Part 3: How to Analyse Prose Fiction | Year 10 Analysing Complex Texts

Are you struggling with analysing complex texts now you're in year 10? fear not! In this guide, we give you the low down on how to unpack even the most sophisticated novel.

From Year 10 analysing complex texts becomes the norm for English. The structure and form of texts become more challenging and the use of figurative devices becomes more sophisticated to convey the detailed message writers are representing.

In this article, we will show you how to analyse these texts so you can ace your next assessment task.


How do prose fiction texts change between Years 9 and 10?

Even though Year 10 is still Stage 5 just like Year 9, we learn that prose fiction becomes more complex in style and content.

Themes can be more challenging to grapple, and you might have noticed a shift from easy-to-consume plot lines to sudden deviations in literary convention such as fragmentation or stream of consciousness writing…you might even be learning about them now! These offer a teaser for Extension 1 English in Year 11 should you wish to pursue it in Stage 6 (Years 11-12).


Considering whole novels and analysing complex texts

One major shift between Year 9 to 10 is the prescribed text format. You will encounter more whole novels (not just short stories or extracts) as it stretches your brain to engage with wide reading and deeper treatment of ideas.


Connecting ideas

You’ve probably encountered novels by now, but it’s important to remember that more novels are studied in Year 10 because they introduce us to different ideas that we need to understand, interpret and respond to. These ideas don’t exist in isolation in each chapter of a novel – we need to piece together what a novel’s ideas are into umbrella ideas that we call THEMES.

We’ll revisit themes later in this section of the guide.

The themes of such novels are dependent on the CONTEXT of a text.


Considering contexts

NESA stipulates that Stage 5 Students are able to think ‘imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically about information and increasingly complex ideas and arguments to respond to and compose texts in a range of contexts.’ (NESA 2019 EN5-5C). So what does this mean?

Context encompasses the circumstances surrounding the creation of a text. Context includes:

  • Historical context: The historical period in which the text was made (note: this is not the setting of the text, but the period of time when the text was created)
  • Social context: Social and cultural values and attitudes present at the time the text was made
  • Personal context: Experiences or events that the author themselves has gone through

Depending on the text, there are other forms of context we can consider, such as:

    • Political context: The political climate at the time the text was made
    • Economic context: The economic climate i.e. how money or trade was managed
    • Religious context: Dominant or conflicting religions present during the creation of the text

Understanding the context of any text, particularly prose fiction, is key to understanding how and why an author has created a text. This is because the meaning of a text is shaped by both the composer’s context (what’s going on in the author’s world) and our own context (what’s going on in our world as readers).

To refresh your knowledge of context, read this part of the previous article.

What does the author’s context inform about the text, and how does it differ or relate to our context as students in the 21st Century?



Comparing texts

As well as reading whole novels and understanding contexts deeply, Year 10 delves into comparative texts. English is more than just your understanding of a text in isolation, we want to know how it links to or challenges other texts, i.e., what are their similarities and differences?

When we read texts individually, we understand what themes a composer is addressing based on their context.

But when we compare two texts (or more!), we want to understand what new lessons are revealed through this comparison:

  • Do these texts treat the same themes similarly or differently?
  • Do they agree or disagree on certain stances?
  • How have they represented these themes?

Now that we know what Year 10 prose fiction has to offer, let’s work on analysing a novel step-by-step.

You’ll find a web of connections when you compare texts!


How to analyse a novel step-by-step

As you know there is a process for studying any English text. Using our Matrix MethodTM We’ve broken down analysing novels into a 4-step process:

Matrix Method For English Overview (2)

Step 2: Annotate
Step 3: Categorise themes
Step 4: Support themes with evidence


There is no better way of understanding a novel than by READING it. This is vital particularly as you enter Senior English where you are required to read prescribed texts and related texts in tandem.

This may seem challenging if you’re not already reading widely, but it’s important to get a head start because reading is like training a muscle in weightlifting- you can’t expect to lift heavy weights without injuring yourself if you have never conditioned your muscles to lift weights before.

You don’t have to be a speed reader either! Read when you’re on the train to school, in the car to Saturday sport or just before bedtime to get your mind in a relaxed state.

Tackling your novel in small chunks like this will save you lots of time in the long run and will develop your reading skills over time.


Step 2: Annotate

Annotate as you read. There are a number of ways of doing this:

  • Stick adhesive notes onto pages of the novel that you found significant to the story
  • Jot down important quotes and their page number so you can relocate them later – did you spot a technique? Why is it important that this character is yelling about this issue? Why is this character saying this dialogue as an aside?
  • Type up any questions you have about the text as you go – why did the protagonist have multiple flashbacks? Why was there a perspective shift? What does this dialogue mean?
  • Create a T.E.E. Analysis table. This a great way of preparing evidence for your further analysis of the text.

