20 useful questions for understanding novels
Below is a list of questions you may find it useful to ask yourself when analysing novels. They are NOT a blueprint for a ready-made analysis; every novel is different and will require its own approach. However, they may help you towards a better understanding of how a novel “works”.
- Who is the protagonist of the novel? Is there an antagonist?
- What is the main conflict of the story? Are there secondary conflicts also?
- Is the main conflict told chronologically, or are some things only revealed later? If so, what effect does this have?
- Where is the climax of the novel?
- Is there a resolution of the main conflict? Is anything left unresolved?
- What are the main themes of the novel?
- What is the significance of the title of the novel? Does it relate to any themes?
- Is the novel critical of the world it portrays?
- What point of view has the author chosen? What is the effect of the point of view? (For example, how would the novel be changed if a different point of view was chosen?)
- Is the point of view stable, or does it change? (Why – and with what effect?)
- How reliable is the narrator? In the case of an unreliable narrator, how is this unreliability revealed?
- Does the author make use of irony in the novel? What is its effect?
- What are the main characters in the story like? What character traits do they have?
- Are the characters “flat” or “round”?
- Does the main character change in the course of the novel? If so, in what way?
- Is there a moment of epiphany? If so, what new understanding is reached?
- How do we learn about the characters – though their actions and words (indirectly) or through author description (directly)?
- Where is the novel set? Are there several settings? Does the setting give the story a particular atmosphere?
- When is the novel set? If the novel is set in an indefinite “present”, are their any signs that can help us date the story?
- What social environment is portrayed in the novel? Are there several different environments?