20 Questions for Analyzing Fiction

Not every work of fiction is the same, but our approach to analyzing any story can be helped if we ask some key questions.

The questions listed here are not an exhaustive list of literary analysis questions – there are many more questions to ask of any text – but these questions can help to guide our reading of a literary text so that we are identifying and analyzing the most meaningful elements of the text.

Use these questions as a guide to get started on analysis. Then step beyond these twenty questions and look for opportunities to ask your own questions of the text so that these questions become a starting point to an analysis journey…captained by you.

Character

  1. Is there a single protagonist in the story? If so, who is it?
  2. What are the most prominent character traits of the protagonist?
  3. Do any of these traits seem like flaws?
  4. Do any of these traits seem like strengths?
  5. How do the supporting characters feel about the protagonist?

Plot

  1. If you had to re-tell the story in a sentence or two, how would you describe the plot?
  2. What are three key events in the story?
  3. Are there any turning points in the story?
  4. What is the climax of the story?
  5. What are the outcomes of the story for the main character(s)?

Literary Elements

  1. What narrative point of view is used to tell the story (first person, second person, third person limited, third person omniscient)?
  2. Can you comment on the effect of the choice to use this particular narrative point of view?
  3. Does the story present any uses of symbolism? Can you identify one or two examples?
  4. Where does the writer use metaphor or other figurative language?
  5. Do the different instances of metaphor seem to connect to a similar idea or theme?

Theme

  1. What is driving the tension of the story?
  2. Is there a central question posed by the text?
  3. What ideas does the narrator directly discuss?
  4. What particular fixations do the characters display? (Concerns with morality, authenticity, wealth, status, a sense of the natural order, freedom, individuality?) 
  5. At the end of the story, how has the protagonist changed?
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