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Reading a Novel or Story


These sections describe in detail the assignments students may complete when writing about literature. These sections also discuss different approaches (literary theory/criticism) students may use to write about literature. These resources build on the Writing About Literature materials.

Contributors: J. Case Tompkins
Last Edited: 2010-04-21 08:27:22

This resource discusses pointers for reading and responding to a novel or story.

Other OWL Resources:

Reverse Outlining: An Exercise for Taking Notes and Revising Your Work

Pay Attention to Relationships

Whether bonds of blood or emotion that tie characters together, it is their connections to each other and the way those connections evolve that forms the central action of much fiction. Consider drawing a brief relationship chart like this:

This image shows the relationship between the main characters in Bram Stoker's Dracula by drawing lines between them and defining the type of relationship they share. For example, the line between County Dracula and Mina Murray reads victim.

Image Caption: Relationship Chart for Bram Stoker's Dracula

Listen to Characters

When characters in novels speak or ponder at length, it’s time to pay attention. Like soliloquies in drama, a lengthy speech or inner monologue can give you insight into the character’s motives, an idea of his or her world view, and even a clue to central themes in the work.

Practice: Go back over a chapter or story you just read, looking at only what is written inside quotation marks. If the book you’re reading is yours, highlight or otherwise mark each one. Now, read through the chapter once more, reading only your marked passages.

Look Out for Re-occurring Images, Phrases, or Bit Characters

Poetry isn’t the only place to find verbal imagery and symbolism. If you find yourself asking “Haven’t I seen this before?” then you may have discovered an important motif.

Practice: After you’ve finished a novel, re-read the first chapter and see if you recognize any key words from the last chapter of the book. Are there any similarities or coincidences between the two?

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