Engaging with prose

Reading and working with a novel

  • Remember the kind of novel that you are reading -- which genres does it reflect/draw on?
  • Allow yourself time to become accustomed to the language used by the author -- linguistic forms will have changed.
  • Put yourself into the novel: try to imagine what it might be like to be a particular character.
  • Set aside time for reading: identify blocks of time when you can read without interruption.
  • Make notes as you read: this is the best way of keeping your reading alert and active – note down such things as the relationships between people, perhaps in a diagram form, and the locations of various parts of the story.
  • Make links with other books, films or TV programmes with similar plots and themes.

Get to know the text

  • Read the novel several times: this is essential if you are to develop a well-informed response to it.
  • Follow up advice on reading given by your teacher or in study guides.
  • BUT don't rely on plot summaries:
    • They tell you nothing about language and style
    • They don't identify themes and motifs in the text
    • However detailed, they are intended as reminders not substitutes.
  • Read the text in different ways. Once you have a firm grasp of the overall narrative, you may wish to:
    • Re-read a particular section, and see how it throws light on the reader's reaction to the whole novel
    • Concentrate on a theme or motif, such as the use of particular locations or weather
    • Trace the development of a character or a relationship between characters.

Know the complete text

This requires a separate section because examiners often report that students know the start of a play or novel well, but not the end. Classroom study often emphasizes the beginning of a book or play, where the author introduces characters, themes and imagery, and is then less detailed about the remainder of the text. So:

  • Do not ignore the impact of significant scenes or episodes in the later chapters of your text.
  • Remember that themes, motifs and images may be developed and modified as the book goes on.
  • Remember that characters change and develop and that the reader's attitude towards them may also change.

Keep a record of your reading

  • Make notes under headings, with page references to particularly useful passages.
  • For major topics, you may find it helpful to have separate pages: one for each of the main characters, or a dominant theme:
    • Don't let your notes become too separate and take care to comment on links and relationships.
    • Use specimen essay questions to give you ideas for headings for your notes.
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