The following terms are necessary both as a working vocabulary for discussion of the writers decisions in the narratives studied and as focuses for the students to study as they craft their own work.
“Literature” and “Identity” – Both terms are so significant that they may be most useful to signify as a class, coming up with tentative decisions and then testing their usefulness through the texts studied.
“Narrative / Story” – Students should know coming into the course that a narrative is a text with certain essential components (character, plot, conflict, setting, point of view, etc.) for the sake of precision in knowing what exactly they are working with and creating.
“Conflict / Crisis / Climax” – Although tempting to being with point of view or voice, it may be more useful to begin by focusing on the elements of conflict. When students can ascertain the initiation of tension and the forces involved, they can also discern the protagonist, the protagonist’s motivations, and the forces working for and against them. These are concrete narrative elements that students can later use to describe the point of view.
“Point of View” – Almost every student is ready to answer with “First person!” or “Third person!” to this question as they hastily look for a specific use of pronouns, they will have to use these terms instead to ascertain narrative distance and the implications thereof. “First Person” means the reader is likely intimate with the protagonist, so what do we know about them? Are they hiding anything? Everything? Can we trust them? Examining the conflict, we can also ask, “Is this even really their story?” Likewise for third person, the students should be questioning how close the narrator is to the characters involved: Is there sympathy for a character? Does the narrator see things like a character would? How does the narrator see things? What decisions are they making about how the story is told? Is there an aloof, moral tone? These questions, introduced early, begin to give students a sensitivity to the writer’s decisions about how they craft the story.
“Voice” – This is probably the most difficult term of the unit to understand, let alone utilize. After ascertaining narrative distance and position toward the story, the students must analyze the story-teller as a character, looking for motivations, bias, values, constraints, and anything else that can shape the personality of this important role. Then, students can move to the implications of this identity on the interpretation of the text.
“Class” – As students analyze voice, they must recognize that any individual exists as a member of many social groups sharing common elements of identity, and these groups, as social “classes” both receive outside pressure from other classes and exert pressure themselves on others. These pressures often seek conformity, validation, power, or even the destruction of other classes. Students can explore the different social classes of their own lives as they create a voice for their culminating assignment, but at the same time they should also be careful to pay attention to what classes or groups do the characters and narrators identify with, and how does that impact their motivation and decision-making both in the story and in how it’s told.