STOP, Notice, and Note Signposts in Literature Signpost 1: Contrasts and Contradictions • There are two parts to this signpost. Let’s start with contrasts. • A contrast is when two elements (characters, settings, etc.) appear to be opposites of one another. For example: • A contrast between the behavior of one group of characters and that of another group. • Foils – Tybalt vs. Benvolio. • A winter setting vs. a summer setting Signpost 1: Contrasts and Contradictions • The next part to this signpost is contradictions. This is one of the techniques that an author uses to show us how a character is changing and developing. • Consider this: what would you think if a friend who normally sits with you at lunch came in one day and sat in the far corner of the cafeteria? Signpost 1: Contrasts and Contradictions • It would make us wonder what’s going on because that’s not a part of our friend’s personality. That change in behavior contradicts what we’ve come to expect. • So in stories, there might be a contradiction between how a single character acted at an earlier point and how he or she now acts. Signpost 1: Contrasts and Contradictions • Definition of Contrasts and Contradictions: – When you’re reading and two elements of the story appear to stand in contrast to one another OR – When you’re reading and a character says or does something that contradicts (is the opposite of) what we would expect them to do based on previous behavior patterns or expected human behavior. • Basically, you’re noticing differences. Signpost 1: Contrasts and Contradictions • When authors show us something that doesn’t fit with what we expect, when they present us with a contrast or contradiction, then we want to pause and ask ourselves one question: – Why is the character doing that? OR – Why is the author doing that? Signpost 1: Contrasts and Contradictions • As you answer that question, you will learn more about the character and sometimes more about the problems he or she faces. • Sometimes you might even gain some insight into a theme – the important life lesson the author is trying to share. • Overall, the answers could help you make a prediction or make an inference about the plot and conflict. Signpost 1: Contrasts and Contradictions • If we think about the answer to the question “Why is the character doing that?” or “Why is the author doing that?,” it can help us understand the following literary elements: – Character development – Internal conflict – Theme – The relationship between the plot and the setting Practice • Let’s try finding some contrast and contradiction clues in the story “Thank You Ma’am,” about a boy who tries to steal a purse from a woman. Signpost 2: Aha Moment • This is an easy signpost to learn because you’ve had many Aha Moments yourself. For example: – Have you ever walked into a class, seen people looking through their class notes, and suddenly remembered what it was you were supposed to do the night before – study for that big test? – Or have you ever been looking around your room, peering over yet another stack of dishes or clothes on the floor or papers on your bed and realized that your room really had turned into a disaster? You suddenly are aware that your room has crossed that line from messy to downright disgusting, and whether you want to or not, you just must clean it up. • That’s an Aha Moment. Signpost 2: Aha Moment • Aha Moments are those moments when we realize something, and that realization, in some way, changes our actions. • Definition of Aha Moments: – When you’re reading and suddenly a character realizes, understands, or finally figures something out, and that realization will probably change his or her actions in some way. Signpost 2: Aha Moment • When you’re reading, the author often gives you clues that the character has come to an important understanding by having the character say something like: – – – – – “Suddenly I realized” “In an instant I saw” “It came to me in a flash” “I now knew” “I finally understood that” • There are many other possibilities, but they will all point to some understanding that the character has finally reached. Those clues are there to tell you that this moment is important, and you need to stop and give it some thought. Signpost 2: Aha Moment • Once we’ve spotted the text clue to the Aha Moment, we have to pause and do something with it. There is a question we can ask that will help us understand what’s going to happen: – How might this change things? Signpost 2: Aha Moment • Thinking about possible answers to the question “How might this change things?” will let us see why the Aha Moment is important and how it affects the story. It can help us understand the following literary elements: – Character development – Internal Conflict (If the character figured out a problem, you probably just learned about the conflict). – Plot (If the character understood a life lesson, you probably just learned the theme). Practice • Let’s try finding some Aha Moments in a scene pulled from the book Crash by Jerry Spinelli. It’s about a middle-school kid nicknamed Crash who bullies another kid. The kid he bullies is names Penn Webb, and Crash often calls him by his last name. This first scene is from the beginning of the book when the main character, Crash, is outside and sees Penn walking down the sidewalk. Signpost 3: Tough Questions • We all ask questions such as “What’s for dinner?” or “Where are my shoes?” or “Do I really have to do my homework?” all the time. Those are questions to which we certainly want answers, but they aren’t what we’d call really tough questions. Signpost 3: Tough Questions • Tough questions are those questions we sometimes ask ourselves, or someone else, that seem, at least for a while, not to have an answer. For example: – “How will I get over this?” when we hear that a loved one has died. – “What should I do?” when we have a difficult, almost impossible, choice to make. – “Am I brave enough to say no?” when we’re asked to do something we know we shouldn’t do. – “Why?” when someone breaks up with you. Signpost 3: Tough Questions • Definition of Tough Questions: – When you’re reading and the character asks himself/herself a really difficult question that reveals his or her inner struggles. • When you share a tough question with a friend – or just think it to yourself – you’re really sharing something that bothers you. In a novel, we call that internal conflict, and if you can spot in a novel the tough questions a character asks of himself or to a friend, then you’ll have found the internal conflict. Signpost 3: Tough Questions • Authors often show us these Tough Questions in fairly straightforward ways: The main character either asks a trusted person or him- or herself a question that obviously doesn’t have an easy answer. • Often, Tough Questions show up in pairs: “Why won’t they talk to me anymore? Why is everyone treating me this way?” • Occasionally, the character might not ask a question, but might say something like “I wonder if…” Signpost 3: Tough Questions • Once you notice the Tough Question (or the statement that begins with “I wonder”), it’s important to stop and ask yourself, – “What does this question make me wonder about?” • For example, if you hear there’s a party and you’re not invited, you might ask yourself, “Why’d I get left out?” And from that question, you might wonder if you had done something to hurt someone’s feelings