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How To Write A Literary Essay And Succeed

literary essay

A literary essay is an argument or opinion statement, which picks apart and dissects a piece of literature. If you write it correctly, it can help you to understand the deeper meaning and achieve a richer understanding of the theme in the literature.

Here are seven steps to guide you in writing a literary essay:

  1. Ask questions
  2. Gather evidence
  3. Create a thesis
  4. Build your arguments
  5. Develop the introduction
  6. Write the essay body paragraphs
  7. Bring it to a conclusion

1. Ask Questions

Most teachers will provide a list of writing prompts when they ask you to write a literary essay. If that happens, pick a topic that interests you.

But, if your teacher doesn’t provide the writing prompts, and you don’t have a clue or an idea on where to start, then start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Were there any noticeable patterns?

  • What didn’t make sense in the piece of literature?

  • Were there any contradictions or ironies you spotted?

  • What impressed you about the piece of literature you’re about to dissect?

Great works of literature are complex. A literary essay should, therefore, point out and explain those complexities. The better you’re able to explain these complexities, the better your essay will be to comprehend.

The best questions encourage critical debates and discussions, which is what you should always aim for with your literary essay.

Whatever question you decide upon or topic you choose, make sure that you can adequately address it within the word or page limit you’ve been given.

2. Gather Evidence

Once you make a topic or come up with a question on which to base your argument, it’s time to look through the book for ideas that can support your argument.

Keep the two elements below in mind while collecting evidence to support your literary analysis essay.

Elements of Story

The elements of a story include:

  • Plot. The plot addresses the events and actions of the literature.
  • Character. The character is simply the people in the literature, novel, or play. The main character is called the protagonist, and the opposing character is known as the antagonist.
  • Conflict. This is the central tension in the book. In most works of literature, the protagonist is always after something, and the antagonists work hard to thwart the protagonist’s progress.
  • Setting. When and where the work takes place. The setting includes the location, time, weather, social atmosphere, and economic conditions.
  • Narrator. The narrator is simply the person telling the story.
  • Themes. The theme is usually the central ideas or messages of the literature. There may be many themes.

Elements of Style

The elements of style include the following:

  • Point of view. The point of view is the angle from which a story is told. It can be from the first-person point of view, in which the narrator may be telling his or her story. Or, it can be in the third-person point of view, in which the narrator may be recounting a specific character’s experiences or thoughts. Remember, the narrator and author may be different.
  • Diction. Word choice. The diction can help you tell the attitude and personality of the characters.
  • Syntax. Word order and sentence construction. The syntax can help you establish the author’s narrative voice.
  • Tone. Diction and syntax will always determine the tone of the literature.
  • Imagery. Imagery is a language that appeals to the senses, which represents things that can you can see, smell, hear, taste, or touch.
  • Figurative language. This is a language that can’t be interpreted as it is. Figurative language includes metaphors and similes.

3. Create a Thesis

Now, you need to write your thesis statement, a claim about the literature you want to back up by the evidence you collected. It’s the core of your literary essay. A good thesis will be:

  • Arguable
  • Provable
  • Surprising
  • Specific

4. Build your arguments

After writing your thesis statement, you need to develop and organize your arguments by putting the reasons and examples that will support your statement together. These reasons and examples form the middle paragraphs of your essay.

The structure of your argument will depend on the type of literature your teacher will ask you to write.

Types of Literary Essays

  • Trace
  • Debate
  • Compare and contrast

5. Develop the Introduction

An introduction is usually a difficult place in the entire writing process. The introduction presents your topic and articulates the particular issues and questions you’ll be addressing.

The length of your introduction will vary depending on the topic and length your teacher will ask. Therefore, if the teacher asks you to write a traditional five-paragraph essay, your introduction should be no more than a paragraph.

A good introduction should have the following:

  • A necessary context. It should tell them the book, the characters, and the topic you are discussing.
  • Answer the “So what?” question. Your introduction should tell your reader why the topic is essential. It should pique the interest of your readers.
  • It contains your thesis statement. The thesis statement should come at or near the end of your introduction.
  • Scope of the essay to come. Your introduction should provide a good sense of the scope of your article and the path you’ll be taken to prove your thesis.

A bad introduction is:

  • Vague
  • Opens with grandiose assertions.
  • Wildly praises the work
  • Goes off-topic.

6. Write the essay body paragraphs

The structure of the body paragraphs of your essay depends on the argumentative you’ll be using. Regardless of the structure you use to arrange your thoughts; your body paragraphs need to:

  • Start with a strong topic sentence. A good topic sentence alerts readers of the issue you will be discussing in the following paragraph and also gives them a sense of what argument will be about.
  • Develop a single thought. Try to stick to a single idea in each paragraph. Elaborate each thought before moving on to the next paragraph.
  • Use transitions effectively. Remember, each paragraph must be clear, and each supporting material around it must be strongly linked. To do this effectively, you want to use transition words to connect each element that supports your argument.

7. Bring it to a Conclusion

The conclusion should summarize your essay and hint at the broader implications of your topic. A good conclusion must…

  • Restate the thesis.

  • Synthesize the arguments.

  • Revisit the “So what?” question.

  • Move from the specific to the general.

  • Stay relevant.

  • Avoid making overblown closing statements.

Of course, once you’re done writing your literary essay, you should edit it before submitting it (or turn to the professional editors for help). The editing step though not mentioned here will help you correct any grammatical errors and make sense of the message you’re trying to convey to your readers.

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