How to Write a Literary Essay Step by Step Guide


Let’s start with a quick literary essay definition. Literary essay writing is a type of formal writing that students may encounter at different levels of education – school, college, and university. It is possible to face this task even if your main area of expertise isn’t Literary Studies at all. Adore literature? Look at what careers in Literature are available to you today. But still, let’s get back to the point – essay writing. Effectively-written essays have become an inextricable component of the academic curriculum. Essays are an important part of school assignments, standardized tests, and a form and requirement for a school application. But how does it belong to literature? If you want to know more about literary essay writing, literary essay structure, or how to start a literary essay, this article is for you. You’ll know what a literary essay is and what specifics it has. Proceed with reading it to the end to find out what tips it is worth following! And write a good literary essay!

What is a Good Literary Essay?

In general, a literary essay is defined as a piece of writing that offers the author’s point of view based on his/her strong arguments retrieved from a literary work. In other words, it is an academic assignment given to a student to measure a work of literature from various perspectives – its structure, form, and content, plot and subplot, theme, characters, images, and so on. The main essence of writing a literary essay is to analyze a specific literary piece of work. Know what belongs to it? Indeed, if you think that literary works are limited to works of literature only, you are wrong. Besides Stephen King and Joanne Rowling, you can evaluate all works expressed in print or writing. As a result, all dramatic, musical, and poetic works can be evaluated by you in a literary essay.

Let’s take an example: you’re analyzing a musical drama, Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. You know that it is based on play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. It’s a highly popular book with many reviews all over the Internet. If you read those reviews, you’ll notice they are all about the way it is perceived by readers. Nobody rejects the fact the originality of writing is considered a matter of priority. You’re allowed to share your own impressions in a literary analysis based both on a book and a play. Remember your literary essay should be written in a structured format with a detailed analysis of all components every literary work has: 7 literary works components

How Does a Literary Essay Introduction Look?

literary essay introduction

What Does a Literary Essay Body Paragraph Contain?

After you introduce the main idea that is related to your literary essay, it is logical to develop it from various angles of a literary analysis regarding the question words – what, who, how, and why. The part dealing with developing the central idea of a literary analysis essay is called the body. The term regularly used for developing the central idea of a literary analysis essay is the body with at least 3 physical paragraphs.

Each of the paragraphs you’re writing must have:

  • Topic sentence, i.e., the first sentence stating the subpoint of the thesis statement which you have mentioned. So you need to tie all the details of the paragraph together tight so that it will be logically complete;
  • Textual evidence, i.e., the supporting detail relevant to the main point and subpoint you state in the topic sentence. It can be either a paraphrase of content or a direct quotation from a book. The latter plays a greater role in assessing your ability to analyze a literary work. Just remember it!
  • Closing sentence, i.e., the last sentence of a paragraph to have it logically completed. It’s up to you what way of closing to choose, but don’t forget to use transitions. The simplest way is to count your main points with the help of “Firstly”, “Secondly”, “Thirdly”, and so on. But you can use many other transitional expressions in your literary essay.

How to Draw a Conclusion for a Literary Essay?

Eventually, your essay is coming to an end when all the final words are being written. What are these final words in your literary essay? Firstly, you remind your readers of the essay question. Secondly, you provide the main essay argument(s) briefly. Thirdly, make a relevant comment about the literary work you are analyzing – it can be a comment on liking or disliking it or the work’s value or disvalue. Indeed, there are many ways to make a conclusion – ask any qualified literary essay writer. Just look them through. Going to switch off your computer or other electronic devices you work on immediately after putting in a full point? Stop, stop, stop! Reread a written essay to make sure that everything corresponds to the requirements given to you. Make all the necessary revisions before submitting any of your papers. Remember this once and for all!

3 Literary Essay Writing Challenges to Overcome Beforehand

At any stage of writing, a student may encounter some challenges. So writing a literary essay is no exception. Let’s look at 3 possible issues you may experience with the most effective ways of dealing with each of them:

#1 Reading and Analyzing Processes

Without any doubt, you realize that before writing a well-analyzed literary essay, you need to read a piece of literature. Agree that reading and analyzing is better done with a short story, for example, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, than with a novel, War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy, for example? So, find enough time to accomplish these stages effectively. It’s up to you what way of reading to choose, but remember, how to read a book impacts your final literary essay writing. It is found that you are more likely to remember content if you read it out loud. Besides it, you can try out:

  • Color marking of the main ideas in the text;
  • Using sticky notes with the main points of content;
  • Charting character development, etc.

#2 Gathering All the Details Essential for the Literary Analysis

When you are asked to do a literary analysis in essays, you should think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written. Therefore, you should collect all the necessary information about a specific literary work. Pay attention to the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story, setting, characters, figurative language, imagery, symbolism, etc. How to gather all that? While reading a literary piece of work, it is better to have a pen or several highlighters at hand for:

  • Underlining or copy-pasting direct quotations from a book or any other literary work;
  • Marking each point with the help of corresponding colors on paper;
  • Drawing graphic organizers to show the content illustratively. For example, this graphic organizer shows the main steps in writing a literary essay and its results:

How to Write a Literary Essay Step by Step

#3 Writing a Literary Essay Analysis Itself

It would seem as if every obstacle in the path of dealing with a literary essay was overcome. But it isn’t worth forgetting that after reading a book and gathering all the essential information to do an in-depth analysis, you have to think of words that could make your essay informative, easy to follow, and remember. Moreover, all the information in your literary essay must be well-structured and properly formatted. Here, besides the question, “How to write my literary essay?” or “Maybe someone else can write my literary essay for me?” the question becomes, in turn, “How to structure and format my literary essay?” Know what comes to help? Before you rush to buy a literary essay, take into account what is below:

  • Outlining or mapping all the main ideas of an essay;
  • Following the ‘Introduction + Body + Conclusion’ structure;
  • The guide on how to write a literary analysis essay, the guide on writing essays in the English Language and Literature, or the guide to an academic writing style;
  • The citation guidelines according to the last editions of the style manuals:
  • Some literary essays are written as good examples of formatting in APA, MLA, Harvard, Turabian, or Chicago.

We’ve just mentioned three main challenges you may face after being assigned a literary essay. However, there are many other obstacles appearing in your way no matter what task is in front of you – procrastination, the lack of time, poor time management, and writing skills. The list goes on, and so on indefinitely… Stop putting off the moment when you start getting inspired by the art of your own writing!


What is a literary essay?

A literary essay is a piece of academic work that is focused on exploring and analyzing a poem, a novel, a play, or any other work of literature. In addition to summarizing the plot, the literary essay examines the symbols, characters, themes, and various techniques that the author employed to convey their message.

How to start a literary essay?

To start a literary essay, start with a hooking introduction introducing the literary work about to be discussed. Begin with a thought-provoking sentence, captivating stats, or any relevant quote. It is recommended to include some background info about the author of the literary work and write a solid and concise thesis statement. The latter should contain the core argument you will make in a project. Your thesis statement must be focused, clear, and debatable.

Author: James Duke

James Duke is the senior writing advisor at blog for international students that seek quick paper assistance. In her blog, Patricia shares useful tips on productivity, writing, research, references. Sometimes Patricia goes off topic by sharing her personal experience peppered with lively humor and healthy irony.


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