Reading a novel seems somewhat self-explanatory. Start reading at one cover and don’t stop until you get to the other.
But the world’s most successful students know that reading a novel is a unique type of reading. Just as there are important keys for reading any type of literary genre (check out our tips on reading a textbook), reading a novel is no different. It’s a specific type of literature with specific things to which you need to pay attention.
Consider these tips to reading a novel effectively:
1. Read for comprehension
This is always the goal when we read anything. Hopefully that’s your goal right now – to understand what I’m writing.
As fundamental as that seems to education, don’t ignore it. It’s easy to get mentally distracted, breeze through a page or two, and suddenly find yourself in a new scene with new characters and no idea how you got there.
If you find that you have no idea what is going on, it’s always a good idea to back up and figure out what you’re reading. An even better idea (though a difficult one) when reading a novel is to comprehend it as you go. For a quick tip on that, try reading with an index card covering the part you’ve already read. It tends to help you stay more engaged as you read.
2. Pay attention to repetition
Novelists are typically extremely detail oriented when writing their novels. When they repeat something, they meant to. When you are reading a novel and certain things show up again, pay attention to that repetition.
And repetition can take a thousand forms. This can be certain settings, certain thematic elements, certain characters, certain moods, certain descriptions, or way too many other things to mention. If you suddenly get deja vu when reading, though, heads up. The author wants to make a point.
3. Read with themes in mind
Themes are some of the most important elements to note when reading a novel.
Think about the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. It’s a great book. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s an easy read, and it makes a fantastic point. It’s about animals on a farm.
Only the real point has nothing to do with animals on a farm.
The themes of corruption and totalitarianism are thicker than North Carolina bacon – which is thick. In fact, the point of the novel has nothing to do with pigs and chickens and goats. But if you miss those themes, you might begin to think that it is.
So what’s the answer? Read a novel with themes in mind.
4. Know your literary elements
Plot, setting, characters, foreshadowing, imagery, etc., etc., etc.
These aren’t just “etc.’s.” They’re highly important.
We understand that knowing all the major literary elements can be somewhat less-than-fun. But they’re the building blocks upon which novelists make their points. Big ideas come in story format, so knowing how story elements work together is vital.
5. Watch for interpretations when reading a novel
Sometimes novelists toss you an easy one: they interpret a passage for you. When you’re reading a novel and you come across any interpretation by an author, it’s time to take notes.
Make sure you don’t miss this. If you want to know how to read a novel effectively and you miss this, it will be easy to misinterpret the entire book. Don’t miss the author’s own interpretations. Honestly, they matter much more than mine or yours do.
Do you have any other tips that you’ve found helpful? We’d love to hear any study skills tips you’ve found helpful when reading a novel.