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WOC 223 Writing Literary Analyses

Teacher Tips and Answers


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Writing Literary Analyses

Student Listening to Literature

Novels and short stories feature people (characters), in a place and time (setting), struggling to accomplish something (plot), and learning about life along the way (theme). A literary analysis takes a close look at one or more of these story elements. Who are the characters and what do they want? How does the place and time affect the story? What happens and why? What are some of the things that characters and readers learn along the way?

Your literary analysis should help readers understand what a novel or story is about. It should also help them connect with the big ideas in the story. Refer to specific characters, events, and quotations to create this connection for readers. If you write well, your readers will pick up the literature and discover it for themselves!

What’s Ahead

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Understanding Literary Analyses

Your feelings about a novel or story inspire how you write about it. You may have felt the main character’s pain or shared in the person’s joy. Or you may have loved the suspenseful plot. In a literary analysis, you share feelings like these.

Consider the Writing Situation

Use the PAST strategy to understand the situation for your literary analysis. (See page 6.)

Consider the Writing Situation

Link to the Traits

Pay special attention to ideas, organization, and voice.

Ideas ■

Write about a book or story that truly interests you. Focus your writing on one or two key elements and support your main points with examples from the text.

Organization ■

Organize your writing in the most effective way—time order, order of importance, or logical order.

Voice ■

Use a voice that shows your interest in the literature and that connects with the reader.

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Writing Topics

These ideas are arranged according to the four main elements of literature: character, setting, plot, and theme. You could write an effective literary analysis or book review by developing one or more of these ideas.

Character The people or animals in a story

  • The main character changes from _______________ to _______________ by the end of the story.
  • Certain forces or circumstances—people, setting, events, or ideas—make the main character or characters act as they do.
  • _______________ is the main character’s outstanding personality trait.
  • What if the main character had (or hadn’t) . . .
  • The main character acts or reacts to the conflict in a surprising, predictable, or unusual way.

Setting The time and place of the story

  • The setting helps make the story exciting or _______________.
  • The setting has an important effect on the main character.
  • The setting (in a historical novel) offers important details about a certain time in history.
  • The setting (in a science-fiction novel) creates a new and exciting world.

Theme The author’s statement or lesson about life

  • Ambition . . . courage . . . jealousy . . . greed . . . happiness . . . peer pressure . . . is clearly a theme in (title of book).
  • This book showed me what it is like to be . . .
  • The moral “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “Haste makes waste,” “Hard work pays off,” . . . is developed in (title of book).

Plot The action of the story

  • How is suspense built into the story? (Consider the important events leading up to the high point.)
  • The high point (the most important event) changes the story in an effective way . . . in a believable way . . . in an unbelievable way.
  • The ending is surprising . . . predictable . . . unbelievable.
  • Are there any twists or reversals in the plot? What do they add to the story?

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Literary Analysis

The novel Tumble tells of a young woman who seeks her biological father and finds a whole family to connect with. This analysis explores three themes—important messages about life.

Bravo for the Bravos

The beginning introduces the novel and states the thesis (underlined).
In Celia C. Pérez’s novel Tumble, twelve-year-old Adela “Addie” Ramírez works in the diner of her step-father Alex and her mother, whose real work is preparing dinosaur bones at a museum. When Alex asks if Addie would like him to adopt her, she realizes she can’t say “yes” until she discovers who her biological father is. Addie’s quest helps her learn about life, mythology, wrestling, and family.

The first middle paragraph summarizes the novel.
Addie travels from her hometown of Thorne, New Mexico, to the neighboring town of Esperanza, which means “hope” in Spanish. There, she discovers a whole family—Abuela Rosie, Abuelo Pancho, cousins Maggie and Eva, and Uncle Mateo. They are the Bravos, a family famous for Mexican-style lucha libre wrestling in the Cactus League in Esperanza. Addie even meets her biological father, Manny “The Mountain” Bravo. “Up close, he didn’t look like a god or a giant. He looked like just a guy in jeans and cowboy boots and a plaid flannel shirt” (142). She strives to learn more about him, but Manny is often gone, wrestling.

This paragraph explores the theme of mythology. Addie, like most people in Thorne, loves wrestling, but she also loves mythology. She is named “Adelita” in honor of female soldiers who fought alongside men in the Mexican Revolution. “But they were also girls and women who were kidnapped, like Persephone, taken from their families, and forced to join the men” (294). Her mother wanted Addie to be a fighter. Later, for a school project, Addie creates a poster-board pantheon of her family. Pancho and Manny appear as “powerful fathers who hold their children under their spell,” and Addie’s mother and grandmother as “strong mothers who raise their children alone,” and Addie’s cousins as “star goddesses” (340). She sees wrestling itself as a dance combining science (gravity) and mythology (storytelling).

This paragraph focuses on the theme of growing up. At twelve, Addie is growing up, learning how mythology connects to the real world. In a thrilling chapter, she witnesses her father’s return to glory in the ring. He ceases to be a masked “jobber” who lets other wrestlers win and becomes a “face” or hero. However, his success means that he can’t spend much time with Addie. He has to travel to pursue his dream of winning the world champion belt, like his father. Adela is torn about whether to wait for him: “ ‘Why can’t everything in life just have a right or wrong answer instead of all these possible choices?’ ” (305) Life is not like mythology or wrestling, with clear good and bad.

