Monday, June 28, 2010


In an effort to simplify things a bit, I've decided to keep everything in one place and will be moving all past and future posts to my main blog, Author Michelle McLean. There is now a tab on my main blog where you can find information on writing essays. As always, please email me if there are any questions you may have.

Thanks for following me - I hope to see everyone over on the main blog! :)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Poetry Game

Time for another poetry game! Head over to the Magnetic Poetry Online site (HERE), and choose up to 20 tiles to create your poem. Post them in the comments section. Here is mine:

Yesterday the universe slowed
My present lingers
Time is free
To haunt me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Write an Essay or Term Paper - Characters

Sorry for the long absence - life has been crazy with a capital "C". But, on with our elements.


Characters are one of the most important, if not THE most important, element in any work of literature. Without a character, there is no story. Even if the story is about a frog...that frog is your main character. So, characters are a great element to look at when analyzing a work of literature for a paper or essay. Here are some questions you could ask about the characters in the story:

  • Who are the characters?
  • Who is the main character?
  • Who is the main villain?
  • What qualities/vices/characteristics/quirks/mannerisms do these characters have?
  • What do these characteristics do for a particular character?
  • What is the author trying to show with a certain character? For example, is the extreme evilness of the main villain supposed to symbolize the evil side of mankind? Does it work? Why or why not? 
  • Do the characters personify anything? Qualities/characteristics/feelings? For example, if you were analyzing a story about a girl named Hope who went up against a villain named Dr. Evil, do these characters exhibit the qualities of hope and evil? Is Hope an optimistic person, etc?
  • What flaws do the characters have? Or are they too perfect?
  • Are the characters believable? Can you relate to them? Are they likable, intriguing, mysterious? How do these qualities affect the story?
Look at the characters from every possible angle and analyze what each character brings to the story. Think about why they are a part of the story, what their presence does, or does not, do for the story.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Head over to my main blog (address on the sidebar) for the details on the awesome contest I've got going! The grand prize is a query critique by my wonderful agent, Krista Goering, Elana Johnson's awesome book, From the Query to the Call, and a $20 gift card to Barnes and Noble.

Entries will be accepted until midnight on Monday, March 1st!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How to Write a Paper or Essay - Imagery

All stories have some kind of imagery. Imagery is the descriptive or figurative language that authors use to create a mental image or picture in the readers' minds. (Figurative language includes literary tools such as similes and metaphors - we'll discuss them more next week).

Imagery is a very powerful tool in an author's arsenal, and as such, it's a great tool to discuss when writing a literary analysis. Here are some things to think about when discussing the imagery in a literary work:

  • What are some examples of imagery in the work?
  • Are there recurring images? What do they mean?
    • for instance, say there are images of water throughout a book; streams, lakes, rivers, rain falling, waterfalls, a cup of water being tipped over and trickling off a table, spilling drip by drip onto the floor, echoing the drip, drip of the MC's blood as it flows from his body - what might be the purpose of these images? What does the water represent? (this is getting a bit into symbolism, which often goes hand in hand with imagery). Why are there so many watery images in the story?
  • Does the descriptive and figurative language used by the author work well in creating the intended image? Is it too overdone, creating something more amusing than powerful? Would another description or image have worked better or worse?
  • What are the most important examples of imagery in the story?
  • How do these images relate to the main theme of the book? Do they help enhance the point the author is trying to make? Why or why not?
You could focus on one main image (like our water example) or discuss several instances of imagery in the work you are analyzing. But in each case, discuss the importance of the imagery. Don't just point it out, giving the reader the WHAT...give us the WHY. Why are these images important? Why are they in the book? Why did the author use that particular image? What sort of picture does the imagery paint and does it work better or worse than another might? Why or why not?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to Write Papers and Essays - Plot

One of the most basic components of a story is its plot. A story with a bad plot is...well, really boring. A plot can make or break a story, so it is a really good thing to look at when doing a literary analysis.


The plot of a work is it's basic storyline, what the story is about, the reason why the events in the story happen. Say you are analyzing Romeo and Juliet. What is the plot? In a nutshell, boy and girl meet, fall in love, are forbidden to see each other because of family rivalries, and commit suicide because of a horrible misunderstanding. Now, if the story was just "boy commits suicide, girl commits suicide," there is no real plot. Who cares? But if you have a Why, a reason behind what goes on, a story that builds to that conclusion, then you have a plot.

So what are some things you can question or discuss?

  • Does this plot work?
    • Would it have been better if R and J were killed by the rival family instead of killing themselves? Would the story have worked better if they didn't kill themselves at all but instead ran off and lived happily ever after? What elements of the story work well and which don't?
  • What are the main elements or events of the plot? 
    • The background info or exposition (the info you need to understand what's going on)
      • Is this element present? Should there be more or less? In Romeo and Juliet, if the plot didn't contain the information that their families were bitter rivals, we never would have understood why they couldn't be together
    • The complication that leads to the main conflict and the main conflict
      • Is this present? Should there be more or less or more explanation? What is the spark that lights the fire on the main conflict in the book? Does it make sense? Does it work? Would the events that unfolded in Romeo and Juliet have worked better if Romeo hadn't killed her cousin? If their families hadn't been locked in a bitter rivalry that resulted in the deaths of their friends and family members?
    • The climax
      • What is it? Does it work? Is there sufficient build up to it to make the climax, well, climactic? Would something else have worked better? Do you agree with the widely accepted climax or do you think the climax occurs elsewhere in the story? Why or why not?
    • The resolution
      • How does the story end? Does this ending work? Does it resolve everything that has been built up in the story? If not, why do you think this is? Is there a sequel that is being set up? Do you think another resolution would have worked better? Why or why not?
  • What is the main theme or point of the story? Does the plot work well to develop that theme? 
    • If the point of the story is to show how stupid feuds are, does the plot serve this theme well? 
    • If the point of the story is to illustrate how children should obey their parents and the horrible things that can happen if they don't, does the plot further that theme?
  • Are there things the author could have done to develop the plot better? What and why?
    • Are there elements or events that would have developed the story better if they had been presented earlier in the plot, or later, or left out altogether?
      • For instance, in a mystery, does it work better knowing who the murderer is right up front? No. This element of the plot works much better left at the end of the story.

Which brings us to another point - the plot is a great element to analyze in conjunction with other aspects of the story. Characters, setting, point of view, themes...all these things are what make a plot what it is. So when analyzing the plot, it is a great idea to take a look at these elements as well and analyze whether or not they are working for the plot.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How To Write An Essay or Paper - The Author

Sorry for the long break. Had a bit of a fiasco with the move, but things are slowly getting back to normal.

So! On to our essays!

Another aspect to look at when analyzing a literary work is the author. As a writer, I can tell you that a lot of the author bleeds into their work, whether they intend it to or not. So by taking a look at the author, you can sometimes get a deeper glimpse into the story.

Some things you can question might be:

  • What is the author's background?
    • Where did they grow up?
    • What were their experiences?
    • What did they study in college?
    • What are their beliefs?
    • Where is their favorite vacation spot? (and other personal tidbits)
    • What are their political views?
    • What is their education and career background?
    • What is their family like?
For example, I once wrote an essay analyzing the poem To Althea, from Prison, by Richard Lovelace. I dissected it for evidence of his political leanings. Lovelace was a Cavalier, a Royalist - he spent a lot of time in prison because he was loyal to his king. The poem is full of Cavalier imagery; specifically the love of women, wine, and king. I went through and discussed the imagery and symbolism and all that fun stuff, but the main point of my paper was that the author's background was the reason behind everything he was saying in the poem.

Taking a look at the author can give you a much deeper insight into their work.