ESSAY GUIDELINES: ENGL 4300
Write a short (3-4 page) original essay that examines some aspect of
any work we have read this semester. This is not a research paper;
instead, it should be your own thoughts and insights into the work, with
one exception: begin the essay with a "prompt"--an excerpt from a critical
article or a book review that addresses the same topic you want to write
about. In other words, you're going to read a few secondary sources
until you find an aspect of the writer's work that a critic or scholar
has already commented on, and then use that to prompt your own ideas.
By the way, the prompt doesn't need to be about your specific writer; it
can be about writing in general. Examples:
"Miss Bambara writes with
a marvelous vitality; her style, which draws its bite and verve from everyday
black speech, comes close to poetry."
Speech as Poetry in the Stories of Tony Cade Bambara
Tyler, "Farewell to the Story as Imperiled Species,"
in The National Observer,
9 May 1977, pp 3-4.
The stories in Toni Cade Bambara's collection
My Love are usually narrated by one of the characters, and typically
those narrations follow the conventions of Black American English.
The sentences are rhythmical, there is use of repetition and figurative
language, and in places, even rhyme. Indeed, though the works are
prose, the language is at times more like poetry. . . .
"This is a True Story":
Art & Truth in The Things They
"Literature is invention.
Fiction is fiction. To call
a story a true story
is an insult to both art and truth.
Every great writer is
a great deceiver. . . ."
Nabokov, Lectures on Literature
Harcourt, p. 5.
Picasso is reported to have said that
"Art is a lie that helps us see the truth." But what are we to make
of a fiction writer who admits not that he is lying, but rather claims--in
a book that is ostensibly fiction--that he is telling the truth?
For readers of Tim O'Brien, this question strikes at the heart of one of
the key themes of The Things They Carried. . . .
Developing Your Essay
An essay has three parts, as you know: intro, body, conclusion.
The intro can do several things, but the least it must do is
(1) identify the author and title of the work youíre discussing, and (2)
include a thesis (what is this paper going to be about? The reader
should know by the end of the intro).
The body will develop the ideas of the intro by using specific examples
from the story, stories, or novel you're writing about. Give plenty
of examples (see "Quoting" below).
In a paper this short, a summary conclusion is a waste. Your reader
(me) doesn't need to be reminded of what he just read. Instead of
summarizing, save something good for the end--an interesting thought, a
definitive statement, a strong quote from the text, or a comment on the
prompt (return to the beginning). It helps some writers to write
the conclusion first. Try it, if you get stuck. (By the way,
it also helps some writers to write the body before the intro, and save
the intro for last. Do what works for you).
Two rules: (1) the best way to support your assertions is to quote directly
from the text, and (2) don't overquote!
These rules may seem contradictory. They're not. Regarding
(2), summarize and paraphrase often; quote only the most vivid language.
That's especially true for block quotes (long quotes); they should be avoided
in such a short paper unless absolutely necessary, and even then, quote
judiciously--use ellipsis and partial quotes; quote only what you need.
For this informal paper, we don't need formal MLA documentation.
Just use page numbers in parenthesis. Examples:
Vonnegut introduces Heath as "a red-headed
Cockney midget" who repairs shoes for a living (105).
Finally Carver's narrator snaps: "I
couldn't take anymore tonight" (109).
quote within a quote
Use double quotes to indicate where
you start quoting, and change the text's dialogue double quotes to single
Bambara captures Manny's despair: "He
shook his head. 'I muffed the goddamn shot. Ball bounced off
the rim . . .' He stared at his hands. 'The game of the season.
Last game' " (39).
Notice on all the examples above that the parenthetical citation
goes after the quote but before the period. Exception: see next example.
Block quote (long quote)
If it's necessary to quote five or more lines from the text, indent
it ten spaces from the left. Do not indent from the right.
Use ellipsis to leave out what is unessential; use brackets to insert your
own words for clarification; do not put quote marks around the quote (the
indention shows it's a quote, so you don't need quote marks); and put the
page in parentheses outside the period. Example:
In the aftermath of the argument, Inez
tries to remember her life's most happy moments:
She recalled being extremely
happy eating lunch by herself in a hotel room in Chicago, once when snow
was drifting on the window ledges. There was a lunch in Paris that
she remembered . . . rain streaming down the big windows, rain blowing
in the trees . . . Jessie [her daughter] crowing with delight and pointing
imperiously at a poodle . . . . Harry [her husband] unbuttoning Adlai's
wet sweater, kissing Jessie's wet hair, pouring them each a half glass
of white wine. (58)
If you have questions about formating a quote, look it up in any
good handbook, or ask me.
Critical Essay Style
Here are two conventions of writing about literature:
(1) Keep the "I" out. This is not a personal essay; the
focus should be on the work, not on yourself. If you need to mention
something you noticed, the convention is to use "we" or "the reader."
(2) Use present tense. Maurice kisses Sarah; Carver writes
about alcoholics, Blevins is shot by the Mexican officer. At the
end of the play, Hamlet dies, and he will always die every time you read
that part. Literature exists in the ever-happening Now (even though
Carver is dead and can no longer write. Thus the immortality of authors.).
So use present tense in your sentences, and unless demanded by grammatical
structure, don't change the tenses of whatever you quote.
typed, doublespaced, one-inch margins, font: 14 pt max, 12 pt minimum.
please use a conventional and easy-to-read font, such as Times, Helvetica,
Bookman, Palatino, etc.--not a script or all-italic font.
your name, Engl 4300, Spring 2000 typed at top left; do not use a title
title centered, preferably in boldface
for the "prompt," use a small font (10 or 9 pt) after the title (see examples
above); then put a dash and the author, title, and pub data.
fold lengthwise with page one showing on the outside (so your name is visible).
Do not use a binder or folder. Staples are optional.
SAVE your final draft electronically so you can easily make revisions and
corrections if needed.
I am happy to help by reading rough drafts or brainstorming with you--just
let me know.
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