Essay 2 – Writing About Plot


Fall, 2014
Instructor: Prof. Mitchell Smith

Essay 2
Writing about Plot

Due Date: 11:59 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2014 (via email)

Length: 4 pages, approximately 1000 words (you may write more)

Task: You will write a paper of interpretive literary criticism focusing on the plot of “The Quest for Saint Aquin” by Anthony Boucher. Essays of literary criticism should aim to enrich the reading of others by identifying and explaining aspects of the story that you find significant. This does not necessarily mean you will reduce the story to a simple meaning or message. Instead, you will show how the story creates meaning primarily through its crafting of plot, but also with some mention of character, setting, point of view, language, and style. Essays that do not make plot and its narrative structure their primary focus will not be considered passing.

Discussion: In order to begin writing about plot, notice that “Aquin” has a very specific shape with the characters following a well-defined narrative pattern. So ask yourself a set of questions about plot: what purpose does the exposition serve? Are there a rising action, climax, and falling action (as in Hamlet)? How do plot changes establish, reveal, and change characters? What is the story’s central conflict? Are the motivations of the characters apparent? What is the ending situation and dénouement? What is the impact of the success, failure or surprising outcome on the protagonist? Does the narrative move in a linear or nonlinear fashion? Is there an identