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| 37 Writing About Literature Tf one waits for the right time to come before writing, the right time never comes. —JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL Assigned to write an essay on Hamlet, a student might well wonder, “What can I say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before?” Often the most difficult aspect of writing about a story, poem, or play is feeling that we have nothing of interest to contribute to the ongoing conversation about some celebrated literary work. There's always room, though, for a reader's fresh take on an old standby. Remember that in the study of literature common sense is never out of place. For most of a class hour, a professor once thapsodized about the arrangement of the con- tents of W. H. Auden’s Collected Poems. Auden, he claimed, was a master of thematic continuity, who had brilliantly placed the poems in the order that they ingeniously complemented each other. Near the end of the hour, his theories were punctured— with a great inaudible pop—when a student, timidly raising a hand, pointed out that Auden had arranged the poems in the book not by theme but in alphabetical order according to the first word of each poem. The professor's jaw dropped: “Why didn’t you say that, sooner?” The student was apologetic: “I—I was afraid I’'d sound too ordinary.” Don’t be afraid to’state,a conviction, though it seems obvious. Does it matter that you may be repeating something that, orice upon a time or even just the other day,:has been said before?'What matters more is that you are actively engaged in thinking about literature. There are excellent old ideas as well as new. You have something to say. Reading Actively. Most people read in a relaxed, almost:passive way. They let the story or poem carry them along without asking too many questions. To write about literature well, how- ever, you need to read actively, paying special attention to various aspects of the text. This special sort of attention will not only deepen your enjoyment of the story, poem, or play but will also help generate the information and ideas that will eventually 1390 _writing About Literature become your final paper. How do you become an active reader? Here are some steps to get you started: xrrows to indicate passages that seem to speak to each other—for places in which you find the same theme or related symbols. mark up your book, take notes on a separate sheet of paper, lown the appropriate page numbers for future reference. This ‘lot of room for note taking.) Robert Frost Nothing Gold Can stay tie a preenept aes, Nature's Sadat oe ore ot end-stipped tines . Her haidest hue to old. Her early leafs a flower, “Sprig vai (gidents But only so.an hour. <———- Exaggeraction wade ‘Then leaf subsides to leaf..<¢—— sink: to a. laver level So Bde sank to grief, 1. (everytung bacwes les beatfus ‘So dawn goes downto day." x Nothing say q—_— Nothing gred con last Youth, beauty, iamcence ihe Set ined st an sae a eae hanging beginning and middle. {important enough to hig writing—not to mention your health and started well before your deadline. Choose a subject you care about works to write about, always ch strongest emotional response. Your your subject. Know your purpose. As you write, keep the assignment in mind. You may hhave been asked to write a response, in which You describe your reactions to a leery work Peshape your purpoe ito interpreta work, enalsing how one or if you feel engaged by journal entries or rough drafts, More often, though, you are a Favout uterature _ : rence tacmerrg roel 370 lengeh and s Prewriting: Discovering ideas ins that you made in Listing. Look over the notes and ly underlined or noted mc reading of the work. You have probs mation than you can possibly use. One the most useful information make after rereading Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Don’ ‘more comments or questions on the lists to help your thought process. Loss of innocence? eer ogee deat (rearly lea") green Flower gold (hardest hue to hold") aay Rae gold Kay Actions gold is hard to hold early leaf laste only an hour esto link it to related old ideas. The resule pen to keep moving, even Ean think oft write Tim tuk" of “Tass dumb so be it Keep your hand else will most likely occur to you. Don’t worry, yet, en your time is up, read what you have written, guess he means the first leaves Leaves gold? They're nore delicats summer leaves 20 maybe in a sense they look gold. Or maybe he means spring blossoms. Sonetines they're yellow. Also the first line seems to connect with the third one, where he comes right out and Adterally. Flowers on trees last more than an hour, ut that really beautiful moment in spring when blossoms are everywhere alvays ends too quickly, so maybe that’s what he means by “only so an hoi had to. look up *subsides.