If one wanted a generic way to approach almost any text (including films and popular songs), one could ask three questions: 1. What happens? (Who are the people involved and what are they doing?) 2. How is it told? (What kind of style, narration, medium, literary techniques, etc. are used?) 3. What does it mean? (What is the significance of the story? What is the author trying to teach us? How is the author trying to influence us?) But, beyond this, it helps to have more specific questions. Here, then, are "twenty questions" one can ask about novels, films, plays, and perhaps even poems. I offer them as a starting point for exploration. Enjoy. 1. Questions of plot and structure
I have sometimes argued that the six basic plots are as follows: * Boy Meets Girl (or Boy Meets Boy or....)
* Boy Saves World (or at least his little corner of it)
* Boy Learns Better (or Boy Grows Up)
* Boy Goes on Quest
* Boy Gets Home (or finds a home that he might not even have been looking for) * Boy Loses Everything (this appears to be the plot of most tragedies, the critical question being to what extent the protagonist actually deserves to lose everything; the comedic version of this is simply "The Poor Doofus!" and here the protagonist may not actually lose everything but always manages to end up in trouble, often for completely ridiculous reasons--this appears to the entire plot of many anime series.)
There is also the dramatic framework set up by Northrop Frye, Hayden White and others: * Spring/Comedy/Conservative/Hero succeeds in reforming a corrupt society of some kind and in romance and/or other personal endeavors--the story line is considered conservative because it suggests that our society is basically all right, at the core, although individual injustices must be met and defeated (and that this can be done through wit and the uncovering of hypocrisy and vanity rather than through action, particularly radical and violent action). * Summer/Romance/Anarchistic/Hero abandons or fails to reform a corrupt society but succeeds in romance; the genre is considered anarchistic because it presumes that victory can only take place on the level of personal success or failure; often, the best way to deal with a corrupt society is to simply go away, to escape and create one's own society. * Autumn/Tragedy/Radical/Hero restores order but is destroyed or endures personal loss because of it; the genre is considered radical because it suggests that changes in society can be made, should be made, must be made with action, and must be made even at great personal cost. * Winter/Satire/Liberal/Hero neither restores order nor succeeds in personal goals; often, the hero is as corrupt as the society he would, in other genres, be attempting to reform, or he becomes corrupt in his attempt to create reform; the genre is consider "liberal" because it suggests that political change is a myth, that no change in the system will produce fundamental changes in society--although perhaps we can achieve small victories by living well--but we must accept an "I'm okay, you're okay" attitude about things and accept that heroic plans to make big changes are doomed to failure.
It is important, by the way, to keep the political aspect of literature in mind. Nothing is more political than literature, even when it does not overtly makes an argument about a particular political issue, because so much of literature is concerned with power and morality, about what is true, good, and possible, about what is just and beautiful, about who has power and who should have power in society and in the family, and how that power should be employed, and for what ends. It is hard to find a work of literature that does not ask us to join with or join against certain characters (or the narrator); in doing this, a work of literature becomes an argument for (or against) a particular political, ethical, social, and/or moral agenda. Another idea is that of...
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