As a creative writing lecturer rather than a literature lecturer, I don’t cotton much to theory. Every now and then I might whisper feminist theory or deconstruction, just to watch my students tharn. It’s fun to mess with their heads like that. Theory is the backbone of lit classes. It’s not so important for writing classes, though, because we are approaching literature from a different perspective. What’s important for me—for us—is not what the author meant by her use of warbling vireo as a motif but how that motif works in the story, where it is mentioned and what it is mentioned in conjunction with. The mechanics of that little warbling bird popping up here and there in a tale. How the author plays with the sound of the name--warbling vireo--and what that does to a reader more than if it was just called a little bird.
When my students go out into the world to see what people have written about literature, they are faced with a lot of choice. There are a shit ton of books containing literary analysis. University libraries are thick with them. Bookstores—and some universities—carry books that help people write fiction (Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of my favorites, and one of the best—and yes, my uni has it). You can also find books that are sort of in between, such as Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer or John Mullan’s How Novels Work. These books don’t mention theory but rather explore how novels (or stories) are written by looking at structure, characters, dialogue, details, etc.
But the books that I wish there were more of are like what I had to write for my PhD: an analysis of what I did and why in my novel, specifically. This is different (at least to me) from annotated editions of books, in which an editor has gone back and added footnotes to explain historical context of a reference or how a certain scene links to an event in the author’s life. You don’t find what I’m talking about a whole lot out in the world. Sometimes authors will answer specific questions about their work in interviews, or even write blog posts that explain how or why they made certain narrative choices, but on the whole it’s rare.
One example—one that I used when writing my PhD and that I recommend to my students even if they haven’t read the novel that inspired it in the first place—is Umberto Eco’s Postscript to The Name of the Rose. It’s a tiny thing, only 85 pages or so, and translated from the Italian. I had to special order it (but it wasn’t spendy). In it Eco touches on choices both big and small. For example, he explains why he chose November as the time of year in which to set his novel (because that’s when pigs are butchered), a nice world-building detail, and he explains why he included “long didactic passages” (to mirror the pacing of life in a 14th-century abbey).
Eco, however, is a bit ‘academic’ in places. What I mean by that is that he doesn’t always get down to the nitty-gritty on a sentence or even word level in a scene to explain his choices and how they work. His book, however, is so great that while I read it I could link things he said with the theories on time and space that I was using in my PhD analysis (such as chronotope, heterotopia, Hortus conclusus, etc.). For a look at what I’m talking about when I say nitty-gritty and sentence level, go here and see Diana Gabaldon, author of the epic Outlander series, go line-by-line and describe the tiny details, such as word choice and historical research, and how these details affect and are affected by other elements such as rhythm and character motivation, in a small scene from her most recent book in the series, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. It's this type of resource that I believe is so helpful to writers--both new and experienced.
We readers and viewers in the western world like to know about people's jobs (don't believe me? Just take a look at the ratings for shows like ER, Law & Order, Master Chef, etc. We not only go through life labeling people by their job titles but reading about and watching people work.). As a [insert job here] you likely read about said job, to keep up to scratch or learn new developments in the field. Writers like to, want to, need to do the same.
So, in the hopes of giving my students more choice, let me know about other sources of this type of analysis: books, journal/magazine articles, blogs, what have you. Share the wealth!