* It means to lower level... as ifthe less perfect than the first fall would have happened no matter what they did, because everything perfect falls apart . . . nothing gold can he saying Adan and Eve didn’t really have a choice? No matter what, everything gets older, beautiful, less innocent . . . even peoplé: * Get your ideas down as soon as they occur to you. * Write quickly down your feelings about and frst impressions of the story, poem, or play tion strategies, such as freewriting, clus , even after you think you have run out yourself. about what interests you most. in your journal on a regular basis. Outlining. Some topics by their very nature suggest obvious ways to organize a list of points in the order that makes the most logics cours, the order in which those thoughts frst came to mind. 1, Passage of time = fall from innocence blossons sola avn orief 2. Innocence = perfection Adan and Eve 2oss-of innocence = inevitable original sin = passing of time paradise sinks to grief 3. Grief = kiowledge experience of sin & suffering unavoidable as grow older Developing a Literary Argument the following kind: = Response, in which you explore your reaction to a ° which you assess the assigned an interpretation, he or she may have more ‘analysis, explication, or comparison/contrast essay, among ot free to bring up only those plot points that serve as evidence for yout fit the assignment. Though Narrow down your tempted to choose a broad say, remember that a good ‘enough for you to do it justice in the space and time allotted. ‘outrageous or deliberately provoca sive statement gives you something to prove and lends vigor ro your essay. WORKING THESIS ‘the poem argues thal our innocence and the pai at a thesis sentence gave its author a sense of purpose and direc wed him to finish his frst draft. Late, ashe revised his essay, he = Build your argument. Once you've formulated your thesis, yout task will be you need to convince your audience that your thesis is sound. To write per- ly, it helps to have an understanding of some key elements of argument ‘more dreams of running off to see the world”). Your essay’s main claim—your Developing a Uerary Argument 1397 obvious. Having to suppor abo ton with your own analysis of '* Warrants. Whenever you use derlying assumption connects ding one about literature, you may find that you sometimes need ‘out your warrants to demonstrate that they are sound. This is espe- 1e when the evidence you provide can lead to conclusions other than ne you are hoping to prove. Credibility. When weighing the merits ofa claim, you will probably take into ‘An expert on any given topic has a certain to most of us. Fortunately, there are other ways to establish your ered KEEP YOUR TONE THOUGHTFUL. Your reader will develop a sense of who you are through your wor spectful to chose inclined "TAKE OPPOSING ARGUMENTS INTO ACCOUNT. To make an argument more convincing, demonstrate familiarity with other possible points of view. Do- your facts; factual errors can call your knowledge to have a command of rors in punctuation and Anything can and should be your essay is a work in pr che paper's main idea. c further the developmer Developing an Argument What is your essay’s purpose? ¥ Who is your audience? ¥ Is your topic narrow enough? ¥ Is your thesis interesting and thought-provoking? Does everything in your essay support your thesis? Have you considered and refuted alternative views? ¥ Is your tone thoughtful? ¥ Is your argument organized? Are similar ideas grouped together? Does one point lead logically to the next? Writing a Rough ‘Draft ‘you were supposed to pick up,.a neglected Coke growing warmer and flatter by the If your paper is to be only one, course of action: collar these thoughts and for the moment banish them. Here are a few tips for writing your rough draft: # Review your argument. The shape of your argument, its support, and the evidence you have collected will form the basis of your rough draft. creative mind take and confidence. Forge a = Leave yourself plenty of space. As you compos een lines and set enormous margins. ily beable to go back and squ them in. ‘compiled. W! co yourself su bring up a new 1 evidence yy be chat the Be open to new ideas. Writing rarely proceeds in a you outline your paper and begin to wri thoughts—perhaps the best thoughts