This week, I chose an image that is the National Poetry Month poster from 2009. I selected it because of the quote, which most of you will probably recognize from the T. S. Eliot poem, but which lovers of YA literature will also remember from Robert Cormier's novel The Chocolate War. This was also the title and topic of one of the earliest response papers I wrote for my Teen Lit class, my first year at The New School. It was in this class and my subsequent literature courses that I really learned to appreciate the task of responding to literature in my writing.
In my mind, there are three main ways you can respond to individual pieces of literature: Reviews, Response Essays and Technical Experiments.
This is the most basic way you can respond to the literature in your writing. What did you think of a book? Why did you like it or dislike it? Many of you may already write reviews on your blogs, so if you're ready to raise the stakes a little. One way to do this is to do a more in-depth analysis of the work. Focus not so much on what the author is doing, but why and what these choices accomplish.
These essays are not straight reviews of a book, in fact, they might not a book at all. Instead, what you do for a response essay is take a theme from a work of literature and run with it. There are two loose categories for response essays: analysis and personal essay. Some ideas for each category might include (but are not limited to):
- Choose a page of the work and do an in-depth, sentence-level analysis (this works best for works that have very rich language and imagery)
- Choose a secondary character and do an analysis of the role he/she plays.
- Take a main theme of the work and then choose one scene and discuss how it furthers that theme.
- Take a quote from the work that represents a strong theme and apply it to your own life in some way.
- Choose a theme from the work and tell a story of that theme at work in your own life.
This is perhaps the most challenging approach to writing about literature. In this case, you take a technique that the author uses in a particular work and try to apply it to your own writing. In this type of writing, you don't focus on the actual work itself, but simply try to figure out how the author did what he did, and how you can apply it to your own work.
OK, so I've written something. Now what?
I can guess what you're thinking: what's the point in writing these papers if you're not actually handing them in for school. Not to worry, your efforts will not be for nothing. Reviews can easily be posted on a blog and personal essays can be polished and submitted to appropriate markets. Finally, technical experiments only serve to strengthen your W.I.P. so they are worthwhile in and of themselves.
So go ahead, disturb the literary universe a little and write a response paper. I won't tell. In fact, I think I'll do it too.