When analyzing a work of Literature, it’s nice to think that you can sit, read and respond. That is going to cheat you out of a lot of information about the novel or work that you might be able to gain if you would do things a little differently.
There are different parts to a work of Literature, and those are called “Elements.” I know, this sounds kind of simplistic, but there is a little buildup necessary to make sense of responding to a work. The elements of Fiction have to be understood before starting the task if responding to Literature.
Also, consideration has to be given to the fact that different people will bring different expectations to a reading of the same work. People will add their own experiences to their understanding of a work making it their own. That’s what’s so exciting about literary criticism. It’s fun to read what others write about a work that you have read regardless of how you understood it. You might change your mind about it.
In looking at the elements of Fiction, you see how those parts add up to more than the text itself. Later, when working with different types of literary theory, you will see the same works again but through different pairs of glasses, so this is the beginning, and you have to get the basics down.
This is a list of questions central to developing a first response to a work of fiction.
- Reader’s expectations after reading the title. What do you expect to see happen in the story from reading the title?
- Plot. What are the events in the story? What is the conflict?
- Narrator. Who is telling the tale? Does it sound like there is someone telling you what happened to them personally?
- Characters. Who is the protagonist and antagonist? Are there human antagonists?
- Setting. Where does the story take place?
- Style and tone. What type of language is used to tell the story, what kind of mood does the piece of fiction attempt to create within you? The tone of the work establishes its mood.
- Imagery and figures of speech. Are there any recurring visual figures or representations in the work? Are there any similes or metaphors?
- Theme. What does the work mean?
When taking these questions into account sometimes you will find that a book that you particularly liked does not have much to it, and then something that you thought was simple and quite bland has a lot more to offer than you originally thought.
- Pick one element and just write a short piece of fiction that focuses on it. For example, you could pick setting and then write a story about a mountain and a lost boy.
- Read through the handout below and pick a story. You can print it out and then try to answer as many questions about its elements as you can. No worries. The stories are less than two pages for the most part.
- Write a description of one of your favorite books that shows how its writer conscientiously worked on using those elements to create a truly wonderful piece of fiction.
Happy reading and writing.