of leaves that follow blossoms only last a Little while. The reader realizes that nature People start off perfectly innocent, but as time passes, they can't help but lose that innocence, The poem argues that Like Adam and ‘ive we all lose our innocence and the ‘& metaphor for a person's state of mind. passage of time is inevitable. ‘The poem's first image is of the color found in ely spring, Annecence can't last. Anevitable change ie. It seems like he's saying that no matter what Adam and ve had done, the Garden of Eden grow wiser and less innocent. _ Rewsing 1401 19 Gold can Stay" makes the point ‘egal evidence pena your reader ogee ‘A sharp, bold thesis lends en- ur argument. A revision of the working thesis used in the rough draft shove providera god example WORKING THESIS ‘The poem argues that ike Adam and Eve we all lose four innocence and the passage of time is inevitable. ‘This thesis may noi be bold or specific enough to make for an interesting Ww on the passage Te makes a more baat more energetic, purposeful essay. A thesis that is obvious to everyone, on the other hand eas 0 ‘other hand, if you're beginning is shaky, consider reworking it 50 the next? Reread the pay claims you make are not su between one thought and the lacies include making hasty ges ‘anon sequitur, a statement it. An example of two see ‘to the pot gone. 1 and the third one, the paper doesn’t spell that connection out. Asked t the warrant, or assumption, that makes possible the leap from the su spring to the subject of innocence, the author revised the passage this way: ‘To the poem's speaker, the colors of early spring een to last only an hour. When posts write of seasons, they often also are commenting on the life cycle. To make a statement that. spring can‘t last more than an hour (often symbol: too short. Th youth, 1ike 51 time. ‘The revised version spells out the author's thought process, helping the reader to follow the argument. ew paragraphs or sentences. Phrases such 1 a U-turn in logic, while those such as "in addition” and DRAFT aubject 1s humanity. In literature, spring often kepresents youth. Summer symbolizes young adulthood, autum stands for middie age, and winter represents ADDING TRANSITIONAL WORDS AND PHRASES ‘Though Prost is writing about nature, his real subject is humanity. As mantioned above, in Literature, spring often represents youth. Similarly, sunmer symbolizes young adulthood, autumn DRAFT OF OPENING PARAGRAPH Most of the Lines in the poem “Nothing ‘Gold can. ‘seasons. The poem leaves of spring are actually blossoms; and the rate the abstract idea of innocence. He also sharp- ing it less general and more thought-provoking, By varying the length of his sentences, he made the paragraph less monotonous. REVISED OPENING PARAGRAPH. real subject is human Annocent, but. inded his paper with a paragraph that repeated the paper's main ideas pushing those ideas any further: DRAFT OF CONCLUSION ‘The poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay* makes the point that people can't atay innocent forever. "Grief is leaves of spring, we very beginning, and che ideas in his next-to- .ew final paragraph doesn’t i its last two sentences, by REVISED CONCLUSION Sone people might view Frost“s poem as in Robert Frost's Nothing Gold Can: which may spark the reader's interest and prepare him or her for what is to come. Revision Steps ¥ Is your thesis clear? Can it be sharpened? your evidence serve to advance the argument put forth in your ¥ Is your argument logical? ¥ Do transitional words and phrases signal movement from one idea to the next? ¥ Does each paragraph contain a topic sentence? draw the reader in? Does it prepare the reader for p the paper's loose ends? Does it avoid merely fore? ¥ Is your ttle compelling? eae Some Final Advice on Rewriting your original thesis is not borne out by t ‘ment. If s0, you will need to rewrite your thesis so that it more evidence at hand, © Be prepared to question your whole approach to a work of literature. (On occasion, you may even need 0 enterta of throwing everything ‘you have written into the wastebasket and starting over again. Occasionally ‘having to start from scratch is the lot of any ™ Rework troublesome passages. Look for skimpy paragraphs of one or two sentences—evidence that your ideas might need more fleshing out. Can you supply more evidence, more explanation, more examples or illustrations? = Cut out any unnecessary information. Everything in your paper should serve to further its thesis. Delete any sentences or paragraphs that detract from your focus. "Aim for intelligent clarity when you use literary terminology. Critical = Set your paper aside for a while! Even an hour or two away from your essay an help you retur to it with feah eyes. Remember tht the Me leaning of ‘tevion te "seing again” « Finally, carefully read your paper one at me to edit it. No it's ie wo ‘Check any uncertain spellings, scan for run-on sentences ‘a weak word and send in a stronger one. Like soup stains ‘ie, finicky ertors distract from the overall impression and prejudice'your reader against your essay.’ Here is the revised version of the student paper we have been examining. 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The Form of You Fis PB 44 ' Writing About a Story | ” Read the story 338 Don't write merely to be understood. Write so chat you cannot possibly be misunderstood. ing chore, any more than itis to land a fighting fish and to least twice. The first time through, allow yourself Just to to experience surprise and emotion. Once you know how the tale ends, you'll find it ea you may have glassed # Annotate the text. Reread noe lstener?” Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. (Madmen know né tion I went to wor sat whole week before im. And every night, about midnight, 1 ee ee oat tumed the latch of his door and opened it—oh so gently! And then he's dang when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark |, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in lance my head. Oh, you would have laugied to see how cunningly I ehrust ic \ 5 vet ver lowly tha might not data he j tera! ook me an hour to place my whole head within the ‘opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Hal—would a Careful ‘leaning madman have been 20 wise as this! And then, when my head was well in Nate om urd the lantern cautiously—oh, so cautiously —cautiously What ddd he _~ night just at mideight—but | Yound the eye always closed; and so it was expect! limpoasble to co the work; for it wai not the old man who vexed me, but isGeil BD Pecsuiar Thinking About a Story ‘Once you have reread the story, you can egin co process your ideas about it. To get started, try the following steps: ® Identify the protagonist and the conflict. Whose story is being told? What does that character desire more than anything else? What stands in the way of that character's achievement of his or her goal? The answers to these questions can give you a better handle on the story's plot. ™ Consider the story’s point of view. What does it contribute to the story? How might che tale if told from another point of view? ‘= Think about the setting. Does it play a significant role in the plot? How does setting affect the story's tone? # Notice key symbols. If any symbols catch your attention as you go, be sure 10 highlight each place in which they appear in the text. What do these symbols contribute to the story's meaning? (Remember, not every image is a symbol— only those important recurrent persons, places, or things that seem to suggest more than their literal meaning.) © Look for the theme. Is the story's central meaning stated directly? Ifnot, how does it reveal itself? which the story is wricten? Consider elements structure, tone, and organization. How does the story's tone? Preparing to Write: Discovering Ideas ‘Once you have given the story some preliminary thought, it is.time to write as a y. Brainstorming, clustering, listing, about the story and, in doing s0, generate ideas for your paper. While you don't need to use all these techniques, try chem to find the one or two that wotk best for Could heartbeat be supernatural? ~ repanng to wrt: scoverng oc ' Listing. Using your notes and annotations as a guide, list information that seems useful, adding any notes that help you to keep tack of your thought process: Use different headings to organize related concepts. Your lists might look something like this: Aisense sharpened senses loved old man murder patience guile hearing things ‘The guy seems crazy. He keeps insisting he's sane, 20 maybe others have accused him of being insane in detail. rt sounds like @ blind eye, makes him more paranoid than the old man’s but don’t mentally 111 people sometimes hatch caratul plots and pay attention to detail? He says wrung ahesturan 1417 fare sharp but maybe he’s hearing things more interesting if actual 3. Supernatural elenente? ghost heartbeat? alive? 