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Top Tips for Studying Novels

By: Kate Simpson BA, MA - Updated: 23 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Studying A Novel Quote Active Reading

Studying a novel is very different from reading a novel for pleasure. Rather than sinking back into a chair and escaping into another world as you might with the latest bestseller, it is important to be alert at all times when reading a set text. It is also vital to think carefully and actively about what you are reading and take comprehensive notes. Here, we share five tips that will come in useful when it comes to studying a novel.

Be an Active Reader

When studying a novel, it is hugely important to ensure that you are always an ‘active reader’. This means that, when reading your set text, you should always be thinking carefully about its themes, its characters and the style in which it is written. A good way to ensure active reading is to ask yourself questions as you read. Why is this character described in that way? What does it tell us about him or her? Is the tension rising or falling at this moment? What does that metaphor suggest? How does the author convey back-story? Are the sentences long or short and why? You are sure to find that many of these questions and their possible answers will get your ideas flowing and provide you with useful material when it comes to planning essays and presentations.

Make Notes

As you read the novel and ask yourself such questions, be sure to jot down your ideas. Make a separate page of notes for each chapter of the novel, noting down important page numbers, plot details, quotes, questions and ideas. You could even jot down your ideas in revision-friendly spider diagram form.

Compile a List of Quotes

If you are studying a novel for an exam, it is particularly important to compile a list or bank of important quotes from your set text. It is helpful to jot down useful quotes that relate to the key themes of the novel, the characters and their histories, qualities and development, the novel’s plot and the author’s writing style. To collect these quotes, read the novel through, highlighting any important passages and quotes. Try to keep selected quotes short; a couple of well-chosen words are better than three sentences that are only loosely relevant to your point. Once you have reached the end of the novel, write the quotes out under a series of headings, as suggested above. You might like to try doing this on a computer, to speed things up. Word processing your quote bank will also allow you to copy and paste any quotes that are relevant to one or more themes or quote categories.

Consider Further Reading

When studying a novel, it is always useful to think about the story’s context. In what time and place was the book set or written? For example, if you were studying a novel by Thomas Hardy, it would be useful to know more about rural life towards the end of the 17th century. Look to history books and useful internet sites to learn more. Writers’ biographies or autobiographies are also a useful resources for learning more about the context of their work. Details relating to the author’s life, as well as their views on fiction and writing, may illuminate aspects of the novel for you.

Keep Reading

When studying a novel for an exam or coursework, one reading just isn’t enough. Read and re-read the novel as many times as you can and aim for a minimum of four readings. You need to be familiar with the plot, the characters and the key themes of the novel and repeated reading is key to gaining a confident knowledge of the novel’s content.

Whilst studying a novel demands time and effort, it can still be an enjoyable experience. Indeed, thinking carefully and critically about an author’s creation often helps readers to gain more from the reading process. You might find yourself becoming increasingly involved with the novel’s characters and gaining an appreciation for the author’s style, for example. For many, novels studied at school or at college become lifelong firm favourites.

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