How to Analyze a Story
While analyzing poetry, you have only a small amount of primary material with which to work. While analyzing a story, you have expanded the original source. A story is a short narrative that encapsulates generally a few major themes. It is not a novel, which is a long narrative, full of characters, ideas, themes, and plots. A story (or "short story") is a narrative that essentially focuses on one plot and a few characters. Because of the narrow focus on the original writing, your analysis will be much more focused, as well.
When you begin to analyze a story, follow these steps in order to avoid confusion.
One quick read — or even one thorough read — is never sufficient to analyzing a story. Because stories are rather short, you will be able to find time to read the story several times. Analyzing a story you only 'sort of know' will do you no good. Your analysis will be shoddy and it will come across through your writing (or presentation).
Once you have read the story sufficiently to understand it as best you can, it is helpful to discuss the story with another person. If this story was assigned in school, you will probably be discussing it in class, where you will have the guidance of a teacher and opinions of several other students. More brains are always better than one; consequently, open your mouth and ask your questions. Bring your analysis into the forefront of a conversation so that you can discuss ideas. You may discover that you have found a brilliant new way to view a story. Or, you may discover that your analysis is so far off track that you will need to re-read the story to understand what is truly occurring within.
Stories, like novels, essays, and poems, can carry several themes. You must select one to focus on in your analysis. The beauty of analyzing a story is that it will not be overwrought with too much symbolism or too much plot. It should be fairly easy to select a specific idea to follow. Once you have selected the theme you want to analyze in the story, go on to the next step.
Once you have selected the theme of the story for your analysis, then you must begin the analysis. Go through the story several times and find at least three examples of your theme. Think about them and how they apply to the characters, plot, and real life. If you cannot bring three examples of a theme together into an overall analysis (message), then perhaps you should start from the beginning and select a new theme. It is important to remember that you must stay with the same theme throughout your analysis. If you jump around topics, then your analysis will be weak in several areas.
Like any analysis, essay, or research paper, an outline is vital. It is the skeleton of your analysis, the scaffolding that holds your ideas together. It is your organizational crutch. Your outline for the story analysis should begin with an introduction (including a thesis statement), followed by three examples of the theme in your story, and a conclusion bringing all the examples of the themes together. This conclusion will be significant in an analysis, for you will be putting together what you have just explained into a greater context. The conclusion is the ultimate analysis of the story and should leave the audience/readership understanding the story in a new light.
Now that you have all your themes and ideas written down in a nice outline, you are ready to write your analysis. While it initially seemed like a daunting task, because you have done all the work already, you can now simply place all the work together into a nice organized and complete analysis.
If your story analysis is meant to be an oral presentation, follow the same steps. You will still need an outline, as presentations are no different than written papers in content. The only difference is presentation. Your outline will serve as your notes. It will be your guide as you speak to your teacher and class.