S. Warner         Questions on Narrative


1. Who is speaking? Where? When?  About what? To whom?

2. Why is the speaker [narrator/persona] telling the tale?

3. What is the narrator's relationship to the main events of the story? How does the narrator get the information? how much is hearsay or a guess?

4. Do you believe the narrator? Why or why not? Try making distinctions: do you believe such an individual could exist? Can you rely on this source? Is this source consistent? Does he/she tell more than he/she understands?

5. What in the first few pages of the narrative seems to catch your interest (the "hook")?

6. Is this a familiar scene or situation? If not (that is, if you have no personal experience of the place, similar people, or similar events), how are they made credible? For example, is any appeal being made to your common knowledge or reasonable expectations? is there a "bridge" between you and the unfamiliar? What AUTHORITY establishes credibility?

7. What kind of voice is telling this? Intelligent? Thoughtful? Hurried? Secretive? Guilty? Cautious? Confessional? Hesitant? Angry? Arrogant? ... Add to the list of possibilities. One critic established three categories for all narrative: tough, sweet, and stuffy. Agree?

8. What kind of characters are we deealing with and how many? Does the selection seem natural or somehow restricted? Does our attention to certain characters change the nature of our expectations, our acceptance of behavior or event?

9. Has the title established or changed our expectation? Is there an author's preface or introduction or subtitle or epigraph, which gives clues?

10, Are we told about or shown the characters? Or a bit of both? Find examples. Is this an action novel or a descriptive novel? Psychological or emotional; romatic or realistic; ideal or real; governed by psychological motivation or ideal values? Other options or descriptors?

11. How would you identify and describe the values of the narrative? Does it speak positively about human behavior or potential, or is it sceptical or cynical? Which values do we seem to focus on? Are the narrator’s values the same as the world he/she depicts? The same as yours? Those of “romance”?

12. What are your own values and priorities and what are society’s? Does the narrative affirm and support them or call them into question? If the novel is sufficiently old, do you think time has changed the values significantly? Why is it still in print? Why are we still reading it?

13. Does the end of the novel seem to resolve all the questions and conflicts? Is the ending optimistic? Cynical?  Open or Closed?? How are the ending and opening of the novel related?

14. Where does the narrator get his/her values? Is there a relationship between  values and behavior?

15. Does the narrative make you change your opinion about an action or behavior, if only temporarily? For example, is something acceptible (or unacceptible) in the book which might be unacceptable (acceptable) in ordinary ( “real” ) life?

16. Looking back at the narrative, were there indications at the beginning that are more meaningful now that you’ve finished the narrative? [You should develop the habit of rereading the first few pages of a narrative when you’ve finished it. See the difference? You now know what the narrator knew when he/she began to tell the tale.]

17. Look back through the book or your notes or memories. Are the characters paired or stereotyped?  Were certain actions or images significant for the entire work? Were actions or images or phrases or scenes (or whatever) repeated? Symbolically weighted? References to outside events or attitudes?

18. Does the work seem to have a message? Does it give particular attention to physical/objective detail or to the sense of experience, “historical” or “mimetic”?

19. Were the characters complex psychological types or simple, straightforward, and predictable? (round vs flat characters)

20. Any ideas about the narrative? Any phrases you wish you had written, thought, or said? Did it make you question anything or did it move you emotionally? Treat women, animals, minorities, foreigners, wealthy, poor, whatever, in a particularly noticeable way? Does it elevate science? Religion? Agility? Social skills? Good breeding? Whatever/

21. What about matters like realism, romance, literary naturalism, structure, natural aristocracy, etc.?

22. What happens off-stage or between the chapters? Are we focused on the center of the action or on the periphery (the battlefield vs home during the war) of the real action (“Rosencrans and Gildenstern Are Dead”)?


Consider some questions of your own. Think of them as paper topics or discussion possibilities. Compare this particular narrative with other forms of artistic expression (how would it be as a play, movie, poem, operetta?) other sets of standards (sociology, psychology, Marxism, Freudian psychology, capitalism, the democratic process, environmentalism, etc.).  How do you find out about things? What are your expectations or life, of people, of institutions like family or government or work or friends and relatives? Pick a noun, and then think about how you discover more about that noun, then consider the noun’s relationship to the novel.


And how do you know what you know is true is true?