Writing Every Which Way

Novels, poems, and writing tips

How to Critically Read a Novel

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I’m pretty sure every single one of us is no strangers to critical essays. So, in the spirit of binge reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” today, I thought I should post about how I keep my thoughts straight while analyzing a book.

Why Does One Critically Read a Novel?

Critical reading is usual meant for critical writing. Critical writing is all about studying a book, and finding a reoccurring- something in it that you can analyze and explain.

Critical reading can also be useful for research. Maybe you need to research something to help you better write a novel or story. If you’re doing any period writing, then you’ll need to research the crap out of your chosen era.

One might also analyze a book simply to understand it better. With the methods I’m about to recommend, any one can find the underlying meaning of a novel.


I will warn you now of a few things. Firstly, I’m crazy into organizing, so my methods are a little extreme. Papercuts may result in following my lead. Secondly, I do not believe that writing always has big metaphors. Writing novels should be done for the fun of it, so why waste time adding symbols and philosophies?

That is all I have to say, so lets get to the fun part!

Well. . . I guess this isn’t fun for most people, but I enjoy it so allow me my excitement!

1. Know What Your Point Is

Before you dive into your novel you need to have a point or thesis. If you intend to write an essay on this novel I recommend researching essays on the same book. Look over what thesis’ others had and create your own from there.

If you need to read this novel for research know what you’re researching. Maybe creste a list of questions you want to answer and go from there.

Meanwhile, if you’re just reading for fun, read with an open mind. You’re not searching for any particular thing so just be open to all possible ideas.

2. Begin to Read Your Novel

Your eyes need to be constantly peeled for anything about your thesis or questions. Never, I repeat, NEVER let yourself become unfocused.

3. Flag Down Important Sections

For an essay you’ll need direct quotes so flag down any potentials. Don’t just settle for one-liners, either. If a whole paragraph calls to you, use it!

When researching, flag down anything that answers one of your questions. The more you flag, the more realistically you’ll be able to write your researched topic.

If your writing for fun, flag anything that calls to you on a personal level. If a quote really speaks to you, flag it so that you can find it later. If you’re trying to find the theme of the novel flag your clues. When you’re finished you can follow these flags like breadcrumbs to the meaning of the story.

3. Sticky Notes

Anyone else addicted to office supplies? Is it just me, or are new pens, pencils, notebooks, and staplers the greatest thing ever!? Am I all alone in this world of beautiful office materials?

Probable. . . Eh, more for me.

Anyway, before you begin reading I advise purchasing a big pack of sticky notes. You’ll use these to write down anything that isn’t technically said in the novel, but you were capable of understanding. Good things to sticky note when reading for an essay are character developments, reoccurring symbols, and themes.

For example, I’m having to write an essay on the impact of religion in three books. One of my books (sadly) was “The Scarlet Letter”. One of the things I sticky noted was about how the law was impacted by the towns religious beliefs, as expressed by the entire novel.

I mainly use sticky notes only to write down a point I can eventually use in my essay. Sticky noted things are the cites of my thesis.

Meanwhile, there aren’t many reasons to sticky note while you research. Maybe you’ll write an explanation for later, or something, but otherwise they’re not really necessary. Flagging’s the way to go.

When reading for fun, sticky notes probably aren’t necessary, either. You don’t technically need to remember anything for a certain purpose so there’s no point coating your book in notes if you don’t want to.

All of that said, being an organized reader can do you lots of good. Try my methods once or twice and you may discover that you understand what you’re reading a lot better. The more you understand a book, the better you’ll be able to write about it later.

Or if you’re the wild person who critically reads for fun, you’ll have the self satisfaction of understanding what you just read. That’s always an achievement nowadays.


Author: Madi Uram

I'm just another young writer hoping to get noticed in the world of publication. The majority of my time is put into writing novels, but I'm no stranger to journalism, playwriting, and critical essay's, too. I'm also the author of "The Little Paragons" which can be found on Amazon.com.

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