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What Do You Need to Write an Amazing Literary Essay?

Essays about novels and short stories do not have to be hard to write. Like any other essay, they have an introduction, body paragraphs with evidence, and a good conclusion. Also, like any other essay, they are argumentative (or persuasive) in that you are constructing a point of view about this fictional work that is entirely your own and must be proven with solid evidence from the text. If this is a higher-level literary essay, you’ll want to combine textual evidence with evidence from literary critics that also backs up your assertions.

Introductions and Body Paragraphs in Literary Essays

Your introduction should begin in an attention-getting manner, moving into a discussion that will allow you to reach your assertion, your narrow focus on this work. You could analyze themes or characters, the importance of symbols or imagery in the book/short story/poem or the importance of language in the work.

You want your focus to be narrow though—you don’t want to pick something large that would take a whole book to write about, like “Nature in Ernest Hemingway’s Fiction” but, instead, The Importance of the River in Hemingway’s “Big, Two-Hearted River.”

You would spend your body paragraphs proving this importance of the river by turning to the text to evidence your assertions and engage with other critics and what they say about the importance of the river in this short story.

The Art of Conclusions

The best explanation I ever heard of a concluding paragraph came from a professor at a lecture I attended at a doctoral candidates seminar. He said that when he explains the essay to young students, he tells them that an essay, like a young river, starts out narrowly flowing and then opens up at the end into the ocean—this is what a concluding paragraph does—it moves like a naturally flowing extension of the last body paragraph, into an analysis, perhaps, of what the work means ultimately or what the work may mean to us today, in this historical moment.

Again, If you were writing about the importance of the symbol of the river in Hemingway’s short story, you could bring in traditional critics like Hyatt Waggoner and combine these older, traditional critical assertions with other, more recent critics and what they say a about nature in this short story or Hemingway’s fiction in general.

Most Importantly

Do not expect to have an original idea as have new things to say about an idea already in existence. In fact, you don’t want an idea so obscure or original that there is no critical discussion about it or you’ll have nothing to work in for research and lengthening your discussion.

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