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”.

  1. Who is the protagonist of the novel? Is there an antagonist?
  2. What is the main conflict of the story? Are there secondary conflicts also?
  3. Is the main conflict told chronologically, or are some things only revealed later? If so, what effect does this have?
  4. Where is the climax of the novel?
  5. Is there a resolution of the main conflict? Is anything left unresolved?
  6. What are the main themes of the novel?
  7. What is the significance of the title of the novel? Does it relate to any themes?
  8. Is the novel critical of the world it portrays?
  9. 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?)
  10. Is the point of view stable, or does it change? (Why – and with what effect?)
  11. How reliable is the narrator? In the case of an unreliable narrator, how is this unreliability revealed?
  12. Does the author make use of irony in the novel? What is its effect?
  13. What are the main characters in the story like? What character traits do they have?
  14. Are the characters “flat” or “round”?
  15. Does the main character change in the course of the novel? If so, in what way?
  16. Is there a moment of epiphany? If so, what new understanding is reached?
  17. How do we learn about the characters – though their actions and words (indirectly) or through author description (directly)?
  18. Where is the novel set? Are there several settings? Does the setting give the story a particular atmosphere?
  19. 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?
  20. What social environment is portrayed in the novel? Are there several different environments?


Cappelen Damm

Sist oppdatert: 07.09.2012

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