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The Writer’s Reference Book


Module W – Writing About Literature – Hint Sheet

Writing about literature involves analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting.

Avoid common pitfalls

  • Pitfall 1: I like it./ I don’t like it.
  • Pitfall 2: The author’s purpose was ...
  • Pitfall 3: It can mean anything.
  • Pitfall 4: Teacher knows best.
  • Pitfall 5: The summary trap

There are five basic approaches to writing about literature:

  1. Summary (recounting the main points)
  2. Explication (conducting a line-by-line investigation)
  3. Analysis (separating the work into parts)
  4. Evaluation (making a judgment)
  5. Creative response (writing your own poem, story, etc.)

Literary works can be evaluated by concentrating on intrinsic or extrinsic factors.

  • Intrinsic factors (elements found within a literary work): character, plot, theme, symbolism, etc.
  • Extrinsic factors (elements outside a literary work: history, psychology, sociology, author's experience, etc.

Some tips on writing about literature:

  • Choose a significant and limited subject.
  • State a well-defined, supportable thesis.
  • Support your thesis with evidence from the work itself.
  • Writing about fiction (a novel, a novella, or a short story) generally will concern character, plot, point of view, setting, theme, or imagery.
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