Writing About Imaginative Literature: some conventions, some guidelines, some approaches to writing

Writing about Imaginative Literature
English 1B Alley Ventura College

Topic and Draft Thesis Due: Thurs July 2
4-5 Page Rough Draft Due: Mon. July 6
4-5 Page Draft Due: Tues. July 7
5 Page Revised Draft Due Weds. July 8
5 Page Final Paper Due Th. July 9
+ 1 page process analysis, annotated work cited, drafts, responses

In this paper, you may
–explore any problem or question raised for you as a reader of one or more assigned texts or raised through class discussions or thought papers about a text or its author
–write an interpretive or critical paper on a text or texts to help a reader read more deeply or comprehensively or even with more pleasure.
— advance ideas you have about a text or reflect on an idea advanced by text/s or author/s.

Whatever issue you address or problem you explore, do some reading about the text/s and use some of these ideas in your essay to make sure that your essay is informed in some way by your engagement in a conversation that goes beyond your discussions with colleagues and your teacher to include perspectives available through the wider and more carefully constructed conversations that are represented by the body of published literature about literature.  A good rule of thumb is a citation for every page, so this paper should have five citations.

I am confident you have numerous worthwhile literary questions which you could pursue given the opportunity. To find your topic: Consider our theme of “seeing” in one or more texts we have studied. Look over your reading responses—you could be looking at a rough draft. Review and reflect on what we’ve read to find your topic. Review the questions to ask when reading literature and questions from various critical approaches (handouts). You may use any text or combination of texts which we have studied—after we have studied them: plays, poems, novels, short fiction, and essays. At least one text must be written, but you can, for example, compare the CLU version of Macbeth with the one on the page and one on the screen. Ask: What do you want to understand better for yourself or what would you like to be able to explain to a friend?

Examples of Topics:
➢    Take a formalist approach: discuss symbolism, setting, character development, etc. in any text. Or, for example, look at the color “red” in “Red Convertible” and “Riders.”
➢    Take a biographical approach to interpreting Carver’s work.
➢    Take a psychological approach to True West, “Red Convertible,” or Macbeth.
➢    Take a historical approach to “Brokeback” or “Riders.”
➢    Take a Marxist approach to “Riders,” “Red Convertible” or Carver.
➢    Take a New Historicist approach to “Riders.”
➢    Take a cultural studies approach to any one or two of the texts.
➢    Take a gender studies approach to “Brokeback,” “Yellow Woman,” or “Riders.”
➢    Take a mythological approach to Macbeth, “Riders,” or “Yellow Woman.”
➢    Take a reader-response approach to any one or two texts.
➢    Take a deconstructionist approach to Macbeth, True West or Carver.
➢    Raymond Carver revised “The Bath” radically to become a “A Small Good Thing;” he significantly revised other stories which also appear in Where I’m Calling From. Choose a pair and do close readings to compare and contrast the versions. What does Carver accomplish in his revision?
➢    In many of the Raymond Carver’s stories we read, characters have difficulties communicating. What do you think Carver means by all this interrupted and mis-communication?
➢    Compare and contrast the screenplay, the movie, and the short story “Brokeback Mountain.”
➢    Compare and contrast three interpretations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: page, stage, and screen.

Correctly identify all ideas that are not your own using MLA (parenthetical style), whether they are directly quoted in quotation marks, or summarized or paraphrased in your own words. Every cite in the paper should be included in the work cited; every work consulted should be identified and annotated.

Process analysis paper:
Keep track of your writing and research process as you work on your research paper for your process analysis paper. In it, discuss the process by which you developed your paper: where the topic came from, why it interested you, what you learned and how, what sources you found where—even discuss your dead-ends! Credit those who helped.

Web resources: http://vc.ws.edu/engl2110/writingsteps.htm an excellent step by step process you can follow. The following general guidelines for “Writing About Literature” I downloaded and adapted from http://www.grammardoc.com/eng102/Wrabtlit.htm

When writing about literature, follow the same basic conventions required of any expository essay:
➢    state a thesis in your introduction (topic, tude, telegraph, tension)
➢    develop that thesis: give supporting reasons and evidence by engaging and citing the text in the body
➢    conclude with a summary of your main points and a restatement of the thesis
➢    cite and document any quotes.

Some conventions in writing about literature of which you should be aware:
➢    In the introduction to your essay, mention the title of the work and the author’s full name (the topic). The title of short works (a story or poem) is set off with quotation marks; the title long works (a play or novel) is underlined or italicized:
story: “The Storm”
poem: “Ballad of Birmingham”
play: Hamlet or Hamlet
novel: The Secret Life of Bees or The Secret Life of Bees
➢    The first time you refer to an author, use his or her full name. Thereafter, use only his or her last name:
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman paints a portrait of a woman losing her mind. In order to make the narrator’s disorientation more vivid, Gilman tells the story from the first person point of view.
➢    Note that a comma or period is placed inside the quotation marks; a semicolon or colon is placed after the quotation marks: (double check this one in your style guide…!)
In “The Storm,” Calixta encounters a former lover.
Kate Chopin is making a controversial point in “The Storm.”
Kate Chopin has created an ambiguous ending for “The Storm”; this leaves the interpretation of the story up to the reader.
Not many events occur in “The Storm”: a thunderstorm, an affair, and a homecoming are the extent of the plot.
➢    Avoid using wordy or grammatically incorrect opening lines:
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart,” he tells a fascinating story.
(In this sentence, “he” doesn’t refer to anyone; and if you use the author’s name, you don’t need “he,” too. Try it this way: In “The Tell-tale Heart,” Edgar Allan Poe tells a fascinating story. But there’s still a problem: This opening sentence doesn’t tell your reader what your essay is about. It’s filler, without real content. Get to your point quickly and directly, perhaps like this: Contrary to popular belief, the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” is not insane. He is evil.
➢    Unless you have been asked to write a personal essay, avoid using the first person (“I”) and the second person (“you”) in your essays. Most college essays are supposed to preserve a formal tone, and using “I” and “you” gives the essay too casual a tone. Instead of saying, I think Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane , try Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane . (Note that this makes you sound more authoritative, as well.) And instead of saying If you look closely at Poe’s narrator, you will see that he is evil, rather than insane; try A close reading reveals that Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane.
➢    USE PRESENT TENSE when discussing a published work:
In Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible,” Lyman’s extreme measures to help his brother Henry shows how much he loves and cares for him. (Notice the increased tension by discussing the implications—what his extreme measures mean. It could use more telegraphing of what those extreme measures are).

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