You and your mom or a friend, or maybe you and your book club members, have just finished a book, well at least most of it, and you’ve all declared you “love it,” “hate it” or “thought it was pretty good.” What next?
Now you have a real discussion of the text using “official” lingo. Because while it’s entertaining to hear everyone’s personal opinion of the book, we read books to learn about life, and the real learning comes from interpreting what we’ve read and comparing our opinions of it with others.
By understanding the author’s craft, the professional art of writing, we can interpret text more deeply, compare opinions more honestly, and enjoy discussions more thoroughly.
Try out some of the terms and questions below at your next “book club meeting.” They will help you follow every English teacher’s golden rule: Go back to the text.
When you do this, you not only have common ground for discussion, but you also have all the clues you need to figure out which theme in the book resonates the most with your own life. This is when the book’s purpose will be fulfilled, its true value served, and you’ll get the most out of the book club’s gathering.
Figurative language: words used in a creative way; words that represent an idea instead of explaining literal information
Hyperbole: an exaggeration
Metaphor: a comparison between two things, not using like or as
Personification: giving human qualities to animals or objects
Simile: a comparison using like or as
Discuss: Do the creative descriptions and comparisons flesh out the story, character, situation or argument? How?
Mood: the feeling in a work
Discuss: If you could only use one word to describe the characters’ attitudes, actions and surroundings, what would it be and why?
Pace: the amount of time that passes between events
Discuss: Does any part of the story drag? Seem unexplained? Go too fast?
Point of view: the person who is telling the story. What tone or feeling might be missing from the story because of the specific point of view? Remember, narration can occur from the first-person, second-person or third-person (either omniscient or limited) point of view.
Discuss: How does this narrator influence what you think of the text? Explain.
Sequence of events: the order of events in a story or essay
Discuss: Why does the author start here? How does the rest of the information relate to it?
Style: how the author writes or “sounds”
Discuss: Could you pick out a paragraph written by this author in a line-up of anonymous paragraphs? How?
Setting: where the events happen (time and place)
Discuss: How does the setting add to the story? If you could put this story in another setting, what would it be and why?
Symbolism: using a person, place or thing to represent an idea
Discuss: What might __________ represent? Does this symbolism add to the author’s message or lay it on too thick?
Tone: the attitude of the narrator
Discuss: Do you agree with how the narrator feels about the events and ideas? Why?
Character: a person in the story
Antagonist: the opposing force in a fictional story, not necessarily “bad” but is something that or someone who goes against the protagonist
Hero: the most important person
Main: the most or one of the most important people
Protagonist: the most important person in the plot
Supporting: a person who is important to one of the main characters
Villain: the most or one of the most important bad guys/girls
Discuss: How would you describe the main character? Which character would you be in this story? Why? Who do this character represent in real life
Conflict: the central problem in a story
External: the situation surrounding the hero
Internal: the hero’s inner struggle
Discuss: If you could only describe the hero’s problem using one word, what would it be? Have you faced this conflict in your life?
Motive: the reason a character does something
Discuss: Do you understand why all the events take place? Does anything feel forced or random? Explain.
Narrator: the person who tells the story
Discuss: Why might the author have chosen this narrator?
Plot: what happens in the story?
Exposition: the background of the people who and places that the reader should know for the story
Rising action/Setup: events that begin changing characters’ lives
Climax: the most important event that changes the characters’ lives
Falling action: the aftermath of the life-changing event
Payoff/Resolution: the moment of closure and understanding
Discuss: Do all the actions relate to each other? Explain. What events remind you of things in your own life?
Theme: a life lesson the main character learns or an idea or message that flows through the entire book
Discuss: What is the most important take-away message the characters learned in this story? Do you agree with it?
Jargon: a certain set of vocabulary for a particular group, industry or subject
Discuss: Is there too much or not enough jargon? Explain.
Purpose: the reason the author wrote this text
Discuss: How does the text help you with your life? Does it change your opinion? What have you learned about from this text?
Thesis statement: typically located at the end of the first paragraph, it is the central argument or proposition of the story
Discuss: Can you tell what the text is going to be about from the thesis or is it surprising?
Meter: a recurring pattern that has to do with the length and beat. The rhythmic structure contains unstressed and stressed syllables
Discuss: Does the meter make the poem’s message stronger or weaker? Why?
Speaker: the “narrator” of a poem
Discuss: Do you trust the speaker? Why?
Stanza: a group of lines in a poem
Discuss: How is each stanza connected to the other? Which stanza is your favorite? Why?
Accent: the unique pronunciation of words based on where a person lives
Dialect: a special version of a language that has different grammar and vocabulary based on where a person lives
Discuss: How does the accent/dialect add to this play? How does your accent and/or dialect affect your own life?
Act: a major part of a play or opera
Discuss: Which act is the most important? Interesting? Weak? Why?
Dialogue: what the characters say to each other
Discuss: Is the dialogue believable? Why?
Monologue: a long, uninterrupted speech by a person who is “talking out loud” or directly addressing other people
Discuss: Which monologue would you want to perform and why? Give an example of a monologue that could come from your life.
Scene: part of an act
Discuss: Which scenes give the exposition, climax and resolution? Describe the background, props and music you would include in one of these scenes if you were the director.
All of these terms and concepts give way to a meaningful discussion of the text, as well as a way to discuss people’s opinions about any given story. Even if you don’t belong to a book club, or have someone else to talk to who has read the book, try to answer some of these questions on your own. It will most likely bring a new perspective to you of the story you have just read, which may bring more understanding and enjoyment of the story.