Help Writing a Literary Essay on a Book

If you need help writing an essay on a book, a literary analysis essay, fear not! You’re in the right place. We’re happy to help. Once you get your thoughts organized - and we are expert brain organizers - it can be a surprisingly easy task. We may even manage to have a little fun.

A Literary Essay Is Not a Book Report

You’re in the big leagues now, lexicographically speaking. We are no longer writing book reports. We’re writing literary essays. The two follow a similar structure, but are fundamentally different in quality. The difference between a grade school book report and a literary analysis essay is twofold: rigor and tone.

Rigor

Rigor is Academic Talk for structure, specifically for choosing a structure, making it clear why it was chosen, and sticking to it. Unlike a book report, a rigorous literary essay calls on you to do more than have clever thoughts about a book. Specifically:

  • Quote: In a proper essay, your thoughts need to be grounded in the text. Provide quotes to back up your statements in the body paragraphs.
  • Read: Don’t just read your book. Read about it. Find articles about it online or in your local library, then present arguments that support your thesis. Be sure you properly credit each source. Make sure you’re drawing on reputable sources: news sites, school projects (look for the magic .edu), and nonprofit organizations are probably reputable. Random stuff on the Internet, up to and including us? Not so much. We can help you with your paper. We can’t be cited in your paper.
  • Reference: Reading other people’s arguments and putting them in your paper sounds a wee bit like plagiarism, right? This is why we reference. Whole writing styles exist so you can clearly state your sources. Ask your teacher which they prefer. Modern Language Association (MLA) style is the format of choice for English and the humanities. University of Chicago style is also popular. Likewise American Psychological Association, or APA. We’ve linked our own guides to each format.

Rigor may seem intimidating at first glance. It’s your best friend. It provides a clear structure that will serve you from junior high through your Ph.D dissertation. Better yet? It’s something a lot of your classmates won’t bother with. It’s a way to make your work stand out, to clearly demonstrate that you did the work when you could have phoned it in.

Tone

There is a fundamental difference between the tone of a book report, which is fundamentally a personal essay on your own experience with a book, and a literary essay, which is fundamentally an argumentative statement about the book defended with examples from the text and third-party sources.

  • Be Authoritative: You can make any claim you like about the text in a book report. It’s about personal experience. In a real essay, you need to be able to back up your claims with examples from the book and/or citations from authoritative sources.
  • Be Clear: A book report allows for a bit of personal anecdote and literary meandering. None of that in a formal essay, please. Remember, you’re stating a case. Keep it concise and to the point.
  • Be Smart: You cannot cheat or fake your way through a literary essay. SparkNotes might get you through a book report. It will not get you through a real essay, and there will be real consequences for trying. An F is frankly the best possible outcome. Read the book. Use the text. We’re leveling up here.

These three points will stand you above 95% of the literary essays your teacher ever sees. Get them right and rake in those good grades and good graces.

Structuring a Literary Essay

So you have your book (and read it), you know the tone and structure. You’ve done the required reading and have your perspective on the book’s characters, themes, and plot in mind. Congratulations! Half the battle is won. Here’s the rest.

Introduction

Your introduction will set the tone for your paper. Keep things clear, observational and grounded in the text. If you’re stumped on where to start, follow the structure below:

  • Universal Statement: Introduce the book with the basic facts about it.
    "The Count of Monte Cristo is a action-adventure book written by the popular French author, Alexandre Dumas.”
  • Body Sentences: Context, context, context. Keep this part tight: three to five sentences should do it. Spend those sentences setting the scene and providing support for your thesis statement.
    “Using the form of the romantic adventure, Dumas turns a keen eye on the France of his day, noting that…”
  • Thesis Statement: This is the most important part of your essay. Make a claim about the book that you can support from the text. Take a look at these thesis statement examples for inspiration. Above all, make it an argument, something that could be true or false and that you are saying is true.
    “While ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ is a thrilling adventure tale, it has entered the canon of classic literature because of the richness of its observation of Restoration France.”

Oh, just to state the obvious: even if you're writing about "The Count of Monte Cristo," don’t copy and paste our example sentences into your paper. Teachers have Google. You’ll get in trouble. Feel free to copy the outline and rewrite in your own words, though! No rules against that.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs demonstrate your analysis of the book; providing evidence that can support your statements. A short essay might only have one body paragraph. A serious research paper might have 10 or 12. This doesn’t matter, because each body paragraph can follow the same structure.

  • Mission Statement: One specific way the book’s text supports your thesis.
  • Support: Five to seven sentences providing examples from the book that support your thesis. At this level, these should be quotes from the book, not just paraphrases. Explain how each supports your thesis.
  • Closing: Wrap it up by bringing your main points together. Use transition words to help.

Conclusion

The conclusion is almost the mirror image of the introduction. It restates your premises and asserts you’ve proven your thesis.

  • Reflection: Not quite as general as the universal statement, but close.
    “The Count of Monte Cristo is not merely a thrilling adventure. It is an opportunity for the author to cast a critical eye over his country and history…”
  • Body Sentences: Summarize the main argument in each of your body paragraphs. If you have more than 5 body paragraphs, don’t hesitate to combine them. Write no more than 5-7 sentences.
  • Final Thought: Restate your thesis, with an added sentence about what makes it important. “The Count of Monte Cristo is not merely a fictional but an historical document. The events may not have played out as written, but Dumas’s careful depiction of a unique moment in the history of France…”

Rigor and Reality

Literary essays are more than Book Reports Mark Two. They’re vital preparation for college coursework. The more you learn before college or work rolls around, the better prepared you’ll be for the challenge. Embrace rigor, read deeply and engage your imagination with the text.

Of course, you may have looked over this whole deal and realized what your teacher really wants is, in fact, a book report. No problem. Take a look at our format for writing a book report. You’ll notice the basic essay structure is pretty familiar. That’s not a coincidence. As we’ve noted, the difference between a book report and a literary essay is rigor and tone. Get personal on your book report. Be authoritative in your literary essay. Go forth and get As.

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