You may use all of these techniques, a combination of them, or some of your own – find what works for you.

Always remember to take notes!


Step 3: Categorise themes

Now that you have read the text in full and taken note of key parts of the novel, if you were to explain the main concepts of the novel to a friend, what would you say? What ideas do you think the novel discusses? Does it comment on the problems associated with racism in 1960s America? Does it question Victorian Era hierarchies defined by with wealth and social status? Does it challenge the stereotypical roles of women in society? Does it detail the struggles of growing up as a migrant in a foreign country? This is one of the most challenging parts of understanding prose fiction, because it requires some background knowledge on the author’s context as well as a deep understanding of our own interpretation of the novel.

You can categorise themes as ‘umbrella terms’ where quotes from the novel come underneath these umbrella terms to support the overall theme.



Step 4: Support themes with evidence

Now we have to support these themes that we have identified with evidence from the text. T.E.E. is a great starting point for justifying your understanding with direct quotes from the text, but keep in mind that we need to analyse prose fiction on both a macro and micro level.

So what does this mean?

Micro-analysis: These are the literary techniques that you are found within the text of the novel, such as REPETITION, SIMILE and ALLITERATION. These are important because they are techniques that an author has purposely included to highlight or reinforce an idea or theme. They’re great for analysis but because they often exist in isolation they are not necessarily the strongest points of analysis for our understanding of the text as a whole.

Macro-analysis: Has anyone ever asked you to ‘read between the lines’? This is what macro-analysis involves – an understanding of context, and also ‘stronger’ techniques that affect the text as a whole, such as MOTIF, SYMBOLISM and REPRESENTATION. Why has an author chosen a certain motif? Why have they personified this idea with these characteristics? How does this contribute to our overall understanding of the text? Think of macro-analysis as ‘big picture thinking’.

A combination of both micro and macro-analysis will help us deepen understanding of the text and deepen our analytical writing. When we have a wide range of evidence in both these domains, we can build our arguments on strong points!


Doing a comparative study

In Year 10 and beyond you’ll have to do comparative studies. This is where you compare tets, often from different text types.


Why compare texts?

There are a number of reasons English requires us to compare texts. We know that when we compare texts, new ideas are revealed or challenged. We also study texts in comparison because;

  • Different text types use different forms, structures or techniques to articulate ideas
  • It builds our skills in synthesising texts
  • We understand multiple perspectives on similar ideas, which contributes to our overall understanding of ideas and representation
  • We can see how a text is a product of its context – i.e., it is formed and shaped by the composer’s context and represents ideas and ways


Understanding values and attitudes

As we’ve addressed, when we compare texts, we may see a collision or alignment of ideas. This reveals the values and attitudes relevant to the context of both the composers and the characters in the text.

Values are a measure of worth or importance we attribute to something. Attitudes are the way someone expresses their beliefs and values through their behaviour or perspective on these values. Values and attitudes are revealed through a text’s treatment of themes, as well as through an author’s context. Values and attitudes affect a text’s meaning and how we interpret the text.

Remember you can brush up on this by reading the previous article.

Drawing conclusions

Now that you’ve read and analysed comparative texts, what can you conclude from your understanding of these texts? Do both texts reveal similar perspectives on an idea, which shapes our understanding of that same idea? Or have our initial understandings of a certain idea been challenged? When we articulate our standpoint on these sorts of questions, we may be asked to back up this point of view with evidence. So what has contributed to this conclusion?


How do I develop my ideas?

Once you have your ideas, you need to develop them. This will help you present insightful and sophisticated responses about your texts.


Developing notes

There are a variety of ways of developing notes for your analysis of prose fiction. What you must do is marry your textual analysis of the text with your understanding of the context. If you need a refresher on this, read Part 2 of this guide.

If you’re not sure how to go about putting together notes, learn how to do that here.


Synthesising different concepts – genre/context/form/style/themes

When we undergo comparative studies in school, we often receive two or more texts that may vary in either context, themes, genre, form, or style. We’ve looked at the first two, but let’s see how the genre, form and style may inform our understanding of texts:

Genre: style or category of a text e.g. western, science-fiction, romance. It is important to consider the conventions of a genre when relevant to your text

Form: the structure a text uses or its text type

Style: the way elements of a text are arranged, such as words, sentences or images. This can denote a certain composer (e.g. Orwellian style) or a literary period

Depending on the texts, it is important to understand the ways these play into the construction of a text and its intended meaning. In this way, a play may differ from a short story which may differ from a film – even if they concern the same topic or storyline!


Developing your skills

Now that you can read, understand and analyse prose fiction in Year 10, you can start to articulate your analysis in short answer responses, long-form responses (such as essays) and build a stronger understanding of texts from this point onwards. This means reading and reading regularly.

Get into the habit of doing some analysis and taking notes every time you read, whether it be for pleasure or school!


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