Coming to Terms with Some Greek Terms (1)

Currently, there are some critical terms that many IB students are using in their essays. These terms are often used when writing about narratives such as novels and short stories, though they also occur in drama. Still, some of you might not be using these – although you are referring to the things they signify. It’s possible that you might raise the quality of your discussion by using them – and using them accurately, which is not always the case in  essays that examiners read.

In this post, I’ve selected one pair you might want to consider adopting to polish up your usage; employed correctly these terms can raise the sophistication of your response. Used clumsily, they can detract from what you are trying to convey. Still, whichever form you choose, English or Greek, both can help you add precision and sophistication to your discussions of how narratives unfold, how they function.

The two terms are analepsis and prolepsis.

Analepsis in its simplest definition in literary writing is what we call ‘flashback’ in which something that was previously thought or that has occurred is related in the present chronology of the narrative. It can be a reference to a backstory or an earlier event or idea. Its etymology from the Greek suggests ‘taking up something again.’   (Interestingly it is also used to describe recovery from illness.)

There are some very good examples and further elaboration of this feature at:

http://www.literarydevices.com/flashback/

Prolepsis is the opposite, and it is also called ‘flash forward.’  Etymologically it derives from the Greek for ‘taking up before.’  However, the margins of this feature are less clear, perhaps, than those of analepsis, as both prolepsis and foreshdowing anticipate in slightly different ways. Prolepsis usually refers to a future event as if already accomplished while foreshadowing suggests, often quite subtly, something yet to come.

Probably our most familiar example in literature in English is in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge is shown events that will occur after his death.  And you’ll find other examples at the site mentioned above under ‘flash forward.’

It’s easy to see that both techniques let writers enrich and deepen their chronological narratives by moving the consciousness of a character to a backstory or an earlier event or to tease readers a bit by suggesting there is more complexity to come.

 

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