Coincidence and Counterfactuality


Coincidence and Counterfactuality

Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction

Hilary P. Dannenberg

Frontiers of Narrative Series

304 pages
6 b-w line drawings


July 2008


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eBook (PDF)
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July 2008


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About the Book

In Coincidence and Counterfactuality, a groundbreaking analysis of plot, Hilary P. Dannenberg sets out to answer the perennial question of how to tell a good story. While plot is among the most integral aspects of storytelling, it is perhaps the least studied aspect of narrative. Using plot theory to chart the development of narrative fiction from the Renaissance to the present, Dannenberg demonstrates how the novel has evolved over time and how writers have developed increasingly complex narrative strategies that tap into key cognitive parameters familiar to the reader from real-life experience.
Dannenberg proposes a new, multidimensional theory for analyzing time and space in narrative fiction, then uses this theory to trace the historical evolution of narrative fiction by focusing on coincidence and counterfactuality. These two key plot strategies are constructed around pivotal moments when characters’ life trajectories, or sometimes the paths of history, converge or diverge. The study’s rich historical and textual scope reveals how narrative traditions and genres such as romance and realism or science fiction and historiographic metafiction, rather than being separated by clear boundaries are in fact in a continual process of interaction and cross-fertilization. In highlighting critical stages in the historical development of narrative fiction, the study produces new readings of works by pinpointing the innovative role played by particular authors in this evolutionary process. Dannenberg’s original investigation of plot patterns is interdisciplinary, incorporating research from narrative theory, cognitive approaches to literature, social psychology, possible worlds theory, and feminist approaches to narrative.

Author Bio

Hilary P. Dannenberg is a professor of English Literature at the University of Trier in Germany.

Table of Contents

List of Figures
      1. Convergent and Divergent Plots and Character Trajectories
      2. A Brief History of Approaches to Plot and Related Theories
      3. A Guide to this Study and its Research Contribution
Part I: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction
1. Cognitive Plotting: Crossing Narrative Boundaries and Connecting Worlds
      1. Liberation and Belief in Narrative Fiction
      2. World Construction: The Plotting Principle
      3. Narrative Suspense and Liminal Plotting
      4. Conclusion: Possible and Impossible Worlds
2. Ontological Plotting: Narrative as a Multiplicity of Temporal Dimensions
      1. Plot as the Sum of Alternate Possible Worlds
      2. Counterfactual Worlds
      3. Counterfactuality, Transworld Identity, and World-Blending
      4. Ontological Hierarchies in Realist and Other Fictions
3. Spatial Plotting: Paths, Links, and Portals
      1. The Spatial Mapping of Time and Narrative
      2. The Cognitive Schemata of Bodily Orientation in Fictional Space
Part II: Theorizing Coincidence and Counterfactuality
4. The Coincidence Plot
      1. Coincidence in Literature and Science
      2. The Traditional Coincidence Plot in Narrative Fiction
      3. Analogical Coincidence
5. Counterfactuals and Other Alternate Narrative Worlds
      1. Counterfactuals Across the Disciplines
      2. A Theory of Counterfactuals in Narrative Fiction
      3. Key Forms of Counterfactual in Narrative Fiction
      4. Beyond the Counterfactual: Multiple Alternate Worlds
Part III: Coincidence and Counterfactuality in the History of Narrative Fiction
6. The Metamorphoses of the Coincidence Plot
      1. Discordant and Euphoric Recognition in the Renaissance Romance
      2. Recognition and Identity in the Developing Novel
      3. The Hyperconvergence of the Fictional Victorians
      4. Analogous and Traditional Coincidence in Modernist Fiction
      5. The Postmodern Renaissance of the Coincidence Plot
7. The Narrative Evolution of Counterfactuals
      1. From Renaissance Rhetoric towards Realist Counterfactuals
      2. Autobiographical Counterfactuals in Eighteenth-Century Fiction
      3. Counterfactuals in Eighteenth-Century Heterodiegetic Narration
      4. Alternate Lives and Loves in Nineteenth-Century Fiction
      5. The Multiplication of Time: Alternate History in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Fiction
      6. Counterfactual Fantasies, Metafictions, and Metahistories in Twentieth-Century Fiction
Glossary of Key Terms
Works Cited


Winner of the 2010 Barbara Perkins and George Perkins Prize, sponsored by the International Society for the Study of Narrative.

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