When writing about literature, you follow the same basic conventions required of any expository essay. That is, you
- state a thesis in your introduction
- develop that thesis by giving supporting reasons and evidence in the body of the essay
- conclude with a summary of your main points and a restatement of the thesis
- cite and document any quotes.
There are a few conventions in writing about literature of which you should be aware.
- In the introduction to your essay, mention the title of the work and the author's full name:
In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley presents a narrator who is obsessed with gaining knowledge and power.
- The title of a story or poem is set off with quotation marks; the title of a play or novel is underlined or italicized:
- story: "The Dead"
- poem: "Fern Hill"
- play: The Importance of Being Earnest or The Importance of Being Earnest
- novel: Jane Eyre or Jane Eyre
- The first time you refer to an author, use his or her full name. Thereafter, use only his or her last name:
In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens paints a portrait of a boy who has to learn some hard lessons. In order to make these lessons clear, Dickens creates characters whose faults and attributes are caricaturized.
- Note that a comma or period is placed inside the quotation marks; a semicolon or colon is placed after the quotation marks:
- In "The Horse Dealer's Daughter," Lawrence often leaves his characters' thoughts unspoken.
- Lawrence is addressing the inseparability of love and lust in "The Horse Dealer's Daughter."
- Lawrence has created an ambiguous ending for "The Horse Dealer's Daughter"; this leaves the interpretation of the story up to the reader.
- Not many events occur in "The Horse Dealer's Daughter": a breakfast, a conversation or two, an attempted suicide, and rescue are the extent of the plot.
- Avoid using wordy or grammatically incorrect opening lines:
In Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, he tells a fascinating story.
In this sentence, "he" doesn't refer to anyone; and if you use the author's name, you don't need "he," too. Try it this way:
In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens tells a fascinating story.
But there's still a problem: This opening sentence doesn't tell your reader what your essay is about. It's filler, without real content. Get to your point quickly and directly, perhaps like this:
Pip, in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, is a likable character, but he is not a hero.
- Unless you have been asked to write a personal essay, avoid using the first person ("I") and the second person ("you") in your essays. Most college essays are supposed to preserve a formal tone, and using "I" and "you" gives the essay too casual a tone. Instead of saying,
I think Jane Eyre is a feminist,
Jane Eyre is a feminist.
(Note that this makes you sound more authoritative, as well.)
And instead of saying
If you look closely at Jane Eyre, you will see that she is a feminist,
A close reading reveals that Jane Eyre is a feminist.
- The following link gives you step by step directions about how to write the literary analysis essays we're doing in this class. I STRONGLY recommend that you read it. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/713/01/
- The following link shows you how to cite your sources correctly and how to format the Works Cited page according to MLA requirements. I STRONGLY recommend that you read it and refer to it as necessary when writing your papers. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/557/01/
- The Writing Tutorial Services at Indiana University has an excellent article on how to avoid plagiarism. I STRONGLY recommend that you read it and refer to it as necessary when writing your papers. http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml
Avoid citing Wikipedia in academic essays. Since it is not edited by reputable experts, it often has errors and isn't reliable. It's okay to use it as a starting point for your own research, but go on and find other sources to verify the information, and cite those in your essay.