1. Chudz
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    Chudz Contributing Member

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    How do you go about analyzing a novel?

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Chudz, Sep 20, 2010.

    I started looking at a novel by one of my favorite authors. I gathered some note cards and reread the first chapter, jotting down thoughts on things like scenes, characters, exposition, etc.

    Until today, this is something that I've never taken the time to do before. But I think I'll find it helpful in the long run. So, for those of you that do so, how do you go about analyzing a novel?
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Symbolism, characterization, character interactions, parallels, psychological aspects with character growth, etc.

    It's something that's easier to do in more depth once you've read the whole novel, imo.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Language is everything when it comes to textual analysis. You should pay close attention to how sentences are structured, what language is used, stylistic features and take that evidence and consider how it creates tone, how it evokes themes and messages, how it shapes characters. After having analysed the novel, you should be able to point out a few key themes and concerns and provide textual evidence to support your conclusions about those themes. And the more information you can get out of the text, the more enjoyable you'll find it, so always be on the look out for new ways of approaching the text that might reveal something you hadn't already thought of. Leave not a single word un-thought about.
     
  4. Chudz
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    Chudz Contributing Member

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    Out of curiosity, do you just roll it all around in your mind, or do you write it on note cards, a notebook, computer, etc?
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    When I'm reading for fun, I'll just think about these things in my mind. But if it's for class, then I usually write down notes in a notebook or within the margins.

    You should also take a look at what scholars and critics have to say about the text. That can be a good place to start your analysis.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    When we analyse novels on my course, generally we pick out a key scene, usually from the middle rather than the opening, and analyse that in depth, and see from that one scene how it relates to the rest of the novel. You can do it for pretty much any scene, I guess. But yeah, reading the whole novel first helps.

    When I'm reading for fun I tend to analyse novels more in the way of thinking about them 3 days later when I'm walking somewhere. I don't come up with any formal decisions or theories; I just keep mulling over it until I think I've figured out all I can and understood it as well as I ever will without repeated re-readings. If it's a novel I've repeatedly re-read, obviously the mullings over it will be a lot more in-depth. :p
     
  7. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I can think of three methods of analysis. They each have different goals.

    The first one is what you do in a literature course. You look at symbolism, at metaphors and similies and the description used, at foreshadowing and at fatal flaws. I'm pretty good at this, but this is least useful to me in my writing.

    The second analysis is whether a book is good, and which bits were good or bad. For me, this comes into play when I read a so-so book, or a bad one, or when I read and find myself just not caring about the characters. I try to pinpoint the things the author could have done to fix the book -- fixing the crap science, or deleting a chapter, or shortening a subplot. Sometimes whole sections strike me as terrible, and these can be the best teachers for a new writer, because you can dissect them into their parts and find out what killed the scene.

    Aliens that acted way too human? News broadcast that wasn't news at all, but an author tract? A Gary Stu or Mary Sue character whose magic breaks the author's stated rules? A tangent on dog breeds that went on for three pages despite dogs only coming up in minor side plots later in the book? Identifying them is the first step to avoiding them in your own work. Stephen King tells of a book he read wherein the characters kept doing "zestful" things. Eating zestfully, embracing zestfully, smiling a zestful smile. It stopped meaning anything after a while, and around the fortieth "zestful" thing King vowed never to use "zestful" in anything he wrote.

    I've vowed similar things. I will try not to get the science wrong. I will not write "aliens" who are, for all intents and purposes, human in their outlook. I will not try to convince the reader that my arsehole character is wonderful and perfect. I will not write a "standalone" book that never resolves its main plot.

    And the third method of analysis looks at good books. Ones I really enjoyed, I mean; for me there is no other good way to measure a book's worth. Awards and bestseller lists don't mean much to me if I found the characters unbelieveable, the plot dull, the science inaccurate.

    So I look for good books, books that keep me up at night because Dresden got hurt, because Locke Lamora was just betrayed, because Temeraire took a cannonball to the chest and can hardly fly. Books that let me envision the climbing vines on the cottage walls, the multicolored whorls that precede a summons appearing, the ruddy light from a forge.

    And I study these books. What about the character made me care about her injury? What did the bad guy say to tip me off that something wasn't right? What fascinates me about the alien society? How did the author terrify me into sleeping with the light still on?

    I also look at the style the author used. For example, Butcher's Dresden files is full of violence, humor, rising tension, a lot of danger. Stirling's Dies the Fire series is very dense, full of relevant details about everything from the color of a yew bow, to the process of making armor and practicing for battle, to the heat and sweat of using hand scythes to bring in the harvest. Novik's amazing dragons-in-Napoleonic-times series has a lot of information about ships and tactics and a lot of wonderfully done dialogue, but the characters don't particularly care about things like plants so the landscape gets glossed over. In the opposite camp, James Herriot delves deeply into gorse and heather and medical instruments and country cooking and the Hampshire folk he meets, but really couldn't care about tactics; his love of the country and wild places dominates his work.

    And it is very useful to look at these books and ask what they did right, what they did wrong, what was ambiguous. Reading a hundred different authors will show you the things that work within each writing style -- the way to balance action and exposition, how to do flashbacks, how to show that a character has been terribly terribly hurt and is trying not to let other people know. The way to introduce a new technology, or set up a magic system that your readers won't balk at. The way to show characters growing, learning, changing, failing, acting selfish, winning beyond their wildest dreams and losing it all a year later.

    I do numbers 2 and 3 in my head; when I analyze with method 1, I use paper or notecards. And at this point I analyze automatically, even as I read something for the first time. (I can "turn it off," as it were, if this starts to interfere with my enjoyment or understanding of the text.) It has already helped me somewhat, by giving me goals to strive for and examples of how to do particular things -- mostly foreshadowing, exposition, certain characterization methods.
     
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  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If you're not used to thinking critically about a book, then to start with its probably best to take notes and write your thoughts down, but as you get accustomed to reading critically and analytically you'll find you do it automatically and start picking up on the subtleties and nuances that would perhaps otherwise go unnoticed. It also encourages you to pay attention to the writing, rather than just on the story, which makes reading certain kinds of books much more satisfying (and, on the other hand, makes certain books far less enjoyable, as they'll read as flat, devoid of style, unintelligent and not worthy of analysis).
     
  9. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I naturally analyise books as I read them and assess whether I find them enjoyable or dull as. One of the most tiresome reads I have ever come across is the Bible, it mentions endless paragraphs of relatives of key characters, but who themselves have no role in the storyline, and yet it is the ultimate best seller. It fact there is a lot wrong with this if you look at it as ajust a book; the main character changes, it is told from different view points, conflicting ideas and plot holes. On the plus side it tells fables, that have formed what is acceptable behaviour in our society, gives meaningful lessons and created one of the best ever bad guys, and one of the most amazingly brutal, unhollywood endings ever written. This is just looking at such an important book objectively. :)
     

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