Basic Tools for Studying Literature

The Basics of Analyzing Literature

  TREE analogy

Draw a tree on a piece of paper.

Label the Ground & Roots of the story– Context, Author Background and Worldview.  The Context includes such things as author background (who they were, where they lived, political or religious affiliations, significant life experiences, age when work was written, tragedies etc.), the literary period, context of setting, historical Context of time period, political context (ie. Cry, The Beloved Country & Animal Farm), theological trends and philosophies of the day, social problems, scientific discoveries, social and class structures, male and female roles, morality or lack thereof, etc.

Label the Trunk and the Branches– The 5 Elements of Every Story’s Structure: Setting, Characters, Plot, Conflict, and Theme.  These elements give the story its main shape and support.

Label the Leaves — Stylistic details.   This component includes genre, tone-type of vocab. used, way things are worded, literary and poetic devices. point of view, etc.   This helps you further identify what type of “tree” or story it is.


This tool can help readers make significant observations and help teachers and students learn to ask probing questions about the story.  It can train readers to notice details about the work’s literary components.

For Example:
Why are the character’s the way they are?

How is conflict building?

Are there any patterns emerging?—phrases or scenic details repeated?  What do these motifs mean?

Are there any key dialogs which reveal the story’s theme?

What is the author’s tone? Message? Conclusions? Worldview? Are these based on Truth? Are there some true elements and some false elements in the story? What philosophical assumptions is the author starting with? Are they credible? Why or why not?

 As you JOURNAL, notice when various literary elements are used.  Try marking the margin of your journal with the following abbreviations  or words and the page number where the key information relating to one of the five elements of fiction arises or where a significant literary device is used.


S = Setting

C = Characterization (then ID Character’s Name—ie.  C-Disko or C-Harvey etc, Quote or list character traits shown)

P = Plot  (Make note of significant things happening in each chapter that move the story along. Short summary statements fine.)

= Conflict (What is causing the tension to build?  Is this an external or internal conflict?  This will often be tied to the Plot.)

TH = Theme (The Novel’s main message, underlying idea being communicated, or the leading subject)

WV = Author’s Worldview (Likely tied closely with theme, Is the Author’s worldview assumption consistent with scripture? How so?  Contrary to Scripture?  How so?  Directly defying God and His Word?  True?  False?  Well supported?  “Every writer is understood to be transmitting some truth or falsehood, some fact or meaning, during the writing process.” Mike McHugh)


 Foreshadowing-Hints within the text of events that will take place, early clues about what will happen later on.

 Irony—A mode of speech or writing expressing a literal sense contrary to the meaning intended by the speaker.

 Symbolism—what is being symbolized? How?

 Motif—Repeated phrase, recurring structure, contrast or a pattern of identical or similar images recurring throughout a passage or the entire work

Personification– A comparison in which human qualities are assigned to something inanimate.

 Imagery (Metaphor or Simile) – You may note ones that are particularly poignant or really stand out

 Poetic Devices (alliteration, assonance, etc.)

 Allusion—an indirect reference to some character or event in literature, history, or mythology that enriches the meaning of the passage or aids in understanding.

 Hyperbole—Purposeful extreme exaggeration


Genre (Type of literature – fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, romance, epic, poetry, satire, etc.)

Tone ( The attitude a writer conveys toward subject and audience)

Mood (The emotional content of a scene or setting)

Literary Devices—See Above

Imagery—figurative language, poetic language




1 Response to Basic Tools for Studying Literature

  1. Pingback: C. C. Table of Contents | Literature Discovery

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