Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writing About Literature: Finding that "Something More"

If I could count the number of times I have heard "Your paper is great, but it needs something more. You need to delve deeper," I could probably pay off my student loans.

Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration but still...I've heard it. A LOT.

For a number of semesters I labored under the idea that a really good analysis was something more.

You know the type: spectacular summary with a touch of glitter (that's what I like to call sparkling smart analysis).

I would often turn papers into professors and think, "This is it.  THIS is the paper that's going to make them glad that they became a teacher." I had the confidence of Ralphie when he turns in his theme, as seen in this clip. that didn't work out for me, or Ralphie.
 (YET! Goodness, I've really got to get a hold of this cocky streak I'm on.)

What bothered me the most was this: How in the world do you figure out what that something more is? 

What exactly is "something more"?

And how exactly to you go about finding it.

Get ready, here it comes: Something more sometimes equals something new.

That phrase still makes me sob.

How in the world am I supposed to find something new about literature that has been written about FOREVER?  And probably written about by people a whole lot more intelligent than myself?

Have you ever asked yourself those questions?  If you have, let me know...and we can share a cry together.

There is good news though, I have some tips on how you can put yourself on that path to finding something more and something new.

First of all, let's build your self-esteem up a bit.

You are made up of a whole lot of stuff (aside from biology).  Although there are people that will argue that you are not unique, I'm going to tell you that you are.  The combination of things that have made you are different than anyone else's combination.  Confused? Let's break this down:
  • Your ethnic background greatly affects how you think.
  • The type of family life you have been raised in impacts your decision making and thought process.
  • Sometimes something as small as the fact that you took ballet when you were five changes how you see the world.
  • More than likely you travel in lots of discourse communities that operate under different societal rules.
  • Education plays a huge part in how you critically examine things. This does not mean that someone with a Master's degree is a better critical thinker than someone with a certificate in Collision Repair. However, it does mean that the type of education you receive molds how you critically examine the world around you. 
I could go on, but that's enough of the love fest.

So, basically when you read a text (which can be the written word or the world around you), you are already bringing something different to the table because of your unique viewpoint. This means you are on your way to finding that "something more."

Here are some steps I take when I am reading and writing about Literature (which I use after I have bumped up my self-esteem a bit):
  • Research what has already been written about your selected text. This will give you the opportunity to see what is out there.  I use Project Muse a lot when I'm researching. It's a database that seems to have a lot of recently published articles - and I want to know the most current information about my topic as I can.
  • Write down a brief analysis of the literature. The format does not matter, just a simple list to serve as an aid for you.
  • Think about the time that your literature was written.  Currently I am writing about The Hunger Games, which was written post-9/11, post-economic crash, during an era where "reality" TV is at its highest popularity.  
  • Re-read your novel with those time stamp/era markers in mind.  Does anything allegorical stand out to you? While re-reading The Hunger Games, I realized that Suzanne Collins had written a novel that encouraged the idea of Performing Resistance -and that topic has become chapter 3 of my thesis.
  • Did you notice anything in your analysis and your re-reading of the novel that no other writers you found had written about? If so, yeah! You're on your way. If not, don't give up hope yet!
  • Think about what you know. Reading this book through your eyes, your experiences, your  does this change the text?
  • If you can (and hopefully you will do this in class), discuss the book.  You can do this with a friend, Writing Center consultant, book club, dog...etc.  What's really interesting is that sometimes it does not matter if the other person you are talking to has read the book. Someone with a different perspective might be able to bring up an interesting idea (upon hearing your description) that you had never thought of. 
These are just some of the steps that I go through when working hard to find something more and writing the paper that will hopefully make my professor happy about their chosen profession.

Will you always come up with something new?  It's hard to say.  There are a lot of intelligent people out there working hard to do just the same thing.

But let's not think about them. 

Remember you bring a unique perspective to the the table -- use that as a jumping off point.

And if that doesn't work, watch this

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