Questions to Guide You When Writing a Literary Analysis

For the past couple of days, I've been reading The Book of Books: Explore America's 100 Best-Loved Novels. This is a large and thick tome that talks about the most beloved novels in America. After going through the list, it's safe to say that the titles included in the list can also be considered as the most beloved books not just in America but in the world.

Anyway, at the end of the book is a little section called "How to Read a Literary Text". It's a list of questions (and the corresponding explanations) that a reader can use to analyze and better understand a literary text. It struck me that these are also the most important questions that a reader should ask when writing a literary analysis or literary critique.

If you ever find yourself writing an analysis of a piece of writing, these questions can help guide you through the process:

1. What is the point of view? Who tells the story? Is the narrator reliable or unreliable>
2. What is the setting of the novel? What kind of world is being portrayed?
3. What's the order of events? How is the work structured? Why is the story told in the order that it is?
4. When does the action take place? Over what time period? In what era? Now, the past, the very very past? The future?
5. What kind of language is used? Descriptive? Straightforward? Plainspoken? Lofty?
6. What's the pace of the novel? Fast? Slow? Does it take place over a day, a month, a decade?
7. What form does the work take?
8. What are the key ideas or themes?
9. What are the recurring images or symbols?
10. Put yourself in the shoes of the main character. What would you do differently? How would you feel if you were put into the same situation?
11. What drives the main character? What does he or she want? What obstacles stand in the way?
12. How well do the characters understand the situation they are in? What do readers know that characters don't?
13. What is the primary conflict of the story?
14. What other books did this book remind you of?
15. If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?
16. How do the characters change? What do they learn?
17. What's the title of the work, and why does it matter? How does it set up your expectations before you begin reading? How does your understanding of the title change after you've finished?
18. What strikes you about the names used for characters and places in the novel? What kind of information or insight do you get from these labels?
19. How does the era of the book's composition play into the novel?
20. Would you want to be friends with the protagonist? Or is the protagonist unlikable? If so, why?