• Understanding Literary Features

    I.  Beginnings

                A.  Novelists often labor over their beginnings to get them right.

                B.  As with plays, beginnings introduce us to the new, unfamiliar and unique

                            world of a particular work

                C.  They need to draw us in quickly

                D.  Do they:

                            1.  Start in the middle of an action, conversation, or story?

                            2.  Begin at the end?

                            3.  Feature an unusual narrator introducing him/herself in an unusual way?

                            4.  Describe a landscape or place or character?

                            5.  Open with a philosophical or epigrammatic statement or an ironic one?

                            6.  Introduce a ‘frame’ story or narrator?

                            7.  Startle us with a unique style of writing?


    II.  Narrators

                A.  Novels ‘tell’ and must have a teller; everything is filtered through a

     narrator and is thus highly controlled.

                B.  This is the biggest difference between dramas and novels when thinking

                            about ‘features’

                C.  Choice of narrator and point of view has been described as the single

                            most important choice the writer makes, because it is this that will

                            affect the reader.


    III.  ‘First Person’ and ‘Omniscient’ narrators

                A.  The ‘first person’ or ‘I’ narrator:

                            1.  May be the central character

                            2.  May be a character mainly telling the story of other characters

    3.  May appear to confide in the reader, can present his/her thoughts

     and feelings but cannot present those of other characters

    from the inside.

    4.  May be ’unreliable’ in that they have only limited knowledge of

                what they relate or have reason to be biased or have values we                       cannot share

    5.  Has a particular advantage in sharing directly thoughts and

                feelings and impressions with the reader.


                B.  The third person or omniscient (all-knowing) narrator is ‘outside’ the

                            world of the novel:

                            1.  May focus entirely on the tale itself and seem invisible

                            2.  Can enter into the consciousness of any character

                            3.  Can move in and out of a character, presenting both outside and


                            4.  Can use a variety of way to present a character and his/her


                            5.  Can present a great range of characters


    IV.  Ways of representing thought and speech

                A.  Direct Speech—the exact words of speech are presented

                B.  Indirect Speech—where the narrator reports what a character has said

                            without using the exact words

                C.  Free indirect discourse—though presented in the third person

                            viewpoint, it represents the language and point of view of the


                D.  Stream of consciousness—free, apparently random succession of

                            thoughts and sensations in a character’s mind, especially when alone

                E.  Interior monologue—the character is thinking to him/herself in

     language, in words, conscious of what he/she is thinking.


    V.  Character

                A.  The thing a novel does most memorably 

                            1.  shows attitudes towards characters in greater depth  and variety

                            2.  development through time

                            3.  psychological depth

                            4.  external interest

                B.  Methods of presenting character

                            1.  Does the narrator describe them?  What is the narrator’s attitude

                                        toward them?

                            2.  Is the focus of the description on appearance, moral or social

    qualities, behavior, or something else?  Are there links between those aspects? If the focus is on appearance, what kinds of elements are described and what clues do these give us about the character?

                            3.  Are we given a true and complete impresson early on?  Is

    important information about the character withheld until later?  Or is the presentation progressive, revealing more aspects as the novel goes along?

                            4.  Are the characters presented mainly through what they do, the

                                        decisions they make, or through how and what they think?

                            5.  Are the characters revealed through their own, or others’


                            6.  Do the characters have a particular style of speech?  What

    characterizes this?  Is it what they talk about, or how they express themselves, or both, that is striking?

                            7.  Are characters presented and illuminated through contrast with

    another character or characters?  What kinds of contrast?  Generational, sexual, class, other?


                C.  Role or purpose of character

                            1.  What does the author seem to want to convey through different


                                        a.  moral standpoint

                                        b.  criticism of unacceptable values or behavior

                                        c.  focus on the evolution of the characters’ understanding

                                        d.  representation of an aspect of society

                            2. What part do minor characters play?

                                        a.  affect plot

                                        b.  reveal important information

                                        c.  contrast or pair with one of the main characters,

    illuminating differences in character or attitude or values?


    VI.  Landscape, setting or place

                A.  ‘Context’ in which a novel takes place

                            1.  geography

                            2.  history

                            3.  social and cultural

                B.  Roles

                            1.  Does landscape play a symbolic part in the novel, reflecting

                                        character, or drawing attention to an implicit criticism of the


                            2.  Does setting provide a context for social criticism and for

                                        encounters with many different kinds of characters?

                            3.  Does it create tension or dramatic interest?

                            4.  Does setting embrace and represent the main character(s), or are

    they alienated from it, needing to escape and perhaps succeeding?

                            5.  Is there a shift of seasons in the landscape, reflecting or affecting

                                        the action?

                            6.  Does landscape or setting permeate the novel, or is it only

                                        important in places?

                            7.  Is setting strategic, challenging the characters, causing action or

                                        playing a part in the plot?


    VII.  Weather

                A.  Strategically leading to a plot development

                B.  Atmospherically, building suspense

                C.  Symbolically (presaging tragedy)

                D.  Revealing of character


    VIII.  Time

                A.  The human obsession with time

                            1.  moving backwards and forwards

                            2.  distorting chronology

                B.  Story, plot and time

                            1.  the difference between the chronological story and the way plot

                            highlights connections

                            2.  cause and effect

                C.  Letters and time

                            1.  connect past and present

                            2.  opening up a new perspective

                            3.  revealing a truth

                            4.  information is compressed

                                        a.  facts become dramatic

                                        b.  can generate emotional responses
    Stephen, Elizabeth.  IB Language A1 English. Oxford Study Courses:  Oxford, UK, 2003




Last Modified on May 14, 2019