4, More Interesting/believeble if speaker is mad Writing a First Draft ‘Once your prewriting exercises have sparked an idea or two, you will be ready to be- perfectly or pinning down the ideal word. shape for your argument. ‘= Remember your purpose. Before you begin work on your frst draft, be sure to check the assignment you have been given. There is no sense you have been told to write an explication (a deta mn of a passage). = Consider your audience. Though your professor and classmates will likely be ‘your paper’ actual audience, the assignment might specify hypothetical readers. ‘Whoever your audience may be, keep their needs in mind as you write. Formulate your thesis. Before you get going on your rough draft, you will need a thesis sentence summing up your paper's main idea. Begin with a provi- sional thesis to give your argument direction. As you write, be sure to keep your provisional thesis in mind; doing 0 will help you stay on track. Here is a working thesis for a paper on “The Tell-Tale Heart A WORKING THESIS, ‘the story contains many hints that the narrator of exactly, gives away the narrator's madness, or it might spell out the implications of this madness for the story. The following reworked version of this thesis sentence does both: REVISED THESIS ‘The narrator's tenuous hold on ri shifts in mood indicate that he therefore, that his point of view is untrustworthy. Like this statement, your thesis should be decisive and specific. As you write a rough draft, your task is to persuade readers of the wisdom of your thesis. Back up your thesis with evidence. The bulk of your essay should be spent pro- viding evidence that proves your thesis. Because the most persuasive evidence tends to be that which comes from the story itself, be sure to quote as needed. As you flesh out your argument, check back frequently to make sure your thesis continues to hold up to the evidence. Ifyou find that the facts of the story don't bear out your thesis, the problem may be with the evidence or with the thesis itself. Could your point be better proved by presenting different evidence? If o, exchange what you've got for more convincing information. If not, go back in and refine your thesis sentence. Then make sure that the rest of the evidence bears out your new and improved thesis. * Organize ‘your argument. Choose the’ points you need to prove your thesis and present chem, along with supporting evidence, in whatever order best makes your case. A rough outline is often a useful tool. Writing a Rough Draft % Wat is yout essays purpose? ' ¥ Is your argument sensibly organized?, Revising © (Once your fr draft has been committed to paper, you will need va begin revising — going back in and reworking it to make the argument as persuasive. and the prpse as 12 @ very mysterious and murderous character. ‘the reader doesn’t know much about him, except for how What are The story contains many hinte that the narrator of i ee oe theset “the Tell-Tale Heart" ie crazy. mood indicate that he is mad point of view in we than just cleaning up typos and doing away ht mean fleshing out your ideas CHECKLIST Revision ¥ Is your shesis clear? Does it say something significant but not entirely ebvious abo ¥ irevidence serve to advance the argument put forth in your thesis? iment clear and logical? Do transitional words and phrases help signal movement from one idea to the next’ foduction draw the reader in? Does it prepare the reader for ‘onclusion tie up the paper's loose ends? Does it avoid merely ing what has come before? Does each paragraph cont: ¥ Does the paper have an What's Your Purpose? Some Common Approaches to Writing About Fiction Ie is crucial per, you have been asked to write for a particular audience besides the obvious one (your Wis). Pethaps you have been asked to describe your personal reaction pret a work, analyzing ige a work's merits. Let the assignment diccate low are several commonly used approaches to An explica- 1 by line—pethaps ‘way through, the method of explication may appeae fo in discussing a story, stops to unravel a particularly knotty passage. Here are = Focus on the details that strike you as most meaningful. Do not ty to cover everything. * Try working through the original passage sentence by sentence. If you choose this method, be sure to vary your transitions from one point to the next, lows of a passage from “The Te points she wanted co express: extrene land exactness--typical of some mental ker doesn’t act by usual logic but by @ crazy logic. 3. Dreamike connection between latch and lantern and old man‘s eye. Storytellers who are especially fond of language invite closer attention to their words than others might. Edgar Allan Poe, for one, is a poet sensitive to the rhythms of his sentences and a symbolist whose stories abound in potent student's explication of a short but essential passage in “The Tel passage occurs in the third paragraph of the story, and to help us ton, the student quotes the passage in full atthe paper's beginning, Or —_— ve 0 regards murder is either extremely cold-blooded, 1ike might possibly think that someone who claims to hear) — xin « Work cited Poe, edgar Allan. *The Tell-Tale Weart.