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How to Analyze Narrative Texts


You've read the story, questioned the characters' motives and tried to predict the next plot twist. Now, the hard part begins: analyzing the narrative, examining its elements to determine how they create a collective meaning. Whether you're reading a novel for a book club or writing an essay for English class, analyzing a narrative can reveal important details related to the story's theme, development and overall craft.

Plot Points

Stories, essays and novels all feature a sequence of events that begins with exposition, or introduction to the characters, setting and conflict, gradually builds to a climax and ends with resolution. As you analyze plot, consider what events in the story might represent each of these stages. You might examine how the narrative's opening scene sets the tone for what's coming, the logic in the sequence of events and the significance of the story's ending. You can also identify the major conflict the characters face in the story, what's at stake for them and how the plot structure portrays its challenges and resolution.

Character Journeys

Analyzing the characters' personalities, behavior and relationships can point to significant meaning in a narrative. You might look closely the characters' actions, their appearance and mannerisms and what other characters think of them to determine their important qualities and traits. You can also consider which characters change the most as a result of the events, or don't change at all. Narration is another important element of character analysis. Examine whether a character uses first person point of view to directly tell the story, or a more objective third person narrator from outside the story.

Speaking Figuratively

Analyzing a narrative means looking at the authors' language choices as well as global elements like character and plot. Figurative language, the use of nonliteral comparisons to describe things or evoke sensory detail, creates images of characters and settings and evokes an emotional attitude, or tone. In the narrative, analyze the author's use of techniques such as similes, comparisons that use the words "like" or "as," and metaphors, which make direct comparisons without these words. You can also look closer at images the author describes and consider whether they carry symbolic meaning to the story as a whole.

Setting the Time and Place

Setting in narratives includes both the physical location of the story, and other elements such as the time period, weather or season when the action occurs. Analyze the time and place of the narrative and consider how the choice of era or location can help you understand the characters and their experiences, as well as how the choice of place helps to reinforce the story's meaning. Since settings often serve a symbolic function in narratives, you can also consider whether the location could represent a larger idea or theme within the narrative.

Tackling the Theme

Ultimately, all narrative elements work together to create the story's theme, the main idea that lies behind the text. You can analyze the primary characters, setting, images and plot points to determine what ideas it seems to illustrate. For example, you might consider whether the protagonist gets what he wants or fails at his quest and what implications this choice carries for meaning. You can also search the text for any repeating symbols or images that could point to this main idea or explore the prevailing tone that characterizes the piece.

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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