WRITING ABOUT FICTION
Here are some critical questions one might ask of fictional works. An insightful answer to
one of these can constitute a thesis, or argument, as it is also called. Remember: a thesis
statement is a single sentence. Some students (and even some professional scholars)
mistakenly believe a thesis is the question itself. In this course, however, students must
answer the question, ideally at the end of a well developed, introductory paragraph. Of
course, the body paragraphs are the place for specifics and support for the thesis statement,
but you should also be sure to encapsulate the argument in a single sentence to provide the
scope of the discussion and signal to the reader what the thrust of the argument is.
• What does the protagonist learn? In what ways does he or she grow or change? How
is this connected to the theme?
• What is the nature of the relationship, beyond obvious antagonism, between the
protagonist and the antagonist?
• What is the story’s climax? How does this relate to the theme and structure?
• Given the characterizations and plot, what theme is the author suggesting?
• What is the story’s point of view? How does this relate to the theme and overall
• If there are multiple points of view, what overall effect do these produce?
• What is the narrative’s emotional atmosphere, its mood? How does the author
suggest such a mood? Do imagery and language suggest mood?
• Does the landscape or physical atmosphere reflect or stand in contrast to the text’s
• What are the relations between the major characters?
• How are minor characters related to the major figures?
• Is there a discrepancy between the subject matter and the narrator’s tone?
• Does the author imply, though never openly state, some idea? If so, articulate what
it is and the formal means by which such an idea is suggested?
• Does the narrative contain any symbols (characters, places, locales, or physical
objects) that suggest abstractions? If so, how is this symbol tied to theme?
• What kind of language (diction and syntax) does the author use? What effects result
from such language use?
• What does the imagery suggest about theme and character development?
• What is the author suggesting about sexuality, race, ethnicity, nature, gender,
political ideology, corporeality, class, cognition, or well-being? How does he or she
suggest such an orientation?
• What does the dialogue reveal or obscure about a character? Is there more to the
character than is revealed through the dialogue?
• What value system does the author suggest through action, narration, and dialogue?
10 points will be deducted for late submissions.
Write a 5-page (not 4), close reading of one of the short stories we have read, other than
the four you wrote about in your week one discussion posts. To successfully complete this
assignment, it will be necessary to articulate and defend a compelling thesis, which is a
claim, stated in a single sentence, about the text. (See sample thesis statements in Course
Resources). The thesis is your central argument, and it is possible to arrive at such a
statement by answering a good critical question. Be sure your thesis and discussion are
centered on some formal element, such as theme, tone, perspective, characterization,
structure, atmosphere/mood, style, language/diction, etc. Feel free to modify any of the
following questions. Be sure to choose only one of the following questions.
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