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How to analyse fiction?

Many people have the misconception that there are no ways to improve analytical skills in English language. This is definitely not the case. When we are reading a piece of fiction, we can use a smart tool called SCASI to assist us in analysing the piece of work.

First and foremost, what is fiction? We can define fiction as poetry and prose, including short stories, novels, plays, poetry etc. One commonly used strategy in analysing fiction is SCASI - Setting, Character, Action, Style and Ideas.

1. Setting

We can divide settings in fiction into different categories. On the surface, it is the physical setting that tells the time and place. The physical setting like the place and space the character lives in can show the condition of the character. In deeper settings, we can focus on the social setting and observe whether one character has greater power than another. For example in Romeo and Juliet, hierarchy exists where the king is on the top, followed by the noble families and the peasants at the bottom. There are also other settings like the economic setting, for instance in the works of Charles Dickens, how poor kids interact with adults, portraying the message that humans should care for the weak and the society.

2. Character

When it comes to analysing characters in fiction, it may seem difficult as many characters exist at the same time. However, characters allow us to understand a lot of what the author is trying to bring out in the fiction. We can observe the appearance, clothing etc of the characters and have a first judgement on how the setting of the particular character is. For example, a physical small character can be depicted as having a Napoleon complex with big ambitions. All these details are ways that authors used to create meaning to the piece of literature. Besides, we can also pay attention to the actions and dialogue of the characters. The relationship between multiple characters is also worth highlighting as these points may be the areas that the authors want to create contrast and bring out the message of the story.

3. Action

Action in fiction is the tension built in the piece of work. Good stories are built up by tensions stacking up, reaching the climax, something snaps and brings to a finale. We can use MacBeth, a play written by William Shakespeare to illustrate how tension is built up. The parts where Beth convinces himself and his wife to influence him to kill the king slowly build up the tension in the play. Tension is built up the second time when he feels extremely guilty after killing the king. As we can see, it is essential to identify key scenes and sentences in fiction in order to identify tensions in the story.

4. Style

The style in fiction can be seen through the language used by the writer. The style of different fictions differs as it is determined by the writer. We have to consider why the writer uses a certain word, metaphor, and even the difference in the length of different sentences. Some writers have a consistent style in writing. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s writing style is more straightforward. His works are like a report, conveying the situation in a more matter-of-fact manner.

5. Ideas

Here comes to the most important element while analysing fiction - the theme. We have to determine the main point of the story and grasp the thing the writer is trying to portray. The above four points are hints and ways for us to get to the idea of the whole story. For example in MacBeth, Shakespeare is trying to bring out the message that there should not be corrupted morale in the society and people should abide by the system and the hierarchy.

In conclusion, we can use the smart tool SCASI whilst reading a piece of fiction and pick up the writer’s mind on the message that he wants to spread.

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