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University of Edinburgh

How to Read a Novel

University of Edinburgh via FutureLearn

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What makes a great novel? How is a novel woven together? How can we best appreciate works of fiction?

Answer these questions and more with this course from The University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

On the course you’ll discover four of the main building blocks of modern fiction: plot, characterisation, dialogue, and setting using examples from a range of texts including the four novels shortlisted for the 2023 James Tait Black fiction prize. You’ll also explore the formal strategies authors use, how they came to be, and how they affect us as readers.

This course is for anyone who enjoys reading. You don’t need any past experience. You don’t need to have read all four books before you commence the course, but you may find it enhances your learning experience if you have.

Image: John Michael Thomson (2018) CC0


  • Plot
    • Scene setting
    • Framed narratives and unreliable narrators
    • Exploring Plot
    • Meet the author
  • Characterisation
    • Introduction to character
    • Interiority
    • Exploring Characterisation
    • Meet the author
  • Dialogue
    • Introduction to dialogue
    • Dialect
    • Exploring Dialogue
    • Meet the author
  • Setting
    • Introduction to setting
    • Space
    • Exploring Setting
    • Meet the author

Taught by

Alex Lawrie


5.0 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at FutureLearn based on 435 ratings

Start your review of How to Read a Novel

  • Brilliantly divided into weeks- plot, character, setting and dialogue. Tied to 4 novels under consideration for an award given during the course. Wonderfully supported by Professor Alex and her team. This was my first MOOC course and I have just kept going. The discussion by learners was very interesting and supportive. I loved it; what a fantastic place to start!
  • Profile image for Amy Mor
    Amy Mor
    For me that I'm not a Native English speaker it was sometimes difficult but the classes were clear and easy to follow.

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