In literature, a mode is an employed method or approach, identifiable within a written work. As descriptive terms, form and genre are often used inaccurately instead of mode; for example, the pastoral mode is often mistakenly identified as a genre. The Writers Web site feature, A List of Important Literary Terms, defines mode thus:
An unspecific critical term usually identifying a broad, but identifiable literary method, mood, or manner, that is not tied exclusively to a particular form or genre. [Some] examples are the satiric mode, the ironic, the comic, the pastoral, and the didactic. (CB)
History of mode
In his Poetics, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle uses 'mode' in a more specific sense. Kinds of 'poetry' (the term includes drama, flute music, and lyre music for Aristotle), he writes, may be differentiated in three ways: according to their medium of imitation, according to their objects of imitation, and according to their mode or 'manner' of imitation (section I). "For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration—in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged—or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us" (section III). According to this definition, 'narrative' and 'dramatic' are modes of fiction:
- "This is not merely a technical distinction but constitutes, rather, one of the cardinal principles of a poetics of the drama as opposed to one of narrative fiction. The distinction is, indeed, implicit in Aristotle's differentiation of representational modes, namely diegesis (narrative description) versus mimesis (direct imitation). It has, as we shall see, important consequences for both the logic and the language of the drama."
Fiction is a form of narrative, one of the four rhetorical modes of discourse. Fiction-writing also has distinct forms of expression, or modes, each with its own purposes and conventions. Agent and author Evan Marshall identifies five fiction-writing modes: action, summary, dialogue, feelings/thoughts, and background (Marshall 1998, pp. 143–165). Author and writing-instructor Jessica Page Morrell lists six delivery modes for fiction-writing: action, exposition, description, dialogue, summary, and transition (Morrell 2006, p. 127). Author Peter Selgin refers to methods, including action, dialogue, thoughts, summary, scene, and description (Selgin 2007, p. 38).
Summarization (also referred to as summary, narration, or narrative summary) is the fiction-writing mode whereby story events are condensed. The reader is told what happens, rather than having it shown (Marshall 1998, pp. 144–146). In the fiction-writing axiom "Show, don't tell" the "tell" is often in the form of summarization.
Summarization has important uses:
- To connect one part of a story to another
- To report events whose details aren't important
- To telescope time
- To convey an emotional state over an extended period of time (Marshall 1998, p. 145)
- To vary the rhythm and texture of the writing (Browne and King 2004, p. 12)
The main advantage of summary is that it takes up less space (Selgin 2007, p. 31). According to author Orson Scott Card, either action or summarization could be right, either could be wrong. Factors such as rhythm, pace, and tone come into play. The objective is to get the right balance between telling versus showing, action versus summarization (Card 1988, pp. 140–142).
Introspection (also referred to as internal dialogue, interior monologue, self-talk) is the fiction-writing mode used to convey a character's thoughts. As explained by Renni Browne and Dave King, "One of the great gifts of literature is that it allows for the expression of unexpressed thoughts . . ." (Browne and King 2004, p. 117). According to Nancy Kress, a character's thoughts can greatly enhance a story: deepening characterization, increasing tension, and widening the scope of a story (Kress 2003, p. 38). As outlined by Jack M. Bickham, thought plays a critical role in both scene and sequel (Bickham 1993, pp. 12–22, 50–58).
- A Glossary of Literary Criticism
- Aristotle. 1974. "Poetics". Trans. S.H. Butcher. In Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to Grotowski. Ed. Bernard F. Dukore. Florence, KY: Heinle & Heinle. ISBN 0-03-091152-4. p.31-55.
- Elam, Keir. 1980. The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. London and New York: Methuen. ISBN 0-416-72060-9.
- The Writers Web, A List of Important Literary Terms
- Bickham, Jack M. (1993). Scene & Structure. Writer's Digest Books. pp. 12–22, 50–58. ISBN 0-89879-551-6.
- Browne & King (2004). Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print. New York: Harper Resource. pp. 12, 117. ISBN 0-06-054569-0.
- Card, Orson Scott (1988). Character & Viewpoint. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-307-6.
- Kress, Nancy (August 2003). Writer's Digest. p. 38.
- Marshall, Evan (1998). The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. pp. 143–165. ISBN 1-58297-062-9.
- Morrell, Jessica Page (2006). Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-58297-393-7.
- Selgin, Peter (2007). By Cunning & Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for fiction writers. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-58297-491-0.
- Elam (1980, 111).