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Pre-writing Activities and Drafting Your Essay

Summary:

This handout covers major topics relating to writing about fiction. This covers prewriting, close reading, thesis development, drafting, and common pitfalls to avoid.

Pre-writing Activities

1. Freewrite

Without referring to the text or your notes, write for five to ten minutes on all the images (or the device you have chosen to examine) you can recall. This will provide an initial list which will make up your body of evidence.

2. Review

Look back through the text and your notes to further identify evidence, keeping focused on the particular device you want to discuss.

3. Research

Optional: Ask your instructor about outside sources before you use them.

Once you've identified enough textual evidence to support your thesis, you may want to see what other writers have had to say about your topic. This kind of appeal to other authorities helps you back up and interpret your reading of the work.

4. Evaluate

You will probably generate more evidence than you can use. One way to decide which evidence to take and which to leave is to limit your choices to the best, most illustrative examples you can find. Focus on how the devices are used to develop major characters, major scenes, and major turning points in the work.

Drafting your essay

You've read and annotated the work, developed a thesis, and identified your evidence. Now you're ready to work your evidence into your draft. Here are some effective techniques.

1. Quoting

What is a quote?

Quoting involves taking a word, phrase, or passage directly from the story, novel, or critical essay and working it grammatically into your discussion. Here's an example:

In his novel, The Secret Agent, Conrad describes Verloc as "undemonstrative and burly in a fat-pig style.... " (69). The pig image suggests that Verloc is not a lean, zealous anarchist, but is actually a corrupt, complacent middle class man who is interested in preserving his comfortable status.

Notice three things about the example above:

  • The passage from the novel is enclosed in quotes and the page number is indicated in parentheses. For more help see our handouts on MLA and APA.
  • The passage is introduced in a coherent grammatical style; it reads like a complete, correct sentence. For more help, see our handout on using quotation marks.
  • The quote is interpreted, not patched on and left for the reader to figure out what it means.

When should I quote?

  • To make a particularly important point
  • When a passage or point is particularly well written
  • To include a particularly authoritative source

How should I quote?

  • All quotes must be introduced, discussed, and woven into the text. As you revise, make sure you don't have two quotes end-to-end.
  • A good rule of thumb: Don't let your quotes exceed 25% of your text.

2. Paraphrasing

What is paraphrasing?

  • This is using your own words to say what the author said. To paraphrase the quote used above, you might say something like:
Conrad describes Verloc as a big man who isn't very expressive and who looks like a pig.

When should I paraphrase?

  • Paraphrasing is useful in general discussion (introduction or conclusion) or when the author's original style is hard to understand.
  • Again, you would need to interpret the paraphrase just as you would a quote.
  • For more help, see the OWL handout on paraphrasing.

3. Summarizing

What is summarizing?

  • This is taking larger passages from the original work and summing them up in a sentence or two. To use the example above:
Conrad uses pig imagery to describe Verloc's character.

When should I summarize?

  • Like paraphrasing, summary is useful in general discussion which leads up to a specific point and when you want to introduce the work and present the thesis.
  • For more help, see the OWL handout on Summarizing.
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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.