• University of Edinburgh

How to Read a Novel

Get underneath the skin of a novel by understanding some of the main building blocks of modern fiction.

53,585 enrolled on this course

How to Read a Novel

Get more from your reading

What makes a great novel? How is a novel woven together? How can we best appreciate works of fiction?

Answer these questions and more with this course from The University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

On the course you’ll discover four of the main building blocks of modern fiction: plot, characterisation, dialogue, and setting using examples from a range of texts including the four novels shortlisted for the 2021 James Tait Black fiction prize. You’ll also explore the formal strategies authors use, how they came to be, and how they affect us as readers.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds [THEME MUSIC] Would you like to explore the building blocks of fiction and understand how each might influence you as a reader? On this course, you will learn how writers use plot, characterisation, dialogue, and setting to guide the reader. Studying literary classics and focusing on the four books shortlisted for this year’s James Tait Black Prize in Fiction, you will improve your reading and writing skills and have the opportunity to interact with thousands of classmates from around the world. Enrol today on How to Read a Novel from the University of Edinburgh. [THEME MUSIC]

What topics will you cover?

  • The course examines specific techniques relating to plotting and temporality including flashbacks, unreliable narration and framed narratives.
  • The course considers ways of understanding character, such as behaviour and motives.
  • It explores issues relating to the presentation of dialogue, including conversational mood and dialect voices.
  • The course examines the impact of various different settings on the development of plot and character.
  • It invites learners to test their understanding through weekly quizzes and a final peer assessment task.
  • The four novels explored for this course are:
    • Week 1 (Plot): Alligator & Other Stories by Dima Alzayat
    • Week 2 (Characterisation): The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
    • Week 3 ( Dialogue): A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
    • Week 4 (Setting): Lote by Shola von Reinhold

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify key strategies used by authors to alter the temporal progression of the narrative.
  • Reflect on the effects generated by a narrative frame.
  • Evaluate novels for signs of narrative unreliability.
  • Discuss my reading of contemporary fiction with a large online learning community.
  • Explore ways of understanding character, such as behaviour, speech, and motives.
  • Explore the impact of various settings on the development of character and plot.
  • Evaluate the effect of different ways of presenting dialogue, and the impact of dialect speech.

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone who enjoys reading. You don’t need any past experience.

Image: Reading - Sam Greenhalgh CC BY 2.0

What do people say about this course?

"What an outstanding course! I work as an editor and have years of education in literature, but I still learned a lot. Plus the introduction to each of the James Tait books was heavenly. Great instruction, wonderful information."

Who will you learn with?

Benjamin Bateman is Lecturer in Post-1900 British Literature at The University of Edinburgh. He teaches and publishes on modern and contemporary fiction, queer theory, and the environmental humanities

Promoted by

The James Tait Black Prizes
Edinburgh International Book Festival

Who developed the course?

The University of Edinburgh

Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top universities and is globally recognised for research, innovation and high-quality teaching.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps, but you can complete them as quickly or slowly as you like
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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