- Literature: an Introduction to Fiction, Postry, Drama, and Weiting. Ba. x. J. Kennedy and Dana Gi Compact ed. New York: Longman, 2007. 279: one element, though we ‘may suggest—probal tw the whole story. Here are two points to ke: ™ Support your contentions with specific references to the story you are ‘analyzing. Quotations can be particularly convincing. solid, brief analysis. Written by a ‘The Tell-Tale Heart”—the story's 1426 _wntung About 8 Story Frederick 1 in mood indicate that he that hie point of view is killer heara the sound of his own heart Hoffman‘ s 1430 wrong cota ery recon Front of Card Back of Card (student's name) (Course and section) Story: “The Tell-Tale Heart OAs | atures the narrators c1ath and laughter. Pabst ‘ ' oF Cooarion we Cons 433 * Emphasize the point that interest you the beep ou fr lowing patna in Sveti ~ most. Tha wre wil ep 10 whip over us Muss Brill again . vfs (Well, nee ws me sn ay on * Hinge sory ‘You ugh, for example, yrounges ad older waiters in Hemingways “A Clean, WellLighed Pioee SLID mich concrat Mas. Turpin’ mag view of herself with tht pose ving Grace's merciless view of her in Flannery O*Connor' Revelanc fone following suudent-writuen paper competes and contrat the main characters in A Jo fo Eel” and "Min Bail” Notice how the suthenfocaes the duces Seek aoe of cach woman's penonality—the sbily to adapt to change sal tne ee Sm, hte. By looking though the lena of hres different elements ofthe shot nese | ‘ction, nage, ao plot—tha cleat an antematc exny convincingly eague ed. touch on. Then sddvese exch pent, fest in tne sory ate then inthe other, A seenahe ation tchiows fon a pages on Witham Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily” 908 Katherwe Mansheld's "Ves Brill” The essays topic is "Adapts The Choeactess of Eenily Crserson aed Miss Brill” sucpeesful at sdapting to the world around ‘nding happiness, Vian in wochary atagn : + mvemary Hiae weLLi be more woncanety je TOPICS FOR BRIEF PAPERS (250-500 WORDS) 1. Explicate the opening paragraph o: first few lines of a story. Show how the open- ing prepares the reader for what will follow. In an essay of this length, you will ing imply about the fates ofthe story's characters, and about the story's take on its central theme? ‘Select a story that features a first-person narrator. Write concise yet thorough ‘analysis of how that character's point of view colors the story. Following the directions on page 1429, write a card report on any short szory in this book. (Consider a short story in which the central character. has to make a decision or 2 Semeur ds pl rer a msl he i the author ‘Choose two stories that might be interesting to compare and contrast. Write a 6 Choos 1 key pamage Gem «sry you edie As cel the word count a rant in dhe tory. Concentae on the mpects ofthe page ar sem mo essential, 7., Write a new ending to a story of your choice. Try to imitate the author's writing style. Add a paragraph explaining how this exercise illuminates the author's choices in the original. Ps ron MORE EXTENDED PAPERS (600-1,000 WORDS) (500 WORDS OR MORE) sshalling quotations and speci essary to back up your argument. igh newspapers and magazines for a st with the elements of good 39 ing About a Poem | J Tove being a writer What I can't stand is the paperwork PETER DEVRIES of concentration. Poetry is langua ‘good poem, every word counts. Wi Intimidation but wisdom and pleasure. Even writing a paper on poetry can occasion a certain enjoyment. Here are some tips. Getting Started ® Choose a.poem that speaks to you. Let pleasure be your guide in choosing ‘write about something that interests you, and your essay will communicate that interest and enthusiasm. = Allow yourself time to get comfortable with your subject. As most profes- sors will tell you, when students try to fudge thelr way through a paper on @ topic they don’t fully understand, the lack of comfort shows, making for muddled, ionless prose, The more familiar you become with a poem, however, the read the poem , reread it over times over before its meaning becomes cleat the course of several days. Reading Actively ‘A poem differs from most prose in that ly. Good poems yield more if read or even thirty readings—keep on yieldin your reading of a porm you plan to write about.