Monday, March 28, 2011

Three Major Questions to Ask When You Read

Reading can seem daunting, but with a focused eye, readers can make sense and untangle even the longest and seemingly complicated text. There are three major questions to ask when reading a text:

  1. What happened (the plot)?
  2. How was the piece constructed (craft)?
  3. How does the piece relate to worlds outside the book (relevance)?

First, it is important to figure out the plot. If the plot is a mystery, it will be difficult to move onto the second two questions. Determine who the main characters are, what they want/work towards, where the characters go, what they do and even why do certain events take place. Careful readers will even notice what takes place outside of the story (what is purposely missing.) If you are stuck, you could ask the questions that a journalist would ask for a story: who, what, where, when, why and how.

Then, look at the elements of writing that compose the piece. Start with the vocabulary, then the sentences, paragraphs, chapters and book as a whole. These craft tools, like tone and point of view, will help you to understand how the piece was constructed. Used properly, these are the tools that allow the writing to be literary. If the piece is well-written, these aspects won't be immediately obvious. 

Finally, a piece of literature will only last through time if it relates to the world outside of the book. This might be a personal, emotional world or a larger world, such as an entire culture or nation in a particular era. If there are human truths that cross beyond the plot, through the use of craft issues, then it is likely that readers outside of the immediate world of the book will be able to access the plot.

There are many other things to look for when reading literature, but these basic questions will get you started. 

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