Stories: How to Study a Story and Why We Do It

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It’s Sunday, which means it’s discussion time. This is when I write to think more deeply about books, why we read, and why literature is so important in our lives. Today is the final installment in the Stories collection, which aims to explore four of my favourite books, discussing characters and their relationships with each other, and how they are affected by predominant symbols in the story. This week I wanted to discuss how we study stories and why it is important for us to practice it whilst reading, along with a few of my experiences…

How to Study a Story

Reading a novel is one thing. Studying a novel is completely different. You can take in the story and understand what is happening, but to study a story is to find learn how literature techniques have been used and how to they contribute to the overall meaning. When reading a story to study it, you need to read carefully, and be attentive to the smaller details in the writing, taking notes on what is happening, what has been spotted, so they can be referred back to a linked to other parts of the story. The question is what notes should be made? Character appearances and personalities are important for the understanding of relationships, recurring themes help us to understand what the book is telling us about the underlying meaning of the story, and author’s writing style helps to identify key features throughout the book. Also note key details and quotes in the story, which will help when recalling the chronology later on, or write chapter summaries. Note down any links found between events, characters or plot as they are found, and what is important about them.

This is just the surface of what notes need to be taken. When studying a story, we also need to think about close reading. This includes four stages in the process of understanding what the story is trying to tell us. These four stages are: Linguistic, Semantic, Structural and Cultural. Linguistic is making notes about aspects of the vocabulary and syntax, and how the dialogue in the book is written. Semantic is thinking about what the words actually mean, and finding connotations within them. Structural is the relationships between the words and other words used in the same context, or in relation to characters or plot points. Cultural is thinking outside the text itself, and how it relates to other writing by the same author, or within the same genre, or points in history.

My Experience

When completing this project, I wanted to try and record my feelings towards certain parts of the books, as well as researching them in a more academic sense. This was a lot more difficult to do, as I find myself really getting into why the author has written in a certain way. I started with reading The Fault in Our Stars, and the amount of notes I took in the first chapter was extraordinary! I found myself picking apart every sentence and trying to figure out why John Green had structured his sentences in certain ways, and why he had chosen that particular vocabulary. Once I had narrowed down my field of research to character relationships and symbols, it was so much easier to pick bits out and find relevant information that I could use. I continued to do this selective method of research, while still paying to attention to the overall story for context, and it made a massive difference, as I was able to easily look back over my notes and find what I was looking for, without having to read through tons of irrelevant findings.

Why is it important to study literature?

My biggest regret in life is not continuing English Lit after GCSE level, because literature is such a passion of mine now, and looking back, I know my reasonings were pathetic. However, I still practice the study of literature through reading my own books, when I review them, and when I discuss them with other people. There is a surface level you can read a book on, and that is understanding the plot and the characters. For me, this just isn’t enough to satisfy my bookworm cravings. I think it’s so important to look for symbolism, character relationships, atmosphere and dialogue (to name a few!) because as soon as you do, the story comes to life even more than it did before. I have read The Fault in Our Stars a total of 5 times, and I am still amazed at what I learn when I try and think a little bit deeper about what is happening on a particular page. Going back to literature that we’ve already read, and just reading a little bit closer, can really open up a brand new perspective. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was another book I read for about the 5th time, and I was shocked that there were some pieces of dialogue that had never caught my attention, but supplied crucial foreshadowing to the final few books.
To wrap this post, and the Stories post collection up, I wanted to send a message to all of you who read for pleasure, and devour your books in one sitting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, I often enjoy partaking myself, but next time you really want to have a reread of your favourite novel, just sit and cherish the words and what the author is trying to say to you. Think about recurring symbolism, the relationships between characters, and what they mean, because you may just uncover something new!

Until next time…
Jade 🙂

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