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
Short fiction elements
Critical approaches to
interpreting literature (see pages 1122-1127 in the text)
Details specific to a
story (for example, music in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?")
Note that this first
version of the essay should not incorporate secondary source material.
Play it safe and write this essay without assistance.
Here is one possible plan for
writing the essay:
(first one or two paragraphs of the essay):
- Mention the title of the story (in
quotation marks) and the author's name.
- Consider using a
- Hint at
the theme of the story.
- 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
- Include a clear and specific
- Mention the literary element
you have chosen for discussion, but do this subtly, and
without making an overt announcement of the topic.
- Build a body paragraph around each
specific element identified in the thesis. Here is an effective pattern for
writing a body paragraph:
- Make an assertion.
- Offer a direct quotation or a
concrete detail from the story (the primary source) to illustrate the
- Explain how that quotation or
detail illustrates the assertion.
- Reiterate the assertion and
continue to hint at its relevance to the theme
you are discussing.
- Bring the paper to a logical ending.
Consider using a concluding strategy.
- Reaffirm the thesis statement.
- Reaffirm the theme of the
literary work by making a general comment about human nature.
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.
introduction with a sentence identifying the three character traits. Use
parallel structure to phrase these main
ideas. This becomes your thesis statement.
three specific character traits, and write an essay organized around those
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.
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
the importance of the characterization and
character types, if you wish.
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.