or if it’s really with a group you don’t know well so no one figured you’d want to go. One tough question usually makes us wonder about other things. Signpost 3: Tough Questions • Thinking about possible answers to the question “What does this question make me wonder about?” can help us understand the following literary elements: – Internal Conflict – Theme – Character Development Practice • Let’s take a look at how this works in the book A Long Walk to Water. This is a book about what happens to an 11-yearold who lives in Sudan during a time in which rebels are raiding villages. In a scene early in the novel, 11-year-old Salva has become separated from the rest of his family after rebels have attacked his small Sudanese village, and he’s now alone and scared and running. Signpost 4: Words of the Wiser • When I was growing up, my family always believed that tragedy + time = comedy. My parents were always telling me “You’ll laugh about this later” when I thought my world was coming to an end. • My parents words were, indeed, wise words. I just wasn’t wise enough to listen to them until time proved them right. • For example: the limo we rented for my senior prom. Signpost 4: Words of the Wiser • Authors are, in some ways, like a mom or a dad or a grandparent. They include scenes in which wise words are shared. So, when I’m reading, I am always on the lookout for a place where the main character has a quiet and serious talk with a wiser character. • That wiser character might be a friend, a brother or sister, a teacher, a parent, or the kindly neighbor down the street. • When I find that scene, I want to read it carefully because the wiser character is probably offering the main character some good advice. This advice is probably a life lesson, and if I pay attention to it, I’ll see an important idea the author wants me to think about. Signpost 4: Words of the Wiser • Definition of Words of the Wiser: – When you’re reading and a character (who is probably older or wiser) takes the main character aside and gives serious advice. • This advice is helpful at this moment in the story but could also be helpful throughout life. Signpost 4: Words of the Wiser • After we notice it, we want to ask ourselves one question: – “What’s the life lesson, and how might this affect the character?” • As you answer this question, you’ll learn more about the character, the conflict he or she faces, the plot, and perhaps the message or theme the author wants you to consider. Signpost 4: Words of the Wiser • Thinking about possible answers to the question “What’s the life lesson, and how might this affect the character?” can help us understand the following literary elements: – Theme – Internal conflict – Relationship between character and plot Practice • We’re going to read a few scenes from a book titled Riding Freedom, which is about a young girl named Charlotte who lives during the mid-1800s. Her parents are dead and she lives in an orphanage. She loves horses, but the overseer of the orphanage where she lives forbids her to work with them simply because she’s a girl. Life there is hard, and at some point she realizes she cannot stay there, so she decides to run away from the orphanage. We’re going to look at a scene where Charlotte tells a trusted older and wiser adult at the orphanage that she must escape. The friend’s name is Vern, and his job at the orphanage is to take care of the horses. One of the horses is named Justice. Signpost 5: Again and Again • Much of what we learn about our friends – enemies, too, probably – we learn by noticing patterns. Patterns = repetition. • When something happens over and over again, that repetition begins to tell us something if we notice it and give it some thought. – For example, one day you might be sitting with a few friends when another one joins you. One of the original group grows quiet and after a few minutes gets up and leaves. You may not think anything of it at that moment, but if it happens again the next day and then again the next week, you’ll probably notice it. Signpost 5: Again and Again • It’s the pattern, the repetition, the event that occurs again and again, that lets you know something is up – if you notice it. And if you think about it. • Obviously, noticing isn’t enough. You have to do something with what you’ve noticed or it’s lost. You have to wonder about it, speculate about what it might mean, and perhaps compare it with other incidents, or it won’t help you understand what’s going on. • So you make some mental notes about that repetition and what it might mean. Ultimately, you’ll figure it out. Signpost 5: Again and Again • Definition of Again and Again: – When you’re reading and you notice a word, phrase, object, image, or situation mentioned over and over. Signpost 5: Again and Again • When authors repeat something – a word or an image or an event – it means something, and when we see those words or images or events again and again, we ought to stop and ask ourselves: – Why does this keep showing up again and again? • The answer will generally tell us something about the character or the plot or perhaps even the theme. Signpost 5: Again and Again • Thinking about possible answers to the question “Why does this keep showing up again and again?” can help us understand the following literary elements: – – – – – – Plot Setting Symbolism/Motif Theme Character development Conflict Practice • Let’s look for this signpost in a book you might have read, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. This excerpt is from the opening chapter. Brian, the main character, is seated next to the pilot in a small plane flying over the forests in the far north. Signpost 6: Memory Moment • This one is pretty straightforward. • Definition of Memory Moment: – When you’re reading and the author interrupts the action to tell you a memory. Signpost 6: Memory Moment • Sometimes the clue to the Memory Moment is very obvious. The character will say something like “I remembered the first time I met him” or “In that very moment the memory came flooding back.” • Other times, the clue is more subtle. The character might say, “my dad liked to tell the story about…” or “This picture always reminded me of…” • Often those moments are highlighted with words such as remember or memory or reminded. Signpost 6: Memory Moment • We want to be on the alert for times when a character shares a moment from the past because it’s likely to tell us something important, either about the character or about the plot. • But we’re going to have to figure out what it might tell us, and so, when we find this moment in the novel, we want to ask ourselves one question: – “Why might this memory be important?” Signpost 6: Memory Moment • Thinking about possible answers to the question “Why might this memory be important?” can help us understand the following literary elements: – – – – Character development Plot Theme Relationship between character and plot Practice • Let’s take a look at how this works in a few passages from a book called Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer, while you follow along in your handout. This book is about a girl named Hope who, once again, must leave a place she’s called home to move. We pick up in the novel as she and her aunt are getting in the car to begin their latest move. Works Cited Beers, Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 2013. Print.