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PARTS & SECTIONS

Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar 

   www.OnlineGrammar.org
 
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 Study Questions
     

 

                                                                    

Chapter 43: WHAT IS "WRITING TO LITERATURE?"

                 
What are some methods of writing
to literature instead of
about it?

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Introduction: What Is Literature?

Writing to Literature--Why and How?

What Are Details in Writing to Literature? 

What Is the Meaning or Value of a Work?

Do Other Ways Exist to Write about Literature?

Conclusion

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Introduction: What Is Literature?

What is literature?  It is, simply, the creative writings of people whose fictional and real stories, poetry, plays, song lyrics, or other literary forms are especially good.  

The process by which these writings become good often is long, complicated, and even, occasionally, torturous--many famous writers did not become so until after their death, and others, however famous, have lived a life of near poverty--and there are a number of current authors who are well considered whom history will not easily remember. 

Even so, literature does not mean just any creative writing, but rather a more lofty kind, one that is especially intelligent, creative, and moving to a large number of people who determine what literature is.  Often in any given century, it is other writers and instructors who determine what from among their own creations is literary.  Sometimes, though, writers may also become famous first (but considered not particularly literary), and then--if their fame lasts for generations beyond their death--they may also acquire the status of having been literary. 

Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol (with Scrooge and Tiny Tim) is a good example of this process.  In his time, he was an immensely popular author, but many of his contemporaries considered him a proficient crowd pleaser at best and a hack writer at worst.  However, his fame gradually grew after his death until, in the past century (the 1900s), he came to be viewed as one of Great Britain's literary giants. 

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Writing to Literature--Why and How?

So why is all this so important?  For one, it helps to know what you are writing about when you write to literature--that literature is writing that has been anointed by instructors and other writers--and sometimes by the public--as being special.  Second, it may help you to know as you write to literature that literary authors are no one--they are nothing--until a sufficient number of readers (and the right types of readers) decide they are special.  As a result, there are always dialogues and controversies in literary circles about the importance, value, and meaning of any given author.  There always will be detractors who think an author is mediocre or poor, even while others think he or she is great.  For this reason, writing to literature entails two great preoccupations:

Two Primary Activities in Writing to Literature

1. Describing the details

2. Deciding their meaning or value 

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What Are Details in Writing to Literature? 

You are familiar with the details from your high school studies of literature.  They are the plot, the theme, the characters, the setting, the scenes, the individual descriptions and images, the symbols, etc.--what are called the "elements" of literature.  You most likely have written book reports using at least some of these elements, and some of you have had to thoroughly take apart and describe a literary work using these elements.  

Using the elements of literature is by far the most common method of analyzing literature.  Literary analysis is a specialized form of writing.  It is used by literary professionals--academic instructors, scholars, literary critics, and the like--to discuss literature.  In this regard, it is like the specialized writing of any discipline: business reports, for example, belong to the world of business, lab reports to the world of science, and court reports to the legal world.  When you learn how to analyze the elements of literature, you are working within the specific discipline and field of literary thought and criticism.  

The first step in thinking about and writing to literature is a thorough examination of it using the elements of literature like tools to take apart a literary work, examine it from several different perspectives, and perceive its basic inner workings.  This first step has a specific name, whether you complete it as a rough draft for your own thinking about a literary text or develop it into an official paper: 

"analysis of the elements."
    

A literary analysis can be as simple as a description of how each of the above literary elements is expressed in a work of art; it can be as complex as a comparison and contrast of the use of these elements to those in other literary works, and detailed description--with examples--of how each element appears to work, or even a theoretical discussion of the elements as their use is described in a particular work of art.  Usually, any kind of writing you do about a literary text should at least start with an analysis of the elements--on your own, if not in the official part of an assignment.  Literary analysis is a basic beginning to writing to literature.

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What Is the Meaning or Value of a Work? 

How do you decide the meaning or value of a literary work?  The next step, if such is expected or assigned, is to determine some kind of meaning in or value of the literary work.  This often is done in one of two very different types of writing to literature:

"interpretive thesis"

and

"literary review."

An interpretive thesis (sometimes called a "literary thesis") is like a simple academic thesis paper (see this textbook's chapter called "Writing a Thesis Argument"); however, it tries to prove a specific interpretation or meaning of the text, often by using a theory or recognized method of interpreting or "seeing" the text through a specific viewpoint.  And it does so usually by using the elements of literature to build its proofs--placing together the types of descriptions, characters, plot events, settings, images, symbols, and the like to prove a main thesis or argument.  For example, an interpretive thesis might use a theory of psychology to interpret a play by Shakespeare, a theory of history to explain and interpret The Wizard of Oz, or a theory of sociology to interpret the significance of Tupac Shakur's poetry.  

A literary review, sometimes called a critical review, is quite different.  It is very similar to a simple academic or professional critical review (see this textbook's chapter called "Writing a Critical Review"); however, it uses the elements of literature to describe a literary work and then a mixture of professional, public, and/or theoretical interpretations to suggest possible meanings or arguments about the work.  Finally, it uses a set of criteria to suggest how well or poorly the work is written--and whether it is worth reading.

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Do Other Ways Exist to Write about Literature?

Are there other ways to write about literature?  There definitely are.  It is possible, in fact, to use most of the chapters in this book--especially those in the "Arguing" and "Responding to Readings" sections--to write about literature.  If you have an instructor who is requiring that you apply one of these other methods of writing, he or she is asking you to practice a more general academic type of writing about a subject, and the subject just happens to be literature instead of some other nonliterary text.  This alternative way of writing--using literary texts--as subjects--is not uncommon, and it highlights a distinction made in this online textbook:

writing TO

literature = 

Using professional types of writing to literature, such as literary analyses, interpretive theses, and literary reviews

writing ABOUT

literature =

Using literature as a general subject matter for any type of writing activity

That is why this section of WritingforCollege.org is called "Writing to Literature."  It is about the particular types of writing taught in literature classes by literature professionals about the profession of literature.  Writing about literature is an equally respectable activity, but it is usually confined to composition courses and, occasionally, to other disciplines in which a story or play may be a subject matter.  If you are writing about literature rather than to it, you may need to change sections and read about other, more general forms of writing.  However, before you do so, you may find it useful to first learn how to read more thoroughly and critically.  For this purpose, you may wish to choose one of two related chapters in this textbook.  One is in this section, called "Reading Literature Critically"; it discusses specific reading of literature.  The other is in the "Responding to Readings" section and is called "How to Read Academic Texts"; it discusses general methods of reading texts that you are assigned to study.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, writing to literature is a specific type of writing activity used in the discipline and profession of literature.  The elements of literature and other methods of finding deeper meanings in and values of literature can open you to new worlds, help you rediscover old ones, and give you many pleasurable hours of analysis, argument, and fun.

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H. RESPONSE TO LITERATURE

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Chapters:

 43. What Is "Writing to Lit"?

 44. How To Read Literature

 45. Analysis of Elements

 46. Critical Analysis

 47. Interpretive Thesis

 48. Literary Review

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Prewriting Activities

Critical  Alternatives

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For writing about content in articles, essays, & books, see

E. Responding to Reading

                    

                    

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 Related Links in
OnlineGrammar.org:

4. Literature, Reading, & Writing

 

Updated 1 Aug. 2013

  

   

 

WritingforCollege.org also is at CollegeWriting.info and WforC.org

Natural URL: www.tc.umn.edu/~jewel001/CollegeWriting/home.htm
Previous editions: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998; CollegeWriting.info, 1998-2012
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