Writing a Literary Explication

An explication is a detailed analysis.   To Explicate means to unfold; to give a detailed explanation of; to develop the implications of; to analyze logically. 

Step #1:  Choose a short story.  This becomes the primary source of the essay. 

Step #2:  Write a possible statement of theme for the short story.  Remember that a statement of theme is evolved from the topic of the story.  Take the topic, and build a complete sentence around it, one that makes a point or draws a conclusion.  Phrase the statement of theme in general terms, so that it applies to human nature in general.  You will hint at this statement in the introduction, and you will unveil it in the concluding paragraph of the essay.

Step #3:  Write a working thesis statement for the essay.  Identify the main ideas that you will discuss in the essay.  Consider the body of information we have compiled so far this semester.  It consists of

  1. Short fiction elements

  2. Critical approaches to interpreting literature (see pages 1122-1127 in the text)

  3. Details specific to a story (for example, music in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?")

  4. Rhetorical strategies

Note that this first version of the essay should not incorporate secondary source material.  Play it safe and write this essay without assistance.

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Writing a General Explication

Here is one possible plan for writing the essay:

  1. Introduction (first one or two paragraphs of the essay):
    1. Mention the title of the story (in quotation marks) and the author's name.
    2. Consider using a specific introductory strategy. 
    3. Hint at the theme of the story.
    4. If you wish, you may give a brief overview of the story, but do not lapse into excessive summary; instead, assume that the audience has read it.  Explain the plot by  identifying the conflict, complication, climax, and resolution of the story
    5. Include a clear and specific thesis statement.
    6. Mention the literary element (s) that you have chosen for discussion, but do this subtly, and without making an overt announcement of the topic. 

 

  1. Build a body paragraph around each specific element identified in the thesis.  Here is an effective pattern for writing a body paragraph:  
    1. Make an assertion.
    2. Offer a direct quotation or a concrete detail from the story (the primary source) to illustrate the assertion. 
    3. Explain how that quotation or detail illustrates the assertion.
    4. Reiterate the assertion and continue to hint at its relevance to the theme you are discussing.

     

  2. Conclusion:
    1. Bring the paper to a logical ending.  Consider using a concluding strategy. 
    2. Reaffirm the thesis statement.
    3. Reaffirm the theme of the literary work by making a general comment about human nature.

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Writing a Character Analysis

Choose a significant literary character from a work that you have read. 

Follow the directions for writing a general explication, but focus the thesis statement around the traits of a specific character. 

End the introduction with a sentence identifying the three character traits.  Use parallel structure to phrase these main ideas.   This becomes your thesis statement. 

Identify three specific character traits, and write an essay organized around those traits. 

Look at the character to see what characteristics the author has given him or her that help to illustrate the theme that you identified earlier.   Identify three or four personality traits that are important in communicating the theme of the work.  You will eventually have a body paragraph for each trait you identify.

Pay close attention to the attitude of other characters toward this main character.  What does this main character's thoughts?  What are his or her actions?  Is the character's name significant?   How does this character relate to other characters in the story?  These questions should help you to understand the character better. 

Mention the importance of the characterization and character types, if you wish. 

Build a paragraph around each trait, keeping the theme of the story in mind as you do so.  You do not have to mention the theme of the story in every paragraph, but somehow let your reader know that this trait points to that theme.

 

 

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This page was created by Joan Bruckwicki, English Instructor at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas.