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How to Write About Literature

Mr. Klingensmith's Online Writing Guide

An easy to understand Online Writing Guide for beginning writers.  Here you will find a list of various writing models, general tips and hints to help guide you to writing success.

The big idea

Writing answers to questions about the books we read is simply one of the things we do in school.  If you're lucky--and I know that it doesn't feel like luck, but it is--your teacher asks you tough questions that don't have one right or wrong answer.  Finding answers to these questions, and putting them into well-written paragraphs, is a good exercise for the mind.  It also allows you to see a little bit more of each piece of literature than the average unthinking student.

How to do it

When you begin writing about literature in my class, there are things I expect to see in top-notch answers:

  1. You restate the question (not copy or ignore it).
  2. You mention of the title and author of the piece of literature.
  3. You use quotes from the book used as proof for at least one of your arguments, and you give examples for any others.
  4. You gracefully introduce the quotes:
    • As Paulsen writes, "---------------."
    • As the author writes, "---------------."
    • As it says on page ----- , "---------------."
  5. You explain how the quote helps to prove your point: "This shows that..."
  6. You make a specific connection/comparison/contrast of this piece of writing to something else you have experienced: a movie, a TV show, another book, or your own life experience.  "This reminds me of..."
  7. You use good burger format.
  8. You give an answer that flows as a piece of writing instead of being a list of stuff.
  9. You give an answer that stays on the topic.
  10. You get the grammar, spelling and punctuation, capitalization, etc.  correct.

An Example

What important information do we learn about Charlie and his family in chapters 1-5?  Use quotes to prove your point.

We learn many important things about Charlie in the first five chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  One of the important things we learn is that his family is poor.  We see that they're poor because seven people have to share the house.  Charlie's four grandparents have to share one bed, two people at one end and two people at the other end.  In the book it says, "There wasn't any question of them being able to buy a better house--or even one more bed to sleep in.  They were far too poor for that." This shows that the family doesn't have enough money to spend on two beds for the two sets of grandparents.  We also learn that Charlie's grandparents really love Charlie and one of their favorite parts of the day is telling Charlie stories.  Dahl writes, "In the evenings, after he had finished his supper of watery cabbage soup, Charlie always went into the room of his four grandparents to listen to their stories, and then afterwards to say good night." This shows how the grandparents enjoy the time they spend with Charlie.  This reminds me of the time that I went to Berkeley and saw homeless people living in the street.  I felt sad for them, and I feel sad for Charlie's family, too.  These two things are important pieces of information we learn about Charlie and his family.

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Copyright 1996-2004 by Michael Klingensmith