READING AND WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE
Questions for Literary Description and Analysis
Questions to ask when writing about GENRE
Why did the writer choose this genre in particular?
How would the work or the message have been different if the
writer used a different genre?
Questions to ask when writing about the AUTHOR
- To which literary group, school, or period did he belong?
- What was the year and place of birth?
- What other pieces of literature did he produce? Are they
of similar genres? Similar subjects or themes?
- What details of his life has bearing on the text?
Questions to ask when writing about TITLE
- What significance, if any, does the title have? What does
- Identify passages in the text that refer directly to
Questions to ask when writing about AUTHOR’S PURPOSE
- What seems to be the author’s message?
- Does he or she appear to have a clearly stated opinion
about events and characters?
- Is the author trying to inform, persuade, or entertain?
- Is the author’s message making a political or social
- What function does this piece serve?
Questions to ask when writing about STRUCTURE/ORGANIZATION
- Does the author use
foreshadowing, flashbacks, story-within-a-story, analogies,
irony, satire? How do these techniques contribute to the text’s general
- What do you learn from the exposition?
- Identify the conflicts. What are they?
- Does the work contain plot twists? A surprise ending?
- Is the story believable?
- Is the text split up into chapters? If so, are the chapters
long? Are they balanced?
Questions to ask about PLOT
- What is the basic conflict?
- Describe how the writer treats the exposition.
- What are the major complications in the rising action?
- Describe the climax.
- Describe how the writer treats the resolution.
- Identify any subplots.
- Is the story told chronologically? Through flashbacks? Is there foreshadowing?
- Do any scenes provide comic relief?
- How is suspense created and maintained?
Questions to ask when writing about CONFLICT
- Is the conflict person against person? If so, what is the
- Is it person against society? If so, what is the cause?
- Is it person against himself? If so, what is the internal
- Is it person against physical nature? If so, is the person’s
life in danger?
- Or is it person against fate, or God?
- What is the central conflict? Can you identify any lesser
Questions to ask when writing about the POINT OF VIEW and NARRATOR
- Is this told from a 1st (I), 2nd (you),
or 3rd (he, she, it) point of view? Omniscient or limited?
- Why might the author have made this choice?
- Does the narrator’s point of view differ from the
author’s? How can you tell?
- Is the story related in the first or third person point
- Who is the narrator?
- If told in the first person, is the narrator the protagonist,
a minor character, or simply a witness or recorder?
- What is the narrator’s perspective? Why is the narration from this perspective?
- Is the narrator trustworthy? Or are they unreliable?
- Does the narrator tell give you enough information/
- Why might the author have chosen this perspective?
- How would the story have been different if told from
Questions to ask when writing about CHARACTER
(See pg. X for words to use when you talk about
Questions to ask when writing about DIALOGUE
Is dialogue used largely to reveal character or to keep
the plot moving?
Questions to ask when writing about SETTING
- What is the physical setting of the story?
- What is the time of the story? What period in history?
- Over what period of time does the story occur?
- What is going on in society?
- If the narrator covers various settings, how long does he
spend on each development? Is there a reason why he spends more time in one setting than another?
- Is the setting significant or only incidental?
- Could the story have taken place somewhere else or at a different
period of time?
- Is the weather symbolic?
- Does the author use time of day or location symbolically?
Does the setting ever become symbolic?
- How does setting contribute to the text’s overall
Questions to ask when writing about THEME
(See pg. X for words to use when talking about THEME)
- What are the significant themes in the work?
- Is there more than one theme?
- What questions or problems does the work raise? Does the author
suggest a solution?
- How does the author relay the theme?
- Is there a close relationship between the theme and plot?
Theme and characters? Theme and setting?
- By what means does the author get his theme across?
- If you had to write an essay about it, would you focus on
a character, a pattern of imagery, the use of language, or the author’s message?
- How does this
work help you understand life? What vision does the work convey about life? How has my understanding of life been enhanced?
- Do you gain insight from this story? What is it?
- Does the title reveal anything about the theme?
- Does an epigraph reveal anything about the theme?
- Does the work have an important message? Is it subtle
or overbearing? Is it powerful or ineffective? Is it memorable or forgettable?
Questions to ask when writing about the WRITER’S STYLE
(See pg. X for words to use when talking about WRITER’S STYLE)
- What stands out as being strikingly different?
- Is the writer’s paragraph or sentence length traditional
- Is there a variation in the sentence structure?
- Does he use any figures of speech?
- What point of view is utilized?
Questions to ask when writing about TONE & VOICE
(See pg. X for words to use when you talk about AUTHOR’S TONE)
- What is the author’s tone? (Sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek, amused, etc.) Why would the author
employ this tone?
- What evidence in the work supports your description of
- Are there any shifts in tone?
- How does the tone contribute to the meaning?
- Does the author employ satire? Is there much wit and humor?
Pathos? Is it effective?
- Does he make philosophical comments either through a persona
or through his characters?
- Does he moralize or seem didactic? Does he seem to be romantic?
- If told from the first-person point of view, what is the tone?
Does it change over time?
- Does the author use satire?
- Does the tone change over time?
- How does the tone help the author get their point across?
Is it effective?
Questions to ask when writing about SYMBOLS AND ALLEGORIES
(See pg. X for words to use when talking about SYMBOLS AND ALLEGORIES)
- Does the writer use symbols? What are they? What are the major
symbols used? What impact do they have?
- Do any o the following appear to have symbolic meaning:
people? People’s names? Place? Names pf places? Colors? Objects?
- How do the symbols contribute to the work as a whole?
- Does the work have a motif? What is the significance of a given motif? How does the motif
add to the text as a whole?
- Is there an allegorical level of meaning? If so, discuss it
in relation to the story?
- What type of story is it? Problem? Manners? Historical?
Questions to ask when writing about ALLUSIONS
(See pg. X for words to use when talking about ALLUSIONS)
- From what fields of specialized knowledge or historical periods
are the allusions drawn? How do you know?
- Are there allusions to other literary works? Which ones? Why?
For comparison or contrast? Definition? Irony?
- How do the allusions help delineate the world of the work?
- Are the allusions primarily used to convey character? Setting?
Atmosphere? Tone? Imagery?
- Are there catalogs of allusions? If so, what is their effect?
- Do all the allusions point to one topic or source?
Questions to ask when writing about IMAGERY
- Does the writer use imagery? What are they?
- What impact do the images have?
- Do you find examples of any of these types of imagery?
- Tactile (sense of touch)
- Aural (Sense of hearing)
- Olfactory (Sense of smell)
- Visual (Sense of sight)
- Gustatory (Sense of taste)
Questions to ask when writing about DICTION
(See pg. X for words to use when you talk about
- Consider the writer’s word choice. Did they use slang or occupational terminology?
- What is the writer’s purpose for their word choice?
- What are some key words in the work?
- Does the author use dialect, slang, jargon or euphemism? For
- How does the diction affect the tone and the meaning
of the work?