Annotating a Work of Fiction

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Learn about how to read and annotate a work of fiction, such as a short story or novel.

0:00 Owl: Welcome to Annotating a Work of Fiction, an instructional video on reading comprehension brought to you by the Excelsior College Online Writing Lab.
0:15 Reading a work of fiction, such as a short story, play, or novel, can be easier if you know what to look for and annotate while you read.
0:24 When reading a work of fiction, you should look for several key elements.
0:29 First, make a note of the major characters.
0:32 Many times there is a main character, or protagonist, who is the focus of the story.
0:39 The protagonist may be a hero or anti-hero, someone who is flawed but still fulfills the role of the hero.
0:47 There may also be an antagonist, someone who is opposed to the main character.
0:53 Every story has a setting, a place and time where the story unfolds.
0:59 The setting may be historical or invented.
1:03 Every story also has a plot.
1:06 The plot is the action that unfolds throughout the story.
1:09 Traditionally, a story plot centers around a conflict and a resolution.
1:15 A common plot formula has five stages.
1:18 It begins with an exposition that introduces the characters, setting, and events leading up to the story.
1:25 It then goes through a series of events known as the rising action during which conflict escalates.
1:33 This leads to a climax that marks a turning point for the main character or characters.
1:38 Afterwards comes the period of falling action during which conflicts are resolved.
1:45 Finally, the plot ends with a resolution that concludes the story.
1:51 As stories, works of fiction have a narrator who tells the story from a particular point of view.
1:57 There are different types of point of view.
2:00 For instance, a story with first-person point of view is told by a particular character and uses the pronoun “I” or “we” to tell the story.
2:10 A story with second-person point of view features the reader as the main character and uses the pronoun “you.”
2:16 While less common, this point of view is featured in choose-your-own-adventure books.
2:22 Finally, a story with third-person point of view is told by a character or entity who has privileged knowledge of the main character; this narrator uses the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “they” to tell the story.
2:37 The third-person narrator is sometimes called the omniscient narrator because of its privileged knowledge of events and characters’ thoughts.
2:47 Every narrator also has a particular tone.
2:50 For instance, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is told by a narrator with a humorous and satirical tone.
2:58 On the other hand, the narrator in George Orwell’s 1984 has a serious and even tragic tone.
3:05 The narrator’s tone helps establish the feeling and meaning of the story.
3:10 Finally, every story has one or more themes that it develops.
3:15 A theme is a major idea expressed by a story.
3:19 For instance, the Myth of Sisyphus conveys the theme that human endeavor is ultimately futile, whereas Takikiji Kobayashi’s “The Cannery Boat” emphasizes the theme of working-class unity leading to successful resistance to oppression.
3:36 Look for these elements as you read and identify them with a highlight, underline, or margin note.
3:43 Let’s try this with the short story “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.
3:49 Write the main characters in the margin:
3:52 Louise Mallard
3:53 Brently Mallard, husband
3:56 Josephine, sister
3:59 Richards, friend of Brently
4:02 Describe the setting:
4:04 Late nineteenth century at the Mallard residence
4:08 Define the point of view:
4:09 Third-person omniscient
4:12 …And the tone:
4:13 Ironic (characters misinterpret Louises behavior)
4:18 Finally, list the key themes:
4:21 freedom,
4:22 selfhood,
4:23 self-fulfillment,
4:25 and the meaning of love
4:29 A good way to keep track of the major elements of a story is to construct a story map either during or after you read.
4:36 A story map will help you identify the major elements of a story and remember them for later, say when it comes time to write about the story or take a quiz.
4:45 Click here to watch a video about how to make a story map.
4:50 Following these simple steps will help you improve your ability to read and understand works of fiction like short stories, plays, and novels.
5:00 If you need help understanding common literary devices found in works of fiction, such as metaphors and symbols, you may also want to take a look at our instructional video on Understanding Figurative Language.
5:15 Thanks for listening to this instructional video on Annotating a Work of Fiction!
5:21 Visit the Excelsior College Online Writing Lab for more support with reading and writing skills.

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The following text was sampled in this video:

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” 1894.