Writing a successful literary analysis on a work of fiction can be a challenging and time-consuming task, but it is also very rewarding. The benefits gained are substantial for students, including the following: Literary analysis develops critical thinking, reading becomes a more exciting activity, students widen their intellectual horizons, and they also get to expand upon their unique view of the piece being analyzed.
Being original is important in this type of assignment, but also difficult as you might read lots of critical materials written by others. This makes unintentional plagiarism a potential problem, and students must remain vigilant to avoid it.
Although daunting at first glance, writing a good literary analysis needn’t be an overwhelming task. After you memorize some points, follow a plan, and analyze a few books, you’ll find it’s much easier than you think. You will even be able to help your friends and classmates perform a systematic and in-depth analysis. Here’s how to do it:
What’s the first thing to know? Let’s define what literary analysis presupposes. You need to first understand the text, and then evaluate and interpret it on different levels. When analyzing a novel or short story, you should explain the author’s writing style, characters, themes, settings, stylistic devices, and so on. Of course, literary analysis is not about retelling a detailed plot, but you should provide a brief overview to describe the most important developments that move the story forward.
1. First off, briefly tell about the author of the text you’re analyzing. Mention important facts from the author’s biography (if they are pertinent to the analysis), describe the themes the writer generally explores in his or her writing, and list the most prominent works. Additionally, you can explain to which literary tradition the text belongs.
2. Now it’s time to define the main themes developed in the specific story you’re analyzing. There can be one or multiple items highlighted, and you should explain all of them. Generally speaking, here is where you have to tell what this text is about. Is it about finding one’s way in life? Or maybe it’s about saving love? Or about making a difficult choice?
3. Next, get into the characters. Here you have a large stage before you. Tell what goals characters pursue, what their function is in the text, their attitudes towards minor characters, and so on. You also need to define what types of characters they are. Below is one way to outline an approach to this task:
- Is the character major or minor?
- Is the major character a protagonist or antagonist?
- Is the character a hero or anti-hero?
- Is the character dynamic or static?
- Is the character round or flat?
- Is the character stereotypical or not?
- Is the character symbolic or not?
4. Don’t forget to spend some time on settings (temporal, geographical, social, etc.). This information is important, since it provides insight into the definite historic and cultural environment and how these affect the plot.
5. Now it’s time to define what expressive means and stylistic devices the author has used to make his or her text more memorable. I’d like to provide you with a list of the most widespread figures of speech (there are lots of them and you can research them to learn more):
6. The writing style is significant as well. You should take into consideration stylistic, syntactic, and grammatical peculiarities of the text. They are going to tell you more about the writer and his or her writing habits. Additionally, define the narrator type (1st person, 3rd person), focalization type (zero, internal—fixed, variable, multiple, external), and stylistic tone of the text (ironic, humorous, tragic, optimistic, pessimistic, and so on).
What else should you take into consideration?
- While analyzing a text, you need to refer to the original source. To accomplish this aim you will be using relevant quotations from the text. Your task is to cite them and arrange them in a proper way (as well as the list of literature, if you have used other sources besides the analyzed text). If you don’t know for sure how to cite a particular source, you can use referencing generators available for free online. Your sources can include a blog, archive material, dictionary entry, interview or anything else, and the generator is going to arrange them all in particular citation styles (AMA, APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago, Turabian, and others).
- Revision is one of the key points that you must not ignore. Firstly, you have to reread your literary analysis a few times to identify areas that need improvement or to catch mistakes to correct. Secondly, you can ask a friend or peer to read your analysis and provide feedback. Moreover, you need to know how to avoid plagiarism, even if it’s accidental. Using plagiarism checkers before submitting your literary analysis is always a good idea.
- Finally, don’t make the common mistakes many freshmen students make. Avoid using phrases such as “the author means,” “the author wants to say,” “the author’s opinion is,” and so on. Why? You should investigate the text and interpret it on different levels from your own point of view. That’s it. Neither you, nor anybody else, knows what was in the author’s head when writing the story.
Now that you’ve seen the various elements that go into analyzing a work of fiction, you can see it’s not as hard as you might have originally thought. It goes without saying that the outline presented above should be adjusted to match your teacher’s requirements. Do you have other ideas about what makes for a good literary analysis? Do you find them easy or hard to write? Please share your thoughts below!
This is a guest post by Rose Scott. Rose Scott is a literature teacher who cannot imagine her life without books. Being enthusiast in writing, she created her own educational world online – Born to Teach and became a regular contributor for College Raptor. Rose believes that a good book can cure all the worries.