Taking notes on literature
Taking detailed notes doesn't mean to write down everything that happens in the book. Instead, you're looking for items of importance to help you understand the deeper meanings of the work. Here are a few things to look for.
Characters --When a new character is introduced, record it in your notes. Do not waste much time writing down a complete description; it is already there in the book. Just record the page so you can refer to it later. Not all characters are equally important, but you will not know which are major characters and which are minor until you finish the book. Better to be safe. Record them all BRIEFLY.
Repetitious things-- If an important test approaches, your teacher will remind you at the beginning of class and at the end. The same goes in great literature. If an author has an important point to make, he will repeat it in many ways: sometimes by having a character use the same words, go to the same place, or talk to the same people. So watch out for such repetitious items in your reading. Even if you do not know why the author repeats, write it down anyway. Sometimes all your work becomes clear later (and sometimes it does not).
Out-of-place things --If you want to stick out from the crowd, one of the easiest ways is to dress in a different way. The more of a statement you wish to make, the more outrageous your costume. Authors use the same trick in literature. We call the technique “contrast.” A contrast presents the reader with something different, sometimes strikingly different, which encourages the reader to examine differences to discover meaning. If you go to a party thinking it's a costume party, and you're the only one wearing a mask, you would stand out much more than if everyone were wearing masks. Keep an eye open for such contrasting items: contrasting people (rich/poor, happy/sad, strong/weak), contrasting places (city/country, mansion/shack), contrasting times (old/new, old fashion/modern, morning/afternoon/evening, young/old), contrasting settings (light/dark, sunny/rainy, peace/war), contrasting feelings (calm/angry, quiet/loud, shy/outgoing, frightened/confident).
A tip on note taking -- Students complain that notes take too much time or interrupt their flow of reading. I agree, if you take poor notes. Notes briefly describe something. The key word is briefly. Take the first point above “character.” If you come upon a character named Fred who is described in great detail on page 24, you could copy the entire descriptive passage. OR you could write "24. Fred desc." That takes only a few seconds, and you're back to reading. Follow this example in all of your note taking. Record the page number with each note. Later, you will begin to see how notes that you take can be used to tie ideas together to promote understanding. Here is an example.
Imagine finding a character Fred on page 24. He's a character, so you record the note.
After reading the next two chapters, you notice that Fred is optimistic about life. You record the examples of his conversations showing optimism -- that's repetition.
On page 120, Fred meets Ralph who is pessimistic. Since you have already established Fred as optimistic, you notice clearly the contrasting character of Ralph. You know this is going to be an important meeting, so you read carefully. Often, authors use progressions like this to reveal their meaning. Unfortunately, most readers skip over such details. Don't be such a reader.