A novel is full of details. How can you tell which ones are important, and then how can you remember them? The answer is tiny but mighty: sticky notes! Armed with a stack of mini sticky notes and the five tips below, you can conquer any novel. When the test or essay on it comes up, you will be able to flip back through the book and quickly remind yourself of significant details of plot, character, and theme. You'll nail the in-class essay that asks you to use quotes from the novel, because you will have all the right scenes tagged and bagged.
Let's get started. Here's what you need to mark:
Key Conflicts & Plot Points
When was the fire? On what page did he shoot the rabid dog? In which chapter does the trial start? Where is that scene where they see the mysterious man for the first time? You don't need to write a lot - use a few words or phrases that will help you remember what the action is, stick that on the page, and keep reading. After the first few chapters of a novel, you should have at least a rough idea of what the central conflict of the story it going to be. Does the protagonist have to make enough money to save the farm? Does she have to defeat the false king? Does he have to learn how to accept his new step mother and step brothers? Does she have to find food and shelter to survive in the wilderness? Knowing the conflict will help you determine which events are important: they are the ones that move the protagonist closer to - or sometimes farther from - his or her goal.
How do the important characters change? When does the protagonist show remorse? Hope? Fear? Love? Courage? Growth? Empathy? Maturity? How does the protagonist change the people around him or her? What happens to the antagonist? Any regret or remorse, any last minute changes of heart?
What is the author's message(s)? Why was this story written? What lesson should readers take away form this novel? Usually you will start to see the theme being outlined within the first third of the book. Look at how the protagonist is trying to overcome the main conflict of the story. What stands in his or her way? Maybe he could win the race if he would just stop hanging out with such negative friends who always put him down. Maybe she could find food and survive if only she could learn to respect the wild animals around her.
Literary Devices & Techniques
Authors use all kinds of fancy techniques to make stories more interesting and deeply engaging. From alliteration to allusion, and imagery to irony, a skilled author's tool kit contains many literary devices that enhance dialogue, description, and the story arc. If your teacher has been teaching you literary devices, you need to be looking for them in everything you read! Is there some foreshadow on page 13? Mark it with a sticky note! You don't have to look for every technique every time; look for the terms you have been discussing in class and those your teacher has pointed out in other works. And if your teacher has given you a list of common literary devices, chances are, you are responsible for noticing those when you read independently!
Setting, Mood, & Tone
If the setting of the story isn't obvious when you begin a novel ("Class, now we are going to start reading Of Mice and Men, a novella set in the Salinas Valley of California during the Great Depression"), look for setting clues to mark with a sticky note. Include clues about the mood - spooky, grim, mysterious, or joyful? - and the author's tone - serious, humorous, satirical, ironic, or sympathetic?
Use a stack of mini Post-its and a pencil as a bookmark.
That way, your note-taking tools are always on hand when you need them. You are much more likely to take notes, not to mention accurate notes, if you take them as you read. It only takes a moment to jot one down, especially if you come up with some codes. Use initials for the names of various characters. Use a big "T" to mark a theme or "CON" to mark conflicts. They're your notes, so make them work for you! However you write it, take the time to put the note on paper. Those 15 seconds you spend now will save you 15 minutes of searching through the book later!