2 min read

Analyzing short stories

I've been participating in a short story reading group the last few months. It works like this: Every month we read six to nine short stories each, then respond to three prompts for discussion about the stories we read. These prompts push on analyzing the stories for what they do and how they do it.

How does one do a good analysis of this sort? I wonder because I have sometimes succeeded at this and sometimes not. I think the first month or two I produced a few thoughtful analyses. I have since produced at least one other useful analysis, although I think none so clear as in those first few months. I wonder what it was about that that was useful and how I could do it again? Maybe it's useful to reflect on the useful ones.

I'm thinking of two analyses in particular. I think those two were useful because in writing them it became clear about what the stories meant to me. That led to me liking those stories and understanding the appeal. I'd initially not cared at all about these stories, so this was a big turnaround.

What was it exactly that I did to produce those analyses? How could I be more thoughtful about the stories I am reading now? Can I do that in a way that is compatible with the limited amount of time I have for reading this month?

I think what I did was roughly to look at the details very closely. I looked for specific things I did not understand. Next, I asked: Why is that there? What is the purpose? Asking that for many different elements led to a more coherent picture of the story as a whole.

Unfortunately, I don't think this fits in my time budget right now. It took a relatively long time, on the order of hours (at least three, I think), to produce just one of these. I don't think that works. I don't have hours to spend on this this month, unfortunately. I will have to cut it short.

What else could I do right now that would work in the time I have? That's a question to keep thinking about. Maybe it is still useful to do this partway – and present an incoherent but partial understanding of meaning in the story.

On the other hand: Is meaning even what we are analyzing here? Maybe it is more useful to analyze devices. That's another question to think about.