Writing about literature! Welcome to the hardest essay you’ll ever write.
WhY must this be so difficult? • It’s difficult because it requires you not only to write about what happened in a work of literature, but also to • decode that piece of literature, • comment intelligently on the use of language, • apply it to a topic, • create a thesis that claims your interpretation about why the heck this piece of fiction is important to the real world, • and formulate a logical, original explanation (backed up with evidence) to prove that claim, • …all the while trying to retain an academic, yet compelling voice. • Oh yeah, and grammar/spelling mistakes are not an option.
SOME Don’t-do-this warnings • -Do not ever write the words “you” or “your” …or “I” or “me” in an academic essay. • -Don’t talk about characters in past tense—use literary present tense. • -Don’t try to teach your reader a life lesson. • -Don’t tell us that the author “want to make this come alive for the reader” or “paint a picture for the reader” or “catch our interest” etc. • -Don’t understate… example: when Juliet commits suicide, it is a gloomy moment. WHAT? • -Don’t make a thesis about something extremely obvious. • -Don’t compliment the writer, for example, “Shakespeare did a great job making an intense love story in Romeo and Juliet. You, sir or madam, are extremely unqualified!
Fear not! • Once you get the process down, it will become easier and easier to recognize how to put your writing together. Let’s start with: • CLAIM • SUPPORT • EXPLANATION
CLAIM: say what is so • Most important part. Your thesis will make or break your essay. • THESIS = • WHAT is the author doing + HOW + WHY? • In other words, your thesis should show HOW the author ILLUMINATES IDEAS about an IMPORTANT TOPIC/ISSUE
main things to remember… • You can only have ONE thesis, around which EVERYTHING must revolve. Make it specific—you can’t cover everything. • Don’t leave the author out of the picture. This is a FATAL FLAW. Keep in mind that the author made thousands of intentional choices in the creation of the piece. It’s our role to explain the reasoning behind and effect of those choices, not just to talk about what happened in the story, or what we thought of it.
THESIS GENERATOR: • Through shows • demonstrates • With critiques • illustrates • By asserts • makes the statement • Whenever assumes the position of • creates • In the process of questions • redefines • unveils • choice/character/device, [author]idea about topic
SUPPORT: Show where it is so • Now, you need to PROVE that your claim is true. Where to find evidence? • In the text. • [In rare cases, in other respected books written ABOUT the text or texts of the same form] • The book contains all the evidence you’ll ever need. Don’t use the outside world or your opinions as proof. Stay within the text.
SUPPORT COMES IN Three FORMS • Paraphrase—retelling short, relevant snippets of the story • (assume the reader knows the text, don’t ever paraphrase anything that happened unless it’s directly related to and important for supporting your thesis) • Pointing out relevant literary devices or elements of style—this shows that you know what, exactly the author is doing and why: intelligence points! • Direct quotes—textual support GOLD! • You should be spending a lot of time selecting and organizing the direct quotes you intend to use to SHOW the reader what you mean when you refer to something you’re claiming the author (or one of her characters) is doing. This, like your thesis, can make or break the paper.
Does your support do its job? • Go through your essay after it’s in a semi-completed state. Sum up each paragraph in one-two sentences. Read the thesis, and then these sum-up statements in order. Does your argument make sense? Does it prove your claim? • Yes? Kudos! Carry on! • No? Revise accordingly.
EXPLANATION: Tell why it is so • This happens throughout your paper, but mostly it happens at the END! • Throughout: Anytime you give support, you need to explain it to us. What is this quote showing? Assume your reader is a moron and you are a genius. Interpret it for us, sensei! • The END: Your conclusion is where you can bust loose and finally tell us about the relevance of all this to the modern world and society. WHY SHOULD WE CARE? You should have a convincing explanation to make us believe that this may be the single most influential book in the history of books. (But don’t be fake about it. Play it cool.)