Estimated reading time: 9 minutes


How to Take Notes on a Work of Fiction?

You’ve finished the novel.

You enjoyed the book so much that you can’t wait to share your thoughts and opinions.

On the way to the meeting, you review the characters’ names and the story’s main parts. You are going to slay it!

The conversation/exam starts, and… your mind goes blank: what was that first plot point again? Why did the protagonist make that decision at the end of chapter 4? Who was Mrs. Thales?

You grab the book or open it on the iPad, and the words don’t talk to you anymore. They are just black spots on the paper/screen. So what do you do now? Do you need to reread the book? Maybe… 

But what is certain is that this opportunity to shine in front of others or to do well on an exam will have to wait for a better occasion.

Taking notes on a novel or short story can be beneficial, yet it may also be challenging. In this article, I share six proven strategies for taking notes in works of fiction, including why taking notes is important, the types of notes to take, and how to use your notes to improve your understanding and analysis of literature to get the most out of your reading experience.

Why is taking notes important when reading works of fiction?

I know: the situation above is a bit exaggerated, but it happens. Or you’ve finished a book needing clarification about what the author was trying to convey. That’s where annotating texts can be a game-changer.

Taking notes can help you remember important details, especially if you’re reading long books with complex ideas. By taking notes as you read, you can create a record of these details that you can refer back to later on. 

Another benefit of taking notes is identifying the themes and motifs of the book you are reading. For example, many works of fiction include recurring themes or motifs that may be important to understanding the story. In this way, you can track these themes and motifs as they appear throughout the book and then analyze them in more depth once you’ve finished reading.

Finally, Taking notes can also help you engage with the text more profoundly by encouraging you to analyze and interpret what you’re reading. Jotting down your thoughts and observations will help you discuss the book with others or write a thoughtful review, or successfully pass that dreaded exam.

Tips for effective note-taking in works of fiction

If you want to take effective notes on works of fiction, keep a few tips in mind. First, focus on the most important details and plot points instead of writing everything down. By doing this, you can avoid getting bogged down in details and missing the bigger picture of the work.

Another tip is to use abbreviations and symbols when taking notes. This will save you time and space and make it easier to refer back to your notes later. For instance, you can use “w/” for “with” or “b/c” for “because.” You can also use color coding or highlighting to distinguish between different types of notes, such as plot points, themes, and character traits.

Finally, it’s important to review your notes regularly. This will help ensure that you retain the information and can make connections between different parts of the work. Consider taking a few moments after each reading session to reflect on the story and its development. This can help you stay engaged and motivated throughout the reading process.

Strategy 1: Take Notes as You Read

You only need a notebook or a digital tool, like Evernote, Google Docs, or Obsidian, to start. You can even take notes on your iPad! Then, as you read, take note of anything that stands out to you, whether it’s a character’s name, a plot twist, or a recurring theme.

Here are a few things to consider taking note of:

  • Characters: Jot down each character’s name, personality traits, and any significant events or dialogue they’re involved in. Pay attention to their relationships with other characters, as this can help you better understand their motivations and actions.
  • Plot: Keep track of the story’s major events, plot twists, and turning points. This can help you follow the narrative and identify key themes or motifs. Take notes or underline anything that catches your attention regarding the action in the novel.
  • Themes: Take note of any recurring symbols or concepts, as well as any ideas that are explicitly discussed by characters. This can help you better understand the deeper meaning and messages of the work. Pay attention to any repeated element, whether a place, a theme or other recurring elements. These repetitions reveal a pattern that eventually becomes a theme.
  • Writing style: Pay attention to the author’s writing style and note any interesting language or literary devices. This can help you appreciate the craft and artistry of the work.

You can take notes rigorously or, as suggested in this section, on the go. Both ways will be very valuable to you. You can always revisit your notes to refresh your memory or analyze the text in more detail. 

Strategy 2: Create a Character Map

If you struggle to keep up with all the characters in a book, a character map can be a lifesaver! A character map is a visual representation of the relationships between different characters in a work of fiction. Plus, it’s a fun and creative way to engage with the story.

Here’s how to create your own character map:

1. Draw a circle for each character in the book. 

2. Connect the circles with lines to represent the relationships between the characters.

For example, here is a character map of the romantic relationships in Pride and Prejudice.

Creating a character map is a helpful tool to keep track of who’s who in a book and helps you better understand the dynamics between different characters. 

Strategy 3: Identify the Plot Points.

When it comes to a good story, conflict is vital. Not only does it add excitement and tension, but it also helps drive the plot forward. Therefore, as you read a novel, it’s essential to take note of the various types of conflict present and how they develop throughout the story. 

This can range from physical battles to moral dilemmas or internal character debates.

While reading, be aware of the changes in the story and how they develop. In traditional storytelling, sudden changes in the course of action constitute the plot points in the story. Annotate these changes for later reference.

Monitoring key changes and conflicts will allow a better comprehension of the novel and its central message.

Strategy 4: Identify Themes

A theme is the key ideas or concepts presented in a literary work. Identifying themes can help you understand the story beyond its surface-level meaning. As you take notes, consider how the characters, plotlines, and other elements reflect society and its beliefs, values, or overarching trends.

For example, maybe a character in the novel struggles with depression and finding hope in society. Or the story’s overall theme revolves around people overcoming inequality and oppression despite the odds. When annotating themes in a novel, ask yourself: What is the story trying to say about social issues? What themes keep coming up?

Strategy 5: Summarize Each Chapter

Summarizing each chapter is a helpful strategy for keeping track of the plot and ensuring you follow the story in a work of fiction. In addition, it can be a great way to refresh your memory if you need to take a break from reading for a few days.

To summarize each chapter, start with a brief sentence or two that captures the chapter’s main events. Note any significant character developments or plot twists that occur, and be sure to identify any recurring themes or motifs that are introduced.

By creating these chapter summaries, you’ll have a clear understanding of the story as a whole and be able to refresh your memory if needed quickly.

Strategy 6: Reflect on the Story

After finishing a book, taking some time to reflect on the story as a whole can be a powerful exercise that helps you internalize the lessons and key ideas presented in the story. It’s an excellent opportunity to think about the themes, characters, and plot in more depth and to consider how the story relates to your own experiences and beliefs.

Here are some questions that can help you reflect on a work of fiction:

  • In your opinion, what were the main themes of the story?
  • Which characters did you relate to the most, and why?
  • Did you have any difficulty understanding or liking certain characters?
  • What did you think of the ending – did it feel satisfying, or were there loose ends that weren’t tied up?
  • What was your reaction to the entire book, and did it make you reconsider any of your beliefs or opinions?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; your thoughts can later be shared and become a great way to connect with other readers and engage in meaningful discussions about the book. Like in the situation at the beginning of the article, right? 

A real example of note-taking in a work of fiction

Here’s an example of how to take notes on a work of fiction. I’m sharing my notes from the first pages of the novel Letting Go by Phillip Roth. As you can see, I circle or underline information such as character names, places, dates, or descriptions. I usually make my notes in green because it’s my favorite color. These notes are from 2011, and to this day, they’ve helped me remember the story of Gabe and his literary wanderings. Taking notes does make a difference. Give it a try. Your future self will thank you!

Conclusion

Taking notes on a work of fiction can be a challenging task. Still, it can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience with the right strategies. Using the six proven strategies we’ve discussed in this post, you can ensure that you always remember the essential details of a novel and always feel confident in your ability to share your thoughts and opinions. Whether preparing for a book club meeting or studying for an exam, taking notes can help you retain information and deepen your understanding of a work of fiction. So go ahead and try it – the next time you finish reading a novel, take some notes and see how much more you get out of the experience.