Study Tips for Understanding and Writing about Literature
What is expected of a Middle School student and a High School Student in an advanced class are very different.
How do you read a book?
Most people simple start at the beginning and enjoy the story.
If you know you will be doing a book report, you might take a few notes as you read on characters, setting, plot, etc and the page where you found something you might want to read again or quote.
If you are in high school, you might know that you’ll be discussing the book, writing an essay about the book, or taking a test on the book. You might need to answer questions like those below. It would make sense to list the questions your teacher wants you to observe and take good notes on these. Write down page numbers that are most relevant.
At the same time, try to really enjoy the book. Literature is meant first to enjoy, and only later to analyze.
1. What is the genre (pronounced almost like “John Ruh” usually more like” Zhan ruh”)? What kind of book is it?
Is it a mystery, a romance, adventure, family story, animal story, science fiction, fantasy (imaginary but more magic and less science), historical…
2. Who are the main characters? In many books you will find
The Protagonist – also called the main character or the good character. They should have clear reasons tor fighting for or against something or someone.
The Antagonist – often called the bad guy or the evil character. There should be some reason for his evil behavior. Maybe he is greedy or angry or jealous.
There might be a love-interest. This is usually someone the main character loves or is loved by.
There are many other characters. Some are important. Others are so minor they might not even have a name.
Notice if the main character changes. Does he get develop more courage? Does he stop looking for revenge? Does he change his goals? Does he change his mind?
A good reader will be able to describe each main character including their appearance, age, motives, interests, their strengths and weaknesses and more. You might need to describe some characters as stereotypes (cardboard characters) and others as real, complex, or fascinating characters.
3. What is the Setting? When and where does the story take place?
How does the author describe what you would see, hear, smell, taste, or feel? How does the setting make you feel? How does it affect the story?
4. What is the Plot? What is the story about?
How does it begin?
What happens that involves the main character?
Action: What are the main things that happen?
Climax: What happened when the story got especially exciting or scary? When the main character faces the main challenge. It’s probably near the end.
How does it end?
5. What is the point of view?
If the main character does the speaking and uses the word I a lot, it is called first person point of view. The main character is the narrator.
If the story describes what he, she, or they all the time, it is written from the third person point of view. Sometimes we know who the third person is. In Sherlock Holmes mysteries, his friend, Dr. Watson, who tells the stories. He is the narrator. (He and Sherlock Holmes, of course, are both fictional.) Many books use a third person point of view but we don’t know who the narrator is. We might, however, be able to describe the personality or style of the narrator. The style could be formal, sticking to the facts. It might be more personal, expressing opinions and seeming to care about the main characters. It might be humorous. Most of the time, a reader isn’t even aware of the narrator.
Some books used third person but goes back and forth between describing several characters. We call the “multiple point of view.” When you are in one person’s point of view you now what he is doing and seeing and thinking, but not what another character is doing unless he sees or hears about it.
Some books use a third person omniscient point of view. The narrator uses he, she, they, etc. but he knows everything that is happening and what each character is thinking.
MOST books you read in middle school and high school use either first person or third person points of view.
6. What is your opinion of the book? Be ready to explain why you liked or didn’t like something.
7. In more advanced classes you might discuss the theme. This is the message or issues behind the story.
8. You might also discuss the style of the writer. Was it formal, humorous, exciting, dark and scary, inspiring?
Writing a Book Report
Your teacher might give you directions different from these. Follow your teacher’s directions.
1. The introduction should give the title, author, genre, and something else interesting, something that seemed really important.
2. Divide the rest of the information into three or four topics and write one paragraph on each topic. You might include the setting if that was important. You should describe the main character, the problem the main character faces, and how things get worse (and more exciting). You usually don’t tell how the story ends if you want other students to read the book.
3. The conclusion is a good place to say what you really liked or didn’t like about the book. Usually, you would focus on what you liked so that other students will want to read it, especially if you are doing an oral report.
Writing an Analysis of a Book: usually in more advanced classes.
Your teacher will probably give you a list to what to include. If not, take the list above and include as much as you can.
1. You might include the title, author, genre, and a few other categories in the introduction.
In later separate paragraphs you will probably include the following:
2. The setting and how it set the tone or affected the story
3. The characters, how realistic they are, and how they changed in the story
4. A summary of the plot including the beginning, the problem, the climax and ending.
Depending on what you have discussed in class, you might include the themes, symbolism, writing style, the point of view and the narrator, trying to relate this information to how it worked in the book.
5. While you have made judgments all through your paper, you might conclude with a more general evaluation. Unlike in the simple book report, you might avoid what YOU liked or disliked and focus on how the author did an excellent job on….. or how he spent too much time describing the setting on how you think the book would have been improved.