characters are going or will be going through. Things inside the world such as a vase, a letter, a picture, a mirror may mean more than mere objects. They may symbolize an important part of the story or may serve as objects of remembrance or memories for the characters. If the whole story is a symbolism for something, then the story may be an allegory. A good example of this is George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm, which has symbolisms for the animals in the barn and even the barn itself.

The Plot Structure of Fiction

Aristotle once declared that for a story to be considered a story, it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Plato agreed to this, and adhered to the idea of an organic unity in fiction the interdependent parts of a story are all needed to create a whole. If one part is lost, the story cannot stand on its own. Eventually, in the 19th century, a German novelist by the name of Gustav Freytag realized that plots of stories and even novels have common patterns which can be summarized in a diagram. This is what he came up with:

Freytag's Pyramid

The pyramid above summarizes, albeit comically, what the different parts mean. To refresh your memory, here is a brief breakdown of the following parts of the pyramid:

The exposition is the beginning of the story, wherein the writer sets the scene by introducing the characters, describing the setting, and sometimes will give a brief background of the story. It is also here, before the next part of the Freytag pyramid, that something happens to begin the action. This is called the inciting incident—small events and telltale signs that tell you that the conflict is about to begin. It is also sometimes known as “the complication” of the story.

The rising action is when the complication begins to show itself on the characters, setting, and events in the story. This is when the story starts to become more exciting.

The climax is the event with the greatest tension in the story. This is when the characters know the truth, act on their impulses, make rash decisions or decide to do something, and so on. This part usually signals how the story will end.

The falling action is the result of the climax, and it is the part when things start falling into place for the characters. Reaching the conclusion of the story, the story reaches a premature resolution of the conflicts, problems, and issues that were raised in the previous parts of the story.

Finally, denouement is a French term that means the “ending.” This is where the story reaches its final conclusion and the writer starts to get ready to tell the ending by way of explaining a finality, a flashback, a peace treaty, or anything to make the story complete. It also will include an explanation of what had happened and how characters think or feel about this.

Of course, the Freytag pyramid does not always apply to every single short story ever written. There are some short stories, especially modern ones, which will lack or miss out on one part of the pyramid and are still considered as stories. However, in learning about literature, it is always best that you start with the Freytag pyramid so as to comprehend the deeper features of the story and its key elements—those that make it an effective and satisfying read.

Nicomedes Marquez Joaquin, or more popularly known as Nick Joaquin, was a Filipino fictionist, historian, and journalist who has written some of the best short stories and novels in English. Some of these stories were written under the pen name Quijano de Manila. He is considered to be one of the most important Filipino writers in English up until now and was awarded the title National Artist for Literature in 1976.