A Quick Tutorial on How to Write A Literary Essay

Literary essays are a common assignment given amongst high school teachers and college professors in English departments. A literary essay talks about themes or big ideas in a book. You need to pay attention to specifics and explore the construction and the meaning of the book. Since this type of essay is so frequently assigned it’s good to know how to write one so you can be ready to deliver a great literary essay every time.

Before You Start Writing

If you know that you are going to have to write an essay about the book you’re reading for class as you’re reading it, do a few things while reading to help save you time later on.

  • Pay attention to theme, character, structure, tone, subtext, and writing style.
  • Ask yourself questions as you read. Does the book teach the reader a lesson? Is the author trying to convey a big idea? Do any of the characters, objects, or events symbolize anything?
  • What examples in the book answer these questions? What supports your viewpoint of what you think the book is trying to say? Take notes as you read and mark anything that could be used to support the main theme of the book, or whatever else you intend to talk about with your essay. Post-it notes are a great way to organize your ideas to use later on. They allow you to mark pages where you thought something was important, which makes it easy to go to the exact page with the information or the quote you need while writing.

After you finish reading the book, go back to your notes while you’re brainstorming ideas for your essay. The next step is to organize your ideas and work on an outline.


Your outline should have the basic format of:

  • Introduction
  • Body Paragraph 1
  • Body Paragraph 2
  • Body Paragraph 3
  • Conclusion

The outline is a great way to organize your notes and your ideas without actually writing the essay. Don’t worry about making things flow yet, that will come later. The outline is all about setting up a structure for your essay and making it easier to write.

Writing Your Essay

You already have your essay organized and have all the information you need; now you just need to fill it in and make it flow. When you write your essay, add in transitions and your own interpretation of the text. Instead of it just being a list of parts of the text like in the outline, this is where you add in your own voice. The outline was the skeleton of the paper and now you’re adding the meat to the bones. Make sure it flows nicely and doesn’t sound choppy.

Once you are done writing, reread and edit your essay. At this point, you are done and ready to hand in your literary essay.


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