PSSST! Come In: Plot, Mood & Style | W.O.R.D. Ink
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PSSST! CoMe IN: Plot, Mood & Style (Part 2 of a 3-Part Series)

Gannon DanielsGuest post written by W.O.R.D. Ink team member, Gannon Daniels

My brief introduction of the first installment back in September considers how students don’t always know how to approach analysis of literature and often are not as familiar with the terms used by instructors when asked to write an essay about literature. The lesson I propose minimizes terms, empowers students, and creates a clear path to student-based discovery and learning.


The acronym PSSST, CoMe IN! is both a tool for student memorization and welcoming words into the world of literature and fiction.  We started the investigation with SETTING and NARRATION (see first installment). As you’ll see, these lessons are meant to be brief and succinct because we want to empower learners and really take short cuts initially, so that we can get to the meat of the top 9 literary elements (Symbolism and Theme). Once we address Symbolism, Theme and Character behavior, everything else comes together. Acknowledging all elements quickly and on their own initially starts the process, engages students, and firms up the knowledge they have. That said, at this point everyone should feel confident that they know WHO is talking (NARRATION) and WHERE the novel or short story takes place (SETTING).

I’m going to start this section with PLOT. PLOT can go anywhere, really, at the top, in the middle, here or there. The plot is simply “the sequence of events” and is often the first thing students talk about when they see each other after a weekend of reading. It is deceptively simple, the idea of naming and organizing the sequence of events. A great exercise for PLOT accuracy is a thing I call “Connect the Plots.” It’s really connect the plot points, but dot-plots  : )


I write all plot points on the white board as the students sing them out. “What happened in this story?” It all goes up and then the students consider the chronological order of things and we “connect the dots.” A measure of importance is also considered.

We highlight the essential plot points because, if you’re going to have to write a two-sentence summary (often required in literature paper introductions), you better know what to leave out and what to share.

Theme, of course, is often part of a short summary, but that is the last thing we discuss, once we’ve understood all the other terms. We could discuss Aristotle here or Freytag’s Pyramid of dramatic structure, but for these purposes, evaluating plot structure isn’t as important as the final analysis of Theme and Symbolism. That is why I refrain from over analyzing other terms that can remain simple in our quest for overall understanding. At this point:

We know who is talking, where the action is taking place, and what exactly has transpired.

Now we look to Mood and

through Mood we acknowledge Style.

Mood is the emotional essence of a piece. And mood can change as the plot thickens or characters change. “How does the piece make you feel?” I ask the students. Whatever answer I am given, that is the answer of MOOD. It is as simple as that. Whatever MOOD the author was going for is found in the hearts of her reader. Probably the one dilemma of this question is that often students are unaware of their feelings while reading. Even if you see smiles on their faces as they read Shel Silverstein or a grimace as they forge through the initial release of contestants into the arena of The Hunger Games, still, when asked, they’re not quite sure how to answer. Joyful? Tense? You can ask them specifically and whittle it down to the truth. Careful: “Boring” can be confused with mood and rarely is an author attempting to bore. images-1
images “How do you think the mood is created?” is a nice question that segues into Style.  First responses are often plot oriented. That’s STYLE. It’s genre too. Authors’ styles are reflected in their level of intrigue, romance, you name it. But style can also be easily discovered through another level of assessment. The printed pages; technical choices authors make in regard to word use and order of words (syntax.) STYLE is the way an author writes. Are there short or long sentences? Does the author use a lot of dialogue? Does he make use of incredible verbs or flamboyant adjectives? Does the author use a passive or assertive voice? Is there description beyond your attention span?


All these questions about Mood and Style create student investigators who come up with answers. Answers magnify learning power. These are some astute literature readers! As an instructor, tutor or home-schooling parent, I hope you can see that this process can be done slowly, over a month long lesson plan or quickly if that’s necessary. As long as you build confidence in the students and show them that they are the managers of this journey, you will have them teaching you!

The next installment will address Irony, Character, Symbolism, and Theme; the final lessons bring everything together. I hope you tune in!

In the mood for more on how to write about an Author’s Style? Check out Vanessa’s 3-part blog post on Shaping Voice with Sound and Syntax!


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