How to analyse a work of fiction

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By Valentina Tenedini

My fourth year students approach the study of the rise of the novel and its evolution.

That fragment of the school syllabus is complemented with a short set of lessons on the distinguishing elements of fiction, their definitions and variety.

See slideshows and file attached.

During the school year my students are asked to read and analyze a few novels, on which they’ll report in their written or speaking tests. The following QUESTIONNAIRE provides some guidelines on all the aspects to consider.


When you have to analyze a prose text on your own, or prepare for an oral or written test collect all significant information relevant to the following items

  • Author

  • Title and type of text:……………………. Taken from ………………. Written or published in…..

  • Is the date is relevant to the author’s biography or the historical period he/she lived in? – If so, how?

  • Is the title relevant to meaning?

(The following questions will help you analyse the details of the various ELEMENTS OF FICTION)


  • When and where is the story set?

  • Is the setting briefly sketched or is it described in detail?

  • Are the descriptions of setting based on visual images?

  • Is the language used in the description connotative or poetic?

  • Through whose eyes is the setting seen? Does the setting reveal the characters’ state of mind?

  • Does the setting:

contribute towards creating mood and atmosphere?

influence the characters’ behaviour?

reinforce the main theme of the work?

  • At what time of day/year does the most of the action take place? Is this relevant?


  • Are the events in the plot in chronological order? Does the plot start at the beginning of the story or in medias res? What effect do these choices have on the story?

  • Is the story based on conflict? Does the conflict come from outside or inside? What are the conflicting forces?

  • Is suspense created in the plot? If so, how?

  • Are there any subplots ? What are their functions?


  • Does the author use a first-person or third-person narrator?

  • Is the third-person narrator omniscient?

  • If the third-person narrator is limited, which character’s point of view does he reflect?

  • What type of point of view is adopted? (e.g fixed, inside/outside the story wide/restricted, shifting…)

  • Is the point of view dramatic or objective?

  • Does the author try to represent the thoughts of a character? What technique does he use to achieve this effect? What impact does the author’s choice of narrator have on the story?

  • what is the mode used (e.g. description, narration, dialogue …)?


  • Who are the main characters involved?

  • How are the characters presented : directly indirectly (by showing or by telling)?

  • Are the characters flat or round?

  • Is the character seen in the extract minor or major? Is he/she the protagonist/ the antagonist of the story?
  • Is he/she a round
    or a flat character?

  • Is he/she dynamic
    or static?

  • Does the author reveal the character through showing
    or telling, or does he/she use both techniques?

  • What information does the way the character behaves provide?

  • Is he/she similar to or different form other characters in the story? How does he relate to other characters?

  • Has the setting shaped the character’s personality? Does the setting reflect his mood or emotional state?

  • Does the character name have any importance, relevance or associations?

(questions on more general aspects of the work/ extract analyzed)

What type of situation does the extract present?

What is the syntax like? simple, complex;(short or long sentences … )

What is the vocabulary like? (concrete/abstract; realistic/symbolical…)

Reference to language of the senses:



Does the author have a didactic aim?

How is the text related to the novel it belongs to?

How is the novel related to the author's biography and works?

How is the novel related to the literary context of the time, the historical and social background?

How is the novel related to other texts belonging to the same or different periods?

What are the common readers’ reactions to the text, how did you react to it?

Can you suggest any likely connections to a painting/picture/film/ song/ poem…? Give reasons for you choice.

End with a final comment on what you most liked of the passage/novel you have read and who you would recommend reading it to – give reasons for your suggestion.

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