This paragraph focuses on the theme of family. Above all, Addie learns the power of family. Her given family with her mother and Alex is strong, but so, too, is her chosen family of the Bravos. Her friends make up another family, with Cy “whose bond is as strong as a sister” (340) and Gus and Brandon, who star with her in a middle school performance of The Nutcracker. She notes that her uncle’s gravestone reads “Son Brother Husband Father Bravo” and realizes it is “as if our connections to others were what mattered most in life” (266). Addie creates strong relationships—families that make her strong, as well.

The ending focuses on how the reader experiences Addie’s world.
Tumble is written as a first-person narrative, with everything related through Addie’s eyes. Thankfully, she is observant, so readers experience a rich world: a wrestling ring under the stars, an Airstream workshop lit up like a lantern, a middle school auditorium with a chanting crowd, and a cozy diner with flying paper turkeys. Addie is also smart. She shares with readers a world of science, mythology, memories, and dreams. Through Addie, the author invites us to wrestle with who we are, wonder about how to connect, and maybe even grow up a little.

Patterns of Organization

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Writing Guidelines

Prewriting ■ Identifying Topic Ideas

To get started, use an ideas chart to list two or three favorite novels or stories. Then select one story to analyze.

Ideas Chart

Ideas Chart

Identifying an Element to Analyze

A literary analysis usually focuses on one of the main elements of fiction: character, setting, plot, or theme. (See page 225 for writing ideas.)

Elements of Fiction

Literary Elements

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The Example Student Models Focuses on Themes


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Writing Guidelines

Focusing on Theme

The writer of the sample analysis on pages 226–227 analyzed the themes of the novel. Themes may be the most challenging element to analyze. Here are five ways to find themes in a text:

Strategies for Identifying the Theme

Strategies for Identifying the Theme

Writing a Thesis Statement

Once you have a focus in mind, you are ready to write a thesis statement. This statement should identify the main point of your analysis. One way to do this is to connect the main character to the element you will discuss. Use this simple formula:

Thesis Statement Formula

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Prewriting ■ Gathering Details

Create a cluster to gather details. In the center, write the story part you want to focus on (character, setting, plot, or theme). Around it, brainstorm ideas and connect them to the cluster.



Helpful Hint

When you make a cluster, let your mind go! Think of as many ideas as you can. As you can see from this cluster, the writer had enough ideas to focus on any one of these themes, though she chooses to write about each of them.

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Using Direct Quotations

During your planning, find a few quotations from the story to use in your analysis. Consider what each quotation reveals about your thesis. The student writer of the literary analysis on pages 226–227 gathered the following quotations.



Organizing the Middle Paragraphs

In each middle paragraph, address a different main point that supports your thesis. (See page 232.) This writer planned her middle paragraphs by writing a possible topic sentence for each one. (If necessary, you can change these sentences later on.)

Organizing the Middle Paragraphs

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Writing ■ Developing the Beginning and Middle

Carefully develop each part of your essay following these guidelines.

Beginning In the beginning paragraph, do three things:

  • name the title and author of the story or book,
  • give background information, and
  • state your thesis.
Beginning Paragraph

Middle Support or develop the thesis in the middle paragraphs. Start each paragraph with one of your topic sentences. (See page 231.) Then work in supporting details. (See page 230.)

Middle Paragraph

Good Thinking

In your first draft, you just need to get your ideas down. Write quickly, as if you were explaining the story to a friend.

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Developing the Ending

Ending The ending is your final chance to comment on and explore your thesis. Here are some suggestions for this final part of your essay:

  • Include a final idea.
  • Refer back to the thesis.
  • Use a revealing quotation from the story.
  • Tell how the main character has changed.
Ending Paragraph

Revising ■ and Editing ■ Improving the Writing

Once you finish your first draft, set it aside for a while, and then ask a trusted classmate or family member to read it. Ask the person what works well and what could work better. Then use the following checklist as your revising and editing guide.

_____ Ideas Have I clearly stated and supported my thesis?

_____ Organization Does my analysis have a clear beginning, middle, and ending?

_____ Voice Does my voice sound knowledgeable?

_____ Word Choice Have I used specific nouns and verbs?

_____ Sentences Do my sentences read smoothly?

_____ Conventions Is my writing free of errors?

Helpful Hint

Put the exact words of a speaker in quotation marks and give the page number in parentheses, with the period afterward.

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Response Rubric

Use the following rubric as a guide to assess responses to literature.

Response Rubric

Teacher Support:

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Lesson Plan Resources:

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Vocabulary List:
  • literary analysis: writing that explores a book or story, perhaps focusing on characters, conflicts, plot, setting, or theme

Vocabulary List:
  • character: person in a book or story

  • setting: time and place of the story

  • plot: series of events that feature conflict and move the story toward a climax

  • theme: what the story teaches about life


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