Saturday, 7 June 2014

5 Simple Steps to Writing About a Novel

If you are being to asked to write about a novel for the first time, and you haven't got a clue what to do, this is the blog posting for you. This is NOT for writing a review, or a summary of the novel; this is about writing an analysis for a topic. Typical topics could be:

  • Discuss the theme of loneliness in Of Mice and Men
  • How is point of view used as a metaphor in To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • Discuss the theme of belonging in Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
The steps below are the most basic. There are lots of ways to improve them. University literary essays should be much more developed and thoughtful than this. But if we can cut writing about a novel down to the simplest steps, then this is the recipe to follow.

Step 1 (Introduction)

Tell the reader the name of the book and author. You know and I know and your teacher knows you are talking about the book you read in class. But pretend that the person reading the book doesn't know which book you are writing about. Begin with a simple statement that includes the name of the book and the author.
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, a young girl struggles to come to terms with the racism of a small Southern town in the 1930s.
  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, depicts a landscape of people separated from one another chasing illusory dreams of a place where they might belong.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, tells the story of a young Native American man torn between his home community and his desire to get a good education. 
In one or two sentences, describe the main idea or plot of the book. Tell the reader the main idea that you are going to talk about in the rest of the essay.

There are lots of ways to make the introduction more fancy or more interesting. See my tips of Essay Introductions.

Step 2

Give the first reason to support your position. Give evidence from the book, either in a quote (with page number) or a direct reference (with a page number). Give a second reason to support your position. Again, use evidence from book with page number.

Step 3

Give the first reason that is different from your position. Give evidence from the book, either in a quote (with page number) or a direct reference (with a page number). Give a second reason that is different from your position. Again, use evidence from book with page number.

Step 4

Repeat step 2 with new evidence. Supply a quote or statement from the book and identify the page. Discuss how this is important to the point you want to make.

Step 5

Discuss why your position makes more sense than the opposite position. Review the evidence that was presented previously (no page numbers needed unless you provide new evidence). State your conclusion.

What’s important:

IDENTIFY the book so the reader knows what you are talking about.
BE CLEAR about what you are arguing for.
USE EVIDENCE and cite page numbers where the evidence was found.
STAY ON TOPIC this is not a review or summary of the book. You are arguing to make a point.