Reading Fiction Study Guide: GED Language Arts, Reading
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
What Is Fiction?
First, here are a few very general definitions to help you understand the different types or genres of literature. The word fiction refers to stories that are not literal accounts of factual incidents or people. History, for example, is different from fiction because a historical book describes real people and actual events—and does so as accurately and truthfully as possible.
Fiction, of course, might also be based upon actual events and real people. Mark Twain, for instance, wrote a novel about the life of Joan of Arc. She was a real person, and the major events in Twain's novel actually did take place. Yet the book is still a fictional account of Joan of Arc's life, because the author invented other characters and events and conversations that did not occur in real life.
Fiction is also generally written in prose. Prose refers to normal language; it is not poetry nor is it arranged the way that text is written in drama. We generally speak in prose; newspapers and magazines are written in prose; while poetry is written in lines and stanzas that may also rhyme and have meter. You will learn more about these things in a later chapter.
For now, it is enough to understand that fiction is an invented story that is written in prose—normal everyday language.
Types of Fiction
There are many different types of fiction, but for the purpose of the GED, you need concern yourself only with the largest overall definitions, such as novel and fable. There are, of course, many different types of novels—detective stories, gothic romances, humor, and so forth—but again, you do not need to worry about these finer points for your GED preparation.
Novels and Short Stories
Novels are prose stories that are long enough to fill an entire book. Short stories, on the other hand, are just that: shorter stories that might be anywhere from a few pages to 35 or so pages in length, but not long enough to fill an entire book.
Length is essentially the major difference between short stories and novels. An author can create similar stories, dealing with similar issues and creating similar characters, in either a short story or a longer novel. The only real difference is that, in a novel, the author has more time and space to develop ideas and characters and so forth than would be possible in a short story.
You will find excerpts from both novels and short stories on the GED, but for the purposes of the test, it will make little difference.
Myths, Fables, and Parables
A myth is a fictional story that uses invented characters or settings to teach some abstract idea. The classical myths of the Greeks and Romans, for example, told stories of fanciful gods and their dealings with human beings, stories that tried to explain aspects of life on earth.
For example, one famous myth tells the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus. Daedelus was a master craftsman, a brilliant genius who could make almost anything. One day, he created a pair of wings from wax and fitted them onto his son, Icarus. Icarus took off and flew, but his pride got the better of him and he began to fly higher and higher—even though his father had expressly warned him not to. Eventually, Icarus flew too high, and the heat from the sun melted the wings—and Icarus fell to his death.
This great myth tells a fascinating story, but it also presents a warning: Do not become overconfident; do not "get above yourself" and try to fly higher than you ought.
A parable is very similar to a myth. It is a short story (some myths can be very long and can intertwine with other myths) that quickly teaches some specific principle or idea, and is often religious in nature. Parables are found in the writings of almost all major religions. For example, the Bible contains many parables that are very well known in our modern world, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan:
But he… said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
"Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
"So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two [coins], gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.'
"So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?"
—Luke 10:29–36, NKJV
The Bible relates that Jesus used a parable to answer a man's question. Jesus had been teaching his followers to "love your neighbor as yourself," and a man asked him, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus answered him by telling this parable, a story which illustrated the idea that he wanted his listeners to understand. But notice that a parable expects the reader to figure out for himself what the lesson is; the writer of a parable may not come straight out and explain what it means.
A fable is very similar to a parable: It is a short story that illustrates some abstract principle or idea. Fables, however, frequently also explain the moral or lesson they are teaching. Also, parables generally involve people as characters, while fables often use talking animals and other nonhumans as characters.
You are probably familiar with some of the fables written in ancient Greece by a man named Aesop. One of the most famous and popular of Aesop's fables is "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." In this fable, a young boy gets bored while out tending sheep in the field all day, so he yells out, "Wolf!" Everyone from the village immediately rushes out to his aid, carrying pitchforks and other weapons to drive away the wolf—but there isn't any wolf. The boy, however, enjoyed the attention so much that he does the same thing the next day, crying out "Wolf!" at the top of his lungs when no wolf is there. He tries this once or twice more, each time with fewer people responding. Then one day a wolf really does come and attack his sheep; but when he yells out "Wolf!" nobody comes. This is where we get the expression crying wolf, meaning calling for help when no help is actually needed.
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