Planning a Novel Study

As a parent or teacher, there may be times when you want to plan a novel study of your own. Identifying the important elements of the book will make it much easier to guide the student toward recognizing and appreciating their significance.

A) Theme – underlying comment or idea about life. The theme of a story can usually be stated very simply, sometimes as a single word. It is the main idea behind the story, but it may have nothing to do with the events of the story. For instance, The Bonnie Pit Laddie is about a boy living in a mining village, but that is not the theme.

  • What is the main idea that the author is trying to tell us about life?
  • What is the message or moral of the novel?
  • Have you been influenced by the novel? In what way have you been influenced by the novel?
  • Does the theme compare or contrast with that of other literature that you have studied?

B) Plot – the pattern of related incidents or episodes. The plot is the narrative of events in the story. The plot usually has a shape (a plot diagram); The story starts out rather flat delivering background details in what is known as the exposition. The events build gradually in what is called the rising action toward a high point, called the climax. Afterwards, the portion of the story after the climax is called the resolution, falling action, or denouement. In this final portion of the story everything is resolved and sorted out and all of the loose ends are tied up.

Do not confuse theme and plot. If you are asked for the theme and you find yourself talking about the events of the story, you are dealing with plot. You can have a lot of stories which all share the same theme– they may all be on the theme of jealousy, for example– but their plots will be completely different.

An essential ingredient of the plot is conflict. A novel can have multiple conflicts that could be playing out at different times through the course of the storyor at the same time. Conflicts will fall into these categories:

  • Man vs. Man
  • Woman vs. Herself
  • Man vs. Society
  • Woman vs. Nature
  • Man vs. Technology

General Plot Questions

  • Does the novel have a traditional plot outline, including: – introduction,
    crisis and conflict, climax, resolution (denouement), and conclusion?
  • Does the author effectively introduce characters and setting?
  • How has the use of conflict and crisis been used to build up to a climax?
  • Do the events in the novel lead to an exciting or thought-provoking climax?
  • Is the conflict and crisis in the novel resolved to the reader’s satisfaction?
  • What is the effect of the conclusion on the reader’s understanding of the plot, character development, and ideas expressed in the novel?
  • How does the plot of the novel differ in construction from that of the traditional plot outline?
  • Does the book tell a good story?
  • Does the plot have action and suspense?
  • What is the effect of action or suspense on the emotions of the reader?
  • How does each episode further the plot?
  • Are there any unexpected “twists” to the plot?
  • Is the plot plausible and credible?
  • Is the plot well constructed?

C) Characterization – authors development of characters. Characters come in two basic varieties–flat and round. You may know only one thing about flat characters and they do not change or develop in any way during–they are static. They are usually minor characters. Round characters are fully developed. You learn a lot about them, and they may change in the course of the story– they are dynamic. Main characters are usually both round and dynamic.

  • Who are the main characters?
  • Can the reader accept the characters as real people? (Are they true to life?)
  • Does the character develop or grow as a result of the incidents in the story?
  • Does the reader come to know the characters as individuals with unique strengths and weaknesses?
  • Can the reader become involved in the emotions of the characters?
  • What motivates the characters to behave as they do?
  • Would the reader have acted in the same manner as the character?

D) Setting – Setting is defined by the time the story takes place in, the place(s) the story takes place at, and the culture(s) the story revolves around.

  • Where does the story take place?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Does the description of the setting create a vivid mental picture for the reader?
  • Is there any change in setting?
  • How does the setting of the story affect:
    • the general atmosphere (or mood) of the story?
    • the outcome of the story?
    • the plot?
    • the character(s), and through them the tone?
    • the emotions of the reader?

E) Style – the unique way in which an author writes.

  • How do you feel about the way the author writes?
  • Can you recognize the varying importance of setting, theme, plot, and characterization in this story?

F) Literal and Figurative Language – the author’s use of language.

  • What figures of speech does the author use?
  • In what ways does the author’s use of figurative language improve upon or detract from your understanding of the novel?
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