Introduction: Why Study Literature?
Episode #1 of the course Studying English literature: Excel in the study of novels, poems, plays, and more by K.C. Finn
Welcome to the course!
I’m K.C. Finn, multi-award-winning and best-selling author of Young Adult, Fantasy, and Horror fiction. As someone who works constantly in the field of literature, the study of the written word has always played a huge part in my life. Whether you want to study English literature for a deeper enjoyment of the text, or because you have academic goals that require you to grasp all of the analysis and nuances you can, my experience in this field will take you far.
In this course, I’m here to show you how to unpack specific techniques that authors use within their texts to create great works of English Literature, from novels and short stories through to poetic styles, plays, and other types of scripts. We’ll begin with an overview of the main components that make up any form of literary storytelling, and then in the second half of the course, we’ll discuss more specific stylistic techniques, and how to write up or discuss your expert analysis.
So, onto the first lesson. In Lesson 1, we’ll examine the purpose of an in-depth study of English Literature, and prepare your mind for the fascinating world of critical thinking. We’ll explore the context of this invaluable skill, and do a short activity to help engage your mind.
Why and When Should We Think Critically?
Every work of great literature that’s worth studying will have a lot of ideas behind it. Getting to know the ideas and intentions of the author can be a tricky business for readers and students, as it’s a different level of thinking to simply enjoying a story and how its plot and characters play out. Critical thinking is a valuable skill because it allows us to see how great works are put together, and also why they are put together in a certain way. Ideally, we should all be thinking critically as much as possible in the modern world, so that we gain a deeper understanding of the intentions of the many types of media that are being thrown at us from all directions. This session is intended to prepare our minds for that level of thinking, so let’s get started with a simple note-taking exercise.
For this session, we’ll borrow a piece of text from the real world, to make it a little easier to put our thinking caps on before we delve into fictional literature. That way, we don’t have to spend time engaging with the context and rules of a fictional world, because we will most likely already know and be situated at the moment. So for today’s exercise, select a short clip or written version of a political speech from a speaker you are familiar with. It could be past or present day, but be sure that you’re aware of some of the context around it.
If you’re stuck for where to start, I personally think that the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is a great one to analyze, and it’s widely available online. Whatever you choose to look at, grab a notebook, and take the following areas into consideration as you read it:
Identify these key areas:
• What ideas, values, and beliefs did this speaker hold?
• What did the speaker wish to convince their audience of during the speech?
• What other parties may have been involved and influenced this speaker to talk this way, for good or bad?
It may surprise you to know that many people go through their whole lives without really engaging deeply with the world around them on a critical level. The more you explore the intentions, ideologies, and motivations behind any piece of literature, media, or even the spoken word, the more naturally occurring your critical skills will be. It may even begin to change the way you view the world! So anytime you see something that affects you strongly, be sure to stop and think about the workings behind it.
In Lesson 2, we’ll be exploring how the author creates and maintains theme throughout a story. We’ll also look at the importance of such themes and how they work together on different levels throughout a tale. We’ll be connecting these to the critical thinking exercise from today and building upon them throughout the course.
Until then, take a deeper look at the world around you, and practice your critical skills!
If this introduction to critical thinking has piqued your interest, check out this excellent blog post by Carolyn Westbrook over at Cambridge University’s World of Better Learning platform.
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