2 Every Trip is a Quest (Except When it’s Not) Foster shows that whenever a character embarks anywhere, it is to a purpose. The character typically has a goal in mind, but what he actually achieves is for the betterment of his person. He may not, and often does not, even accomplish what he set out to actually do. The protagonist faces enemies and/or obstacles along the way.
3 Foster uses the example of a boy who goes to the market for a loaf of bread, encounters dogs and sees a girl he likes being hit on by another guy. Quest, obstacles, fair maiden, nemesis, self-realization.
4 Nice to Eat with You: Acts of Communion One rarely shares his food with someone he outright doesn’t like, unless for some kind of manipulative purpose. Food is a somewhat intimate act, and we tend to want to share it only with those whom we trust and like. Meals together show an agreement of ideas, unless specifically characterized otherwise.
5 Hot, sumptuous meals have occasionally been portrayed as a substitute for sex, as authors were censored from writing sex scenes outright.
6 Nice to Eat You: Acts of Vampires Vampires, when used are rarely the literal fanged creatures of Stoker’s brand. Often they are simply people who take the “life force” of others by various methods. This usually involves a female in the spring of her life, who is jaded or otherwise “aged” by an older male. Sometime this ends in death, but the male typically goes on to live longer.Vampires are a reverse Christ figure.
7 If it’s Square, it’s a Sonnet Sonnets have a number of lines and syllables that make it look roughly square. The sonnet is a common form of poetry employed by Shakespeare and the like. They often have two shades of meaning, the first being brought out in the first eight lines and the second in the last six.
8 Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before? There is only one great story. All literature takes part in the Great Conversation. Shakespeare and Greek mythology are the big names in literature, there characters appearing again and again. If one comes into the middle of a conversation without having heard about what’s gone on before, not only will there be confusion but one won’t be able to make a valuable contribution.It is virtually impossible to create a totally “original” novel, and we would likely not be able to relate to such a thing in any case.
9 When in Doubt, it’s from Shakespeare Shakespeare created a vast number of unforgettable characters in his lifetime. No single author has achieved the same literary notoriety, covering hundreds of possible themes. If something in a novel sounds poetic or a character says something a way that they don’t usually speak, it’s a safe bet to credit Shakespeare.
10 Or the BibleThe Bible is also a safe bet, especially when something simply “feels” bigger than the scope of the novel. The Bible, being a work thousands of years in the making, covers all walks of life, from the lowest peasant to the greatest king.
11 It’s Greek to MeGreek mythology is ripe with literary heroes. From the classic Greek pantheon to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, these figures will pop up in just about every major classic literary work. James Joyce employed this specifically in Ulysses (or “Odysseus”).
12 It’s More than Just Rain or Snow Rain can serve a variety of purposes. It cleanses and brings life a la ancient fertility rituals and rain prayers. Conversely, it can bring death through flood. Often it’s associated with April showers, so “new life” is a common message when rain is employed.Snow also has a variety of purposes. It can present cold frozen wastelands, suggest a playful Christmas spirit, kill through blizzard, or insulate against the cold.
14 More than it’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence It’s never just violence, unless it is. Violence can be used in many ways in a novel, depending on the sort of violence it is. Generally, though, it shows disrespect for the dignity of other people, an escalation of frustration and rage. It’s often symbolic shorthand for inner turmoil and cause for aggression.
15 It’s All PoliticalAll authors live in the world, so they can rarely help having political biases. These views very often show up in their novels, whether purposely or not. Some characters are indeed mouthpieces for the author’s political agendas, but more often, politics simply creep in when characters start relating to one another.
16 Yes, She’s a Christ Figure, Too Christ figures are fairly common and easy to spot. Often he (or she) has disciples of sorts, or is thirty-three, or comes back from the dead (literally or figuratively), or “saves” a group of people. Tip-offs are spreading of the arms (cross) or having a common trade like carpentry or fishing.
17 Flights of FancyFlight is typically an expression of freedom, of breaking away from old habits, traditions, and viewpoints. A character doesn’t literally have to sprout wings – sometimes the language used in a passage might simply relate to birds or wings or flight in general to suggest the same thing.
18 It’s All About Sex . . .Often writers could not portray sex outright due to social constraints, or chose not to on purpose. Sex is often portrayed in other ways, usually having something or other to do with fruit. It can happen at a meal, or in a glance, or it can be implied by ending scenes at certain points and leaving it to the reader’s imagination.
19 Except SexCharacters literally having sex rarely means simply that, unless it’s a trashy romance novel. It is often used to showcase the strengths and weaknesses of the characters.
20 If She Comes Up, it’s Baptism If a character goes underwater, pay attention. It doesn’t have to be literal. But if he comes out a changed person, redeemed in any way, new, then they’ve probably just undergone baptism.
21 Geography Matters . . .The physical landscape often supports the themes of the novel. Wuthering Heights couldn’t have taken place anywhere other than on the wild moors, the Iliad could only have happened in ancient Greece, etc. Geography presents plot fodder, as well, setting practical limitations on the characters.
22 So Does SeasonSpring is newness and youth and fresh life and celebration. Summer can vary depending on the character – it can be stagnant and overly hot, or it can be a passionate, carefree time. Fall can also have a dual meaning, being a time of harvest, but also the season that causes the temperature to drop, leading to winter. Winter is usually old age and death.
23 Marked for GreatnessCharacters often have physical characteristics that set them apart. Blindness, limps, scars, etc. Oedipus had scars around his feet that told of his childhood and Harry Potter has a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead for a similar purpose.
24 He’s Blind for a Reason, You Know Any mention of blindness shows that a character is ignorant about something, or naïve, or out of the know. Physical blindness may be used ironically, as in the case of the oracle in Oedipus Rex, who is blind but sees the truth.
25 It’s Never Just Heart Disease . . . Heart disease indicates a deficiency in relating emotionally. Something is wrong with the character in his very soul. It may eventually kill him, showing that he has probably already “died” inside.
26 . . . And Rarely Just Illness Sick characters are martyrs, especially when they have consumption or tuberculosis. It’s a wasting disease, picturesque, that shows life’s drain on innocents.
27 Don’t Read with Your Eyes Try to understand the perspective of the author, the time period in which he writes. Put yourself in the characters’ shoes. Some things may seem alien, but some simple research could go a long way in literary understanding.
28 Is He Serious? And Other Ironies Irony changes everything. Authors often play off the expectations of their audience to create an effect. It fails completely, however, if the reader doesn’t recognize that the author is trying to be ironic. It’s best to pay attention to gross exaggeration and how all of the previous elements are being used.
29 Hanseldee and Greteldum The Hansel and Gretel story is often portrayed in literature. A small group of people lose their way in unfamiliar territory and come upon a sort of “witch’s house.” This could be anything dangerous that entices the wanderers.