Guidelines for Writing a Fiction Analysis
1. Read “Writing a Research Essay on Fiction,” pgs. 608-639, keeping in mind exceptions to be discussed in class. You should also, as assigned on the syllabus, review “Major Stages in Thinking and Writing About Literature” beginning on page 19.
2. Length: three to five pages. You are to develop, not fill space. Three to five pages is the minimum mandatory amount of development for a paper of this kind.
3. Sources: You must incorporate two academic resources into your paper. We will discuss in class how you might access these resources and which resources are appropriate.
4. Choices: You must write about the work of a fiction writer who is listed on the course schedule, but you should not attempt to analyze a story we have already analyzed in class or one which we may at some point analyze in class.
Hint: papers by students who have spent little time researching the work of the writer they’ve selected are apparent to good readers within the first paragraph most of the time. Ethos begins low, and the grade on the paper will be below average. If you choose the most conveniently accessed story, you’re only making your life more difficult.
5. You may not use documents found on Google. All sources must come from the library’s databases or a published book. Google is commercially driven, not academically driven. Google searches are not prioritized based on whether the story you’re reading was A) legally published or B) accurately published. Google searches are also not prioritized based on whether the “critics” listed have any credibility.
6. Analysis is not a summary of the story’s plot. Summaries neither lend insight nor illuminate possible inferences, two purposes of analysis.
7. Analysis is not a reader reaction. Reader reactions are just that: a reader’s emotional, casually considered response to a work. Such responses range from, “This story sucked,” to, “He made me see the town vividly and I started to dislike the people because they seemed like busybodies.”
Unlike responses, analysis will serve your audience. Analysis adds to a reader’s experience of the story. It creates and/or reveals social, political, or aesthetic purposes within the story that the casual reader most likely would have otherwise not noticed. Informal analysis is what we do in class. A paper is a formal analysis, which simply means you must carefully support all of your claims and you must clearly develop your main ideas and the overall thesis.
An example of an early, working thesis for a relevant analysis would be, “William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ consolidates the point of view of the entire town into one voice to create tension between the intrusive town and the reclusive main character, Emily.”
8. The story you are analyzing will not organize your paper for you. Very often, novice writers will commit what we will refer to in this class as the Quote and Comment method, which is when the writer quotes or paraphrases a passage from the story being “analyzed,” comments on it, then quotes the next line and comments on it, and so on. It’s nearly impossible to organize a paper into useful paragraphs using this method, and most writers who do employ it don’t even bother to organize. The method is easy on the writer and hard on the reader. Other than someone who’s being paid to grade the paper, few readers would endure more than the two paragraphs of this sort of essay.
9. Students who write unsuccessful analyses have often skipped the unavoidable step of brainstorming. This leads to unfocused, disorganized drafts. Clear, focused, organized analyses are the result of several stages of drafting, the first of which is brainstorming, the second of which is outlining the ideas that might work. The more time you spend refining your outline, the more manageable your paper will be during the drafting process. You want to have a sense of how your paper should be organized and what your supporting details will be before you begin writing. Otherwise, as many of you now know, you will find yourself frustrated and lost in your own paper.
Just as poetry creates poets and novels breed novelists, the best way to develop an understanding of a good analysis is to spend time reading good models. Included here are the authors whose works are the subject of good student analyses and the first pages on which they appear in our text: William Faulkner, 113; Shirley Jackson, 155; James Joyce, 265; Eudora Welty, 326; Frank O’Connor, 377; Nathanial Hawthorn, 430; D.H. Lawrence, 493.