Working With Fiction
When you read a story, you probably
don’t consciously think about what the
author went through to construct the text
Looking for the creative elements in a
work should help you understand the
One of four types of composition
Purpose is to recount events
Simple narrative – recites events
chronologically as in a newspaper account
Narrative – less often chronological and
arranged according to the nature of the plot
and the nature of the story being told
The kinds of words, phrases, sentence
structures, and figurative language that
constitute any work of literature
Writer’s diction can be analyzed under many
Vocabulary and phrasing abstract or concrete
Latin or Anglo-Saxon in origin
Colloquial or formal
Technical or common
Literal or figurative
Literally the collection of images in a literary
Patterns of imagery, often without the
conscious knowledge of the author or reader,
are sometime taken to be keys to a deeper
meaning of a work
Some critics see “image pattern” as being the
basic meaning of the work and a better key to
interpretation than the explicit statements of
the author or the more obvious events of plot
The expression of a literary speaker’s attitude
to his listener
The way we speak reveals, by subtle clues,
our conception of, and attitude to, the things
we are talking about
Tone may be critical or approving, formal or
intimate, outspoken or reticent, solemn or
playful, arrogant or prayerful, angry or loving,
serious or ironic, condescending or
obsequious, and so on through numberless
What does the title tell you? How does it
prepare you for what’s to come? (Ex. “Happy
Endings” by Margaret Atwood)
Does it reveal anything about the time, setting,
or characters in the work? (Ex. “A Souvenir of
Japan” by Angela Carter)
Is the title an allusion? Does it refer to
something outside the work? (Ex. “My Oedipus
Complex” by Frank O’Connor)
Is the title conveying a belief or value
judgment? (Ex. “Marriage is a Private Affair”
by Chinua Achebe)
What do you know about the author?
Where is he or she from?
When did the author live? Are the cultural or
moral values of that period reflected in the
Based on what you know about the author,
what significant experiences in their education
or personal life do you think may have
contributed to this story?
Does the story deal with moral or social issues?
How do I feel about these issues?
What do the actions of the characters reveal about human
What does the story reveal about certain types of
How do I feel about what’s going on in the story? Do I feel
angry, sad, hopeful, or anxious?
Are there any words or phrases in the story that sound like a
message or an idea about the lives of the characters or about
real life? If not, can I think of a concise (one to two sentences)
way to explain the message or meaning to someone who
hasn’t read the work?
Can other elements such as tone, setting, atmosphere, and
language help me understand the meaning of the work?
Characters and point of view
What do I know about the characters? Where are they from?
What are their ages?
Are they directly involved with the action of the story or are
they observing events and relaying them as they occur?
Do I know how the characters feel? Who is telling me about
Is the person telling me about the characters and events
reliable or unreliable?
What are the characters struggling for or against?
Which characters contribute the most to the story through their
words or actions?
Which characters contribute the least?
Which characters change and which stay the same?
How do I feel about the characters? Can I relate to them? Do I
feel sympathy for them?
How does the story begin?
Does it begin in the middle of an event?
Is there little or no action at the beginning? If so, what
happens to escalate or jump-start the action?
How does action progress throughout the story.slowly,
moderately, or quickly?
Does the action seem to be leading to a confrontational
or tense moment?
Who or what does the conflict or struggle involve?
Is it a philosophical conflict or a conflict within the mind
of one character?
Is it between characters, society, or nature?
What steps are taken to resolve the conflict? How
(does) it get resolved?
Am I happy with the ending? Why or why not?
Setting, tone, and atmosphere
Where does the story take place?
When does the story take place?
What might the place and time of the story reveal about
the character’s values, motivations, and actions?
Can I detect the author’s tone or attitude toward the
characters, the setting, or the events?
How would I describe the environment or atmosphere in
the story? Is it cheerful and positive, depressing and
negative, or does it vary?
How are the elements of setting, tone, and atmosphere
related to the theme of the story? In other words, does
the message being conveyed seem to fit with the time
Does the emerging theme surprise me, given the
atmosphere of the story?
Language and Imagery
How would I describe the diction in the story? Is it formal
How would I describe the speech of the characters?
Does it reveal their regional, educational, or class
How are the setting and atmosphere described?
Is the language descriptive?
Do I have a picture of the characters and the setting in
Does the author rely on figurative language, such as
metaphors, symbols, or personification? What about
allusions or irony?
What is the overall affect of the language in conveying