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How To Read Between the Lines

I Just Want the Facts

     A lot of people don’t read novels, or go to see plays because they ‘just want the facts’ – they say they don’t have time for made-up stories.

     Other people just see literature as something to be consumed for entertainment.

     These attitudes to literature result from the fact that many people have not been taught the advanced comprehension skill of reading between the lines.


Reading Between the Lines

     When reading or watching a story, our attention is usually caught up following the plot and getting to know the characters. This can be so engrossing and enjoyable that many people think no further about the experience and so miss the main things that the author is trying to give us.

     To most authors, the plot and the characters are just the packaging to attract the audience to consider other, more important, ideas that are hidden between the lines of the story.

     A simple example is the story of ‘The Three Pigs’ which has been read to children for hundreds of years – where three pigs leave home and set up their new homes. Only one pig takes the time and trouble to build a strong enough house to keep the wolf out. This story is still popular because it is hoped that the children who hear it will learn to live by the principal – if you don’t do a thing properly in the first place you may pay for it later on.

     Novels, poetry, plays, movies – actually art in all its forms – contain hidden messages that we need to take time to notice – or we will miss them. These messages are often very subtle so they are easy to miss – especially if you don’t look for them in the first place!


     For example, Arthur Miller’s play ‘All My Sons’ is set just after World War II and is based on a true story. Joe Keller is accused of profiting from selling faulty aircraft parts to the US Air Force during the war. Both his sons go to war but only one returns alive.


     Reading between the lines the play explores idealism, greed, denial, guilt, self-destruction and blame through a story of family conflict. When putting on this play, it is up to the director to make it relevant to people of today rather than just putting it up as a historical study of life in the aftermath of World War II. Adelaide director Dave Simms talks about his production in this way:


     ‘Over sixty years on, the themes are still relevant! Businessmen still profit from war; we still send our young to wars that are not ours; mothers still hold out hope for their children missing in action.’


     When you see a play, or read a novel, or enjoy any other form of art, don’t forget to read between the lines, and share it with other people.


     And remember – what you learn from fiction can be just as important as what you learn from non-fiction.

And, by the way – reading between the lines is just as important when reading non-fiction – if you don’t think about the underlying motives of the author when you read non-fiction you are likely to be taken for a ride. So, beware.

Source: Brooks, Chris. "How to Read Between the Lines." High Performance Learning, 4 Sep. 2012,

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