Literary Essays

Have your teachers started to assign you essays based on books you've read? Read on to learn all you need to know to begin writing scholarly literary essays.

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When your English teacher asks you to respond to a question about your readings through the form of an essay it is known as literary analysis. Essays can be hard because you have to first understand what happened in the book before answering the question.

Essay Content

It is important to understand that a literary essay should not be a simple overview of what happened in the book or text that you are writing about. When you write an essay you should write it as if it were going to be read by someone else who has also read the book or has a firm understanding of what the book is about. Teachers are often telling students to have less 'what' and more 'why' in their essays. This means that instead of writing what happened in the text, write about why this is important and how it affected the characters or related to real life.

Write While Your Read

In order to grasp the 'why' of a book, you must remember and understand what happened throughout the story. Create a timeline of the story while you are reading. Writing out the main events and when characters were introduced will help to jog your memory when you go back to write your paper.

It also helps to keep a reading journal. In your journal you should write how you are reacting to different events in the story. Do the events remind you of anything in your life? How would you react if you were one of the characters? How do the characters interact with one another and why? What was the author's purpose for writing this piece; what was he trying to tell you? By answering these and other questions while you are reading, you are exploring aspects of the text that your teacher wants you to write about while the story's still fresh in your mind.

Writing down these thoughts while reading may slow you down a little, but it will save you time and effort in the long run. It can also be helpful to make notes of effective passages that you will be able to use in the body of your essay (many teachers like it when you quote the book).

Understand the Text

If you come across any words or passages that you don't understand when reading the text then make sure to reread that section. Still don't understand? Ask a fellow classmate or your teacher if you are in the classroom. If you are at home then ask one of your parents. If no one is available to answer your question, make a note to yourself and ask someone later. The better you understand the story, the easier it will be to write an essay and the content will be more impressive to your teacher.

If it is a word that you do not know, then write it down. Try to keep a list of unknown words when you are reading. When you get to a stopping point, get a dictionary and look up the meaning of each word. By doing this you are improving your understanding of the story and are increasing your vocabulary at the same time!

Essay Instructions

When you're finished reading the story and your teacher has given you the essay assignment, make sure to read the instructions thoroughly. Each teacher is looking for something different, so you shouldn't assume that your English teacher will want the same format and content as your social studies teacher prefers.

Some teachers give their students a prompt with the specific topic they want their class to address; others leave it up to each student. If your teacher is letting you chose your topic, it's usually a good idea to run your theme by them to make sure it is what they are looking for.

Writing Your Essay

Making an outline of your essay instead of just jumping in and writing the paper usually saves students a lot of time. This is because they know exactly where they are going with their paper and what the overall message and purpose is.

Sometimes children, and even adults, have difficulties with writing an introduction. If your first paragraph has you stumped, work on your thesis statement instead. This is the most important part of your introduction as it tells the reader what you intend to discuss in your paper; it gives you a concrete focus.

After writing your thesis statement you can go on to the main body of your paper and even on to your conclusion before you finish the introduction. Many college students use this approach when writing papers.

After you have your paper finished, read through it a couple of times. Pay close attention to your grammar, spelling, and content. Did the body of the paper discuss what your thesis statement indicated it would be about? Did your paper answer the question that your teacher posed? Do your statements and conclusions match the evidence provided by the quotes you used? Did your paper relate with the story? When you are completely satisfied with your essay have your parents or an older sibling read through it. Another pair of eyes usually picks up on mistakes that you may have read over.

Get Feedback

After your teacher grades your essays, ask them to discuss their comments with you. You can learn a lot from a teacher's insight. If you are having a lot of problems when writing your essays, then ask your teacher for help. They can give you additional tips that will ease the process.

Also, please keep in mind that mastering literary analysis and essay writing takes time. These skills don't just develop overnight. The more you work on each individual essay, the better your writing and critical thinking skills will get.

Did you find this useful? If so, please let others know!

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