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Friday, May 12, 2006

To Analyze an Essay

One of the most valuable lessons Lauren Slater taught at Goucher was how to analyze a piece of writing.
  • Read the story at least twice. The first is to see how things end; otherwise, you get too distracted to analyze the piece.
  • Identify each scene. (You can have an essay without scenes, but you can't have creative nonfiction without scenes. Just as verbs are the strength in sentences, scenes are the strength in narrative nonfiction.)
  • Identify the plot line--what literally happens in the story. The piece starts here, then something *happens,* then something else *happens,* and so forth.
  • Figure out what is being conveyed in each scene that isn't being explicitly said.
  • Decide how it is conveyed--by what happens? descriptions? dialogue? use of language?
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I wrote the beginning of an essay: Lie Down Until It Passes. Sometimes the first draft is like the first draft of a poem--you go through and circle the phrases or ideas you like in it, save those, and trash the rest. What is this essay really about? Dealing with my daughter's annoying persistence? Mother's guilt? How sometimes it's easer to like the dog? Exhaustion? I don't know yet. That's why it's good to have someone to bounce your writing off of. If you're lucky, you've got an editor to discuss it with. If you're lucky, you have friends who can read it and give honest (preferably kindly worded) opinions.

I've set up this scene, but what's here that poses a question worth reading the rest of the essay to find the answer? The "Big So-What."

category: craft

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