1. Plot/Structure – Describe the plot of the story. Avoid making comments or interpretations about behavior and actions by the characters, just stick with describing what happens in the story. Are there other stories you know of that is similar to the plot of this story?
Most stories, as we’re familiar with them through movies, have the structure of a beginning, middle, and end. The plot is essentially the action of the story, where one event or action leads to another event or action, which leads in a long string of actions that arrives at a final confrontation. After the final confrontation, there is the resolution and denouement. This story telling structure is embodied through a model known as Freytag’s Pyramid, which maps out a traditional plot like this:
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2. Point of View – Who is telling this story, a first person or third person narrator? How would you characterize this narrator?
In any literary work, whether it’s a short story, poem, or novel, the point of view from which a story is told is an important element to keep in mind, because the ‘point of view’ determines who the narrator is, the narrator being the one who’s telling the story. We often assume that it’s the author who is telling the story, but it’s not as simple as that. There are 3 basic types of points of view and an author has to choose which one he or she will use. The 3 types are as follows: first person, second person, third person.
3. Characters – List and describe the primary characters of the story. Focus on specific details about each character, such as certain behaviors and/or things they say.
This is probably the most familiar of all the literary elements and the one we immediately react to when reading any story. The analysis of a character is one of the core activities of most literary interpretation and it’s hard to cover all the ways we go about analyzing a character, most of which you’ll learn to do through consistent practice and engagement with the works we read in this class. In the most general sense, what we look at in a character is their behavior, the actions they take and/or the decisions they make. We look closely at what they say in order to get a sense of their view of a situation, or their view of the world; we also focus on how they interact with other characters, asking ourselves if a certain act or decision has aggressive implications, or was meant well but with unfortunate consequences. These are things to pay attention to, along with what they say through dialogue, which is also revealing about a character. There’s no end to the ways we look and react to characters we’re presented within a story, one reader may love and identify with a certain character that another reader will strongly dislike, even hate, and both would be correct as long as they’re able to present evidence of what the character did, in the form of actions and statements, that supports their reaction.
4. Setting – What did you find unique or interesting about the setting of this story? What caught your attention? How does the setting add to the story?
Where a story is set and the background against which characters are engaged, is an important element to consider when reading works of literature. A story that’s set in a city like San Francisco reveals a very different world from a story that’s set in a small country town like Wilson, Wyoming. When we consider the setting of a story, the information we’re given about the surroundings can imply vastly different moods and attitudes.
5. Imagery – Were there images or symbols in the story that appears repeatedly? Do you think there is any significance or importance to the repeated image?
It’s possible a teacher from a past class once asked you, “What does the ____ symbolize in the story?” and you can fill in the blank with any noun you can think of. Suffice it to say, this very simple question is, more or less, what imagery is about in a literary work. Any image, whether an object or a certain color or even a character’s gesture that gets repeated throughout a story, is a sign that thing/color/gesture has significance. Of course, the question is, as stated above, what do any of these images symbolize? You can offer your thoughts on an image’s meaning based on what you’re able to understand about the story and its other elements. All this will shape what you think a certain object symbolizes.
6. Theme – With regards to the topic of love and relationships, what do you think this story is saying about love and relationships?
The theme of a story, novel, play, or poem is very similar to a thesis statement in an essay. Like a thesis, the theme states the story’s intended message or point, because every story we read has some purpose to it and it’s that purpose we, as readers, have to articulate. Of course, a big difference here is that while thesis statements are clearly stated in an essay we read, the theme in a story is always implied, so you have to puzzle out what that theme is based on what you’ve read. To help you as you try to establish the theme of a literary work, here are two things to ask yourself: 1) what is the main topic of the story and 2) what is the story saying about that topic? With the first question, the kinds of topics that get covered in literary works vary and can run the gamut from the role of technology in our lives to the true definition of love.