Evaluative Essays ( Reviews ) Evaluative Essays (Reviews) Writing about Literature
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Evaluative Essays (Reviews)
Writing about Literature
Coherence: Transitions Between IdeasWriting about literature demands special skills. In writing about poetry or a short story or play or novel, it is very important to keep in touch with the language of the art, showing your reader over and over again where (exactly) in the poem or story you get your ideas, and to do that you have to use quotations sometimes a lot of quotations.
First, avoid using language that is simplistically judgmental. Don't say that something is great or beautiful or exciting or interesting. Your job as the writer of this essay is to show how the work under consideration is beautiful or exciting. If you do that well, your readers will be convinced of the work's beauty without your saying that it's beautiful. An occasional, off-handed "beautiful" or "exciting" is all right; just don't expect your readers to be convinced unless you make them feel that beauty or excitement.
Second, don't re-tell the story. Only a sentence or two is enough to recap the story of an entire novel. If you spend your essay telling readers what happened in The Bluest Eye, they're going to wonder why they aren't reading Toni Morrison's novel instead of your essay; after all, the Nobel Prize winner probably did a better job telling her story than you could ever do. Your job is to provide some insight into how Morrison did what she did.
When a student writes about a poem or story, how can we say the paper is "right" or "wrong"? In writing about literature, there is room, indeed, for great deal of subjectivity. We respond to art with feelings, and feelings are never wrong. Still, in trying to document how feelings arise to describe those elements within the text that spark those feelings in us some people will do a more careful job than others.
Writing about Literature
The titles of plays, novels, magazines, newspapers, journals (things that can stand by themselves) are underlined or italicized: Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye The titles of poems, short stories, and articles (things that do not generally stand by themselves) require quotation marks. Robert Frost's "Design"
If you can write an entire essay on literature without using the first-person singular I, that's fine; it is to be commended. However, it is not the end of the world if the first-person singular enters your prose, and it might, in fact, be a breath of fresh air, a sign that this writer is taking responsibility for what he or she is claiming to be true. In papers written for the humanities, some instructors will more readily approve of the "journalistic we" (sometimes called the royal plural)
Quotations that constitute fewer than five lines in your paper should be set off with quotation marks [ ] and be incorporated within the normal flow of your text. If quotation marks appear within the text of a quotation that already has the usual double-quote marks [ ] around it (a quote-within-a-quote), set off that inner quotation with single-quote marks [ ]. A quote-within-a-quote within an indented quotation is marked with double-quote marks.
When quoting from a poem and using fewer than five lines, use slash marks ( / ) to indicate line breaks and incorporate the lines within the flow of your text. If you quote dialogue between two or more characters in a play, set the quotation off from the text. Begin each part of the dialogue with the appropriate character's name indented one inch from the left margin.
Write about literature in the present tense unless logic demands that you do otherwise. (Even though a story is written in the past tense, we say that the main character writes to her brother because she thinks she knows something important. Even though Robert Frost is long gone, we say that Frost suggests or uses or says. And in his poems, we say that a phrase or word suggests or means something (all present tense verbs). However, Frost moved his family to England and he died in 1963, etc.)
Do not depend on judgmental language (words such as "beautiful," "great," "wonderful"). In showing us how something works, you imply your enthusiasm; in showing us how something doesn't work or it might have worked better, you've gone far enough. Biographical information (about the artist whose work is being discussed) can be interesting; however, for most brief papers designed to demonstrate a critical understanding of literature, the author's life remains a relatively minor consideration.
When discussing what the speaker or narrator of a poem or story says or does, refer to that person as "the speaker" or "the narrator" or "the voice of the poem (or story)" and don't assume that the narrator or voice of the poem or story represents the author himself or herself.
Do not forget that all essays require an introduction, and do not forget to tell your reader the title of the piece under discussion and who wrote it, even if that information is in the title of your essay.
Coherence: Transitions Between IdeasThe most convincing ideas in the world, expressed in the most beautiful sentences, will move no one unless those ideas are properly connected.
You must never assume that your readers know what you know. You might be able to leap from one side of the stream to the other; believe that your readers need some stepping stones and be sure to place them in readily accessible and visible spots.
There are four basic mechanical considerations in providing transitions between ideas: using transitional expressions, repeating key words and phrases, using pronoun reference, and using parallel form.
chart of the transitional devices
additionagain, also, and, and then, besides, equally important, finally, first, further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, last, moreover, next, second, still, toocomparisonalso, in the same way, likewise, similarly
concessiongranted, naturally, of coursecontrastalthough, and yet, at the same time, but at the same time, despite that, even so, even though, for all that, however, in contrast, in spite of, instead, nevertheless, notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the other hand, otherwise, regardless, still, though, yet
emphasiscertainly, indeed, in fact, of courseexample or illustrationafter all, as an illustration, even, for example, for instance, in conclusion, indeed, in fact, in other words, in short, it is true, of course, namely, specifically, that is, to illustrate, thus, truly
This principle, that of parallel construction, requires that expressions of similar content and function should be outwardly similar. The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function.
the principle of parallel construction
Faulty Parallelism Corrected Version Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method, while now the laboratory method is employed.Formerly, science was taught by the textbook method; now it is taught by the laboratory method.
Pronouns quite naturally connect ideas because pronouns almost always refer the reader to something earlier in the text.
The organization of the information and the links between sentences help readers move easily from one sentence to the next.