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Eventually, you’ll start making connections between these examples and your thesis will emerge.
But until then, here are seven basic steps to writing a well-constructed literary essay: When you’re assigned a literary essay in class, your teacher will often provide you with a list of writing prompts. You’ll have a much better (not to mention easier) time if you start off with something you enjoy thinking about. Take a deep breath and start by asking yourself these questions: What struck you?
If you are asked to come up with a topic by yourself, though, you might start to feel a little panicked. Did a particular image, line, or scene linger in your mind for a long time?
Ask yourself why the author chose to write about that character or scene the way he or she did and you might tap into some important insights about the work as a whole. Is there a phrase that the main character uses constantly or an image that repeats throughout the book?
If you can figure out how that pattern weaves through the work and what the significance of that pattern is, you’ve almost got your entire essay mapped out. Great works of literature are complex; great literary essays recognize and explain those complexities.
These are the elements that you will analyze in your essay, and which you will offer as evidence to support your arguments.
For more on the parts of literary works, see the Glossary of Literary Terms at the end of this section.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to say yet—right now you’re just collecting ideas and material and letting it all percolate.
Keep track of passages, symbols, images, or scenes that deal with your topic.
Maybe you’re looking for inspiration, guidance, or a reflection of your own life.
There are as many different, valid ways of reading a book as there are books in the world.