Writing About Literature

The most important thing about writing is that you are communicating something! You want to have me see something the way you see it, to experience it the way you experience it.




Start with something interesting. . . 

How to Write a Lit Paper


  1. QUESTION:  Questions are one of the hardest ways to start an essay because they can go badly fast!  
    Don’t start with a stupid question that someone will roll their eyes at like, “Do you want to know more about airline food?”  

    You need to intrigue your reader, get them interested.  Be clever or insightful.  For example, a feature story about the people buried in the local cemetery might begin like this:  Do you like a story with a good plot?  How about a plot with a good story?

  2. QUOTE:  You can begin an essay with a famous quote (or a quote from a famous person), or by using dialogue between people.  
    For example, an essay about political speeches might begin with the first lines of an Emily Dickinson poem: “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant–.”  Another way to get the reader’s attention is to being with a quote from a person, like at the beginning of an essay on interpersonal communication: “I tried to tell her I loved her, but she wouldn’t listen,” he moaned aloud.
  3. STORY: Storytelling is one of the easiest and best way to begin an essay.  You can draw a strong connection between the reader and your topic with the right story.
    For example, if I were to write an essay about a discrimination based on weight, I could begin this way: Months into my son’s treatment, he was suffering–not from the disease, but from people’s perceptions of him after he gained 15 pounds from the steroids he was receiving.  He had always been a skinny kid, a good looking kid, and now he was beyond chubby.  Everything was fat, but especially his cheeks.  They were adorable to me, but he was so ashamed that he wouldn’t leave our house without a mask on his face.  He was Spiderman, or Captain America, or a ninja.  It didn’t matter, just as long as he didn’t have to face the world as a fat kid.
  4. STATEMENT: Say something bold, then explain it or qualify it for the reader.  
    For example, I could begin an essay on racism this way:  I don’t believe in equality.  Equality means we are all the same, it denies the talents and beauty of our cultures and our lives. I don’t think we need to ignore our individuality in order to end racism.  This is why I believe in equity–the equality of opportunity.
  5. IN MEDIAS RES:  Start in the middle of something, then go back to the start and contextualize–and continue the story at the end.  
    This will always draw the reader in.  They want to know how you got there and what might happen:  I was hanging by the seatbelt of my overturned SUV.  I could hear my children in the back, and I thought “If they are crying, they are alive.”

Writing a Lit Paper

These are the steps for writing a literature paper:

  • Write an INTERESTING Intro (see above.)
  • Write a SHORT (a paragraph or less) summary of the work you are discussing.  Summary is interpretation.  The summary should start moving the paper toward what you want to discuss.
  • Have a STRONG thesis.  The key to a strong thesis is making it very specific, focused, and pointed.
  • SYNTHESIZE your understanding of the work with sources inside and outside the work.  A good way to understand how to do this is to imagine you are a talk-show host, and the facts and opinions you want to use are your guests.  You must introduce each one, allow them to “speak” (use the quote or information), then tie that idea back into your thesis. In other words, make a fact/quote sandwich!!
Every time you use a fact or quote, use a quote sandwich!

Try this awesome THESIS GENERATOR tool from Ashford College.

Not only will it help you build a thesis, it will also help you organize your paper.

But Watch Out!!

If a computer can organize your paper . . .



Spend some time making sure it is interesting!

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