Reading Strategies for Fiction
When you read a story, the world vanishes, and your mind is suddenly in a different place. It’s almost like hypnosis. The writer speaks to you, and you start to hear and see and feel things that aren’t there.
How do authors do that? You can find out by looking closely at stories before, during, and after you read. Then you can use some of the same strategies to write your own hypnotic tales!
Before you start to read a story, preview it. Previewing is taking a peek at a novel or short story to get a sense of what to expect. Who are the characters? What is the setting? What problem or event is the story about? Previewing allows you to read with purpose.
Tips for Previewing
1. Consider basic elements of fiction.
Characters 🟪 Who is the story about?
Setting 🟪 Where and when does the story take place? What is the setting like?
Conflict 🟪 What problem or event gets the story rolling?
Plot 🟪 What happens in the story? How do the characters respond to the conflict?
Theme 🟪 What is the author’s major message or statement about life?
2. Think about other elements.
Narration 🟪 Who is telling the story? Is the story told about the characters (third-person point of view), or is it told by the characters (first-person point of view).
Description 🟪 How does the author describe the characters? How does the author describe the settings?
Dialogue 🟪 Do the characters speak a lot, or only a little? What do their words reveal about them?
Tip Previewing a story can be very helpful if the story is difficult or complicated. Simple stories can usually be read without any need for previewing. You will have to decide from one story to the next.
3. Preview the story or the novel.
Short stories 🟪 Though short stories often have no pictures or chapter titles to give you clues, you can still preview stories. Here are a few tips:
■ Look at the title and author.
■ Check out the author on the Internet. Ask, What types of stories does the author write?
■ Read the first few paragraphs. Look for hints about the setting, the main characters, and the event or problem they face.
Novels 🟪 Use these tips to get a general idea of the plot, characters, setting, and theme of a novel.
■ Notice the title and author.
■ Look at the book’s cover.
■ On the back cover and on the first few pages, search for and read summaries, information about the author, a preface, or an introduction.
■ Read the chapter titles and look at any illustrations.
As you read a story or a novel, read actively. The tips that follow will help you do just that:
Tips for Reading
1. Read with purpose.
Answer these questions about the elements of fiction: character, setting, conflict, and narration.
_____ Who is the main character?
_____ What is the setting (time and place)?
_____ What problem is the main character facing?
_____ Who is telling this story (narrator)?
_____ What problem is the main character facing?
_____ Who is telling this story (narrator)?
2. Read actively and record your thoughts.
Use the following ideas. (See “The Fantastical Fantasies of Frank Frisbie” on pages 313–316 for examples.)
Predict upcoming events. 🟪 Predicting what may happen next will keep you focused on the story.
Infer. 🟪 Use what you’ve read so far to grasp an idea that is not specifically stated by the author.
Check your understanding. 🟪 Stop reading from time to time and think about what you have just read. Reread when necessary.
Summarize. 🟪 When you’re through reading for the day, write a short summary of your thoughts. (See pages 269–273 for summarizing suggestions.)
Visualize scenes. 🟪 To do this, reread part of the story and ask yourself these questions about it:
_____ What am I seeing?
_____ What’s the color and size?
_____ How many?
_____ What’s the shape?
_____ What do I hear, smell, taste, touch, feel?
_____ When is this happening?
Evaluate. 🟪 Ask yourself . . . How does the author make the story come alive? What seems to be really entertaining, informative, or useful? Could the author have done anything differently?
When you visualize a scene, use your own experience and knowledge to add details to your mental picture. You should also share your ideas with other students. Their responses may give you other interesting thoughts about the scene.
Sample Short Story
The Fantastical Fantasies of Frank Frisbie
by J. Robert King
The beginning introduces Frank and the narrator and sets up the conflict. My friend Frank Frisbie has spiky hair and round glasses and—most importantly—a huge imagination. Other kids think that’s weird, but we have all kinds of adventures together on our walks to school.
Dialogue lets characters speak. It also moves the story forward. “Do you see that woman over there with the baby?” Frank asked, pointing across the street.
“I do.“ The woman cradled a baby in her arms and spoke softly to the child.
“She’s a spy,” Frank claimed. “She’s been tracking us.”
I felt a chill run down my spine but tried to laugh it off. “Spies don’t carry babies.”
“That’s no baby.” Frank replied, his eyebrows knitting. “That’s a walkie talkie. Let’s escape down here.”
I giggled quietly as I followed Frank into a parking garage that we always cut through. He pointed down the sloping ramp to a stairway. “We’ve got to reach that stairway before the next car passes us, or we’re doomed!”
Details describe the setting. We hurried our steps, watching to make sure nobody was about to back out. Then we heard it—a car approaching from behind.
“That’s the lady-baby spy!” Frank blurted.
The narrator creates suspense. As the rumble of the engine swelled, Frank and I dashed the last twenty feet. Frank flung open the door to the stairs, and we rushed through right before the car passed us. Inside the stairway, we pressed our backs to the cinderblock wall and panted.
“What would have happened . . .” I gasped “. . . if the car had passed us sooner?”
Frank scowled. “The ramp would have fallen away, and we would have dropped into the lair of Dr. Creepazoid.”
We climbed the stairs and ventured out onto the sun-dappled sidewalk. “Looks like we escaped this time.”
The narrator signals a shift in the story. Of course, we always escaped because Frank was just telling stories. Other kids didn’t get him, but I did. We had fun. Especially that one day . . .
Our Montessori grades had gone to Camp MacKay for a weekend retreat. We studied the wetlands and shot arrows in the archery range, found a geocache and made s’mores. On Saturday afternoon, we could hike the trails and explore, so Frank and I headed off into the woods.
“Did you hear that?” Frank whispered.
“Shhh!” Frank said, grabbing my arm. “That!”
“What?” I gasped.
Frank stared into my eyes. “That howl.”
“Shh! You keep talking over the top of it. That time it was closer. We’d better climb this tree,” Frank said, grabbing onto a maple bough and hoisting himself up. He circled around as I climbed onto the first branch.
New characters join the story. Just then, the Terrible Terries showed up. Teri Leonard and Terry White were best friends—and our enemies.
Dialogue helps develop the conflict. Teri Leonard flopped her blonde braids as she sang, “Two little birdies sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”
“Go away, Teri,” I snapped.
Terry White growled, “Who’s going to make us?”
“Seriously, Terry,” Frank warned. “Go away. You’re in danger.”
Both Terribles laughed, and Teri said, “From you two?”
“Listen!” Frank hissed. “Don’t you hear that?”
The Terries paused, listening. “Hear what?”
“Those footsteps,“ Frank replied, “getting closer and closer to you.”
“So what?” Terry sneered, though his face looked pale under his black hair. “It’s probably just Ronnie Woodward.”
“There it is!” Frank gasped. He pointed toward a big bolder hulking among the trees about thirty feet away.
The Terribles spun around to look. “There what is?”
Description and dialogue show the characters’ confusion. “Do you see that huge rock?” Frank asked insistently. “Do you see that shadow behind it?”
Teri’s voice trembled. “Yeah? So what? A shadow.”
“Do shadows have red eyes?”
The Terribles strained to see.
Terry yelped, “Those are eyes?”
Of course, they weren’t eyes, but I decided to play along. “Now you know why we’re in the tree.”
“It’s looking right at us.” Teri murmured. “What is it?
“Canis Majoris,” Frank replied gravely. “A dire wolf.”
The Terribles screamed and ran to the trunk of the tree we were in. I stared down at them. “Get your own tree.”
“It’s coming!” Frank shouted, pointing again.
Teri and Terry yammered and ran.
“Don’t run! Climb!” yelled Frank.
The Terries found a gnarly oak and clambered over each other to get up into it. Teri scrambled up fifteen feet off the ground, and Terry struggled just below her.
“Pull your legs up! Pull your legs up!”
The Terribles wailed, flailing their feet to knock away the horrible fangs that were snapping at them.
“What’s going on?” asked a new voice on the trail.
The action reaches a climax, when the characters confront the problem head on. “Ronnie! Climb! Climb!” Terry shouted. “There’s a dire wolf!”
“Canis Majoris!” Teri added.
Ronnie just stood there, his brow furrowed.
“Tell him, Frank!” Terry pleaded.
Instead, Frank swung down from his branch and dropped to the ground. He brushed off his hands. “That, my friends, is how you slay a couple of wolves.”
The falling action and resolution bring the story to a close. “A couple of them?” Teri said, getting suspicious. “I don’t see even one.”
I climbed down beside Frank and looked up into the other tree. “I see two. Definitely two. But they shouldn’t bother us much anymore.”
We turned away from the Terribles, leaving them growling and howling in the tree.
A little way down the path, Frank suddenly pointed to a nearby swamp. “Hey, Ronnie, why is that mist moving toward us? It almost seems . . . alive. . . .”
When you finish a story, complete the following types of strategies.
Tips for Reflecting
1. Reflect by asking yourself some questions.
_____ Do I understand everything that happened?
_____ Can I describe the personalities of the main characters?
_____ Does the end come as a surprise? Why or why not?
_____ Does anything in the story confuse me?
_____ What is the main point or theme of the story?
Tip You may need to do some rereading to answer these questions.
2. Create a plot diagram.
Skim the story to review the important parts, and complete a plot diagram to track them:
(1) the main characters,
(2) the conflict or problem they struggle with,
(3) their response to the problem,
(4) the “aha” moment (the climax),
(5) the follow-up action, and
(6) the way the story ends.
3. Fill out a character map.
Consider what the characters say, do, and feel. Also consider what you and others think and feel about them. Complete a character map.
Sample Character Map: Frank Frisbie
What He Says and Does
What Others Think
Feelings About Himself
How I Feel About Him
4. Chart character development.
What a character says, does, and thinks at different points can show how he or she changes. This may reveal the story’s theme. Complete a character development chart.
Sample Character Development Chart: Frank
Frank tells stories but seems to have just one friend. He has fun, but others think he is weird.
During one of their adventures, two rivals try to make fun of Frank and his friend.
Frank draws the rivals into a story and makes them climb a tree. Frank makes a new friend.
Theme: The theme is “Imagination is powerful.”
5. Fill in a fiction organizer.
To help you reflect even more on the story you have just read, you can record important information such as characters, setting, plot, and theme on a fiction organizer.
Sample Fiction Organizer: “The Fantastical Fantasies of Frank Frisbie”