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Prewriting Strategies for Literature

Use your critical thinking skills to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and assimilate literature.  Literature is not just some boring old stories written by dead white guys!  Literature is an art form, and like all meaningful art, it is subversive in that it challenges the status quo. Let it challenge your views, beliefs, code of ethics and ability to solve problems and think critically as well as creatively.  This is the legacy of the magic of reading.

Read the piece of writing at least three times to make sure you are ready to begin your in-depth thinking.  You will need to break it down into components to consider.  Eventually you will assimilate your findings to produce new thinking and interpret major themes.  As long as you have evidence from the text (and avoid historical, social, or political inaccuracies) to support your interpretation, then it is "valid." When you write an essay detailing your position and defending/developing your theories regarding the literature, you are using argumentative exposition to write literary criticism!

Here are some strategies for getting started thinking about the elements of narrative literature. 

Plot Summary - “retell” the story briefly in your own words using literary vocabulary

This story's exposition phase begins with…The Protagonist is…The Antagonist is…First the protagonist….then he…afterwards the antagonist…and then…the major conflict seems to be…and the climax is when…then the plot structure resolution phase ends with…

Plot Structure Analysis - Identify the narrative phases for greater understanding of minor incidences and major events

Rising Action/Falling Action: Write a brief summary of the events as the tension builds to the climax and then as it resolves to the story's end.

Make a chart or table or Freytag's Pyramid to visualize elements:

Exposition: Make notes describing what is learned in opening, how long the exposition lasts, who reader meets, where story takes place etc.
Complication: What is the initial event which turns the plot towards the crisis, is it one thing or are there many details in the complication phase?
Crisis: What is the nature of the major conflict?  (Conflicts: Elemental, Social, Psychological) Who is striving towards what? Can you identify the protagonist and the antagonist? What exactly is the heart of the crisis? What would you do in the same set of circumstances?
Climax: What action or decision does the Protagonist take? How is the crisis reacted to and where will this major turning point in the plot lead?
Resolution: What happens as a result of the climax?  What conditions are the major characters in and how do you react to the ending?


Scrutiny of Setting - Organize details and associations

  • Time Period: social, technological, historical, political

  • Place/Environment: geographical, physical, general to specific

  • Props: general objects to personal belongings

  • Appearance: clothing or physical attributes


Symbol Search - List objects, animals, actions, or characters having own identity as well as indicating another idea or meaning










Character Development Analysis - Identify characters & consider why, traits, impact on story, knowledge gained, use character labels and roles.  (Character Labels: Protagonist, Antagonist, Foil, Hero, Anti-Hero, Static, Dynamic, Flat, Round)

Write out a cast of characters, roles, and significant traits

Character List











In-Depth Character Investigation:  Take one or more major characters and consider your impressions.  Then search for textual references to support your impression with evidence; use direct quotes and page numbers.

Character’s Name:







Consideration of Theme - Contemplate any concepts or ideas which seem to “pop-up” in your mind in connection with the work.  Did keywords or phrases cross your mind during your reading or prewriting?  What ethical/moral/social issues did the characters have to deal with so the reader had to also consider?

Dominant impression vs. minor ideas?    Recurring concept/topic words?    Motifs?   Metaphors?   Irony?   Satire?

Take the topics that the author brings up in the course of the story and then determine what attitude or stance or philosophy emerges as a result of your analysis.  What statement about the topic does the author imply for the reader?  Does the reader have to construct his/her own meaning without any "prompting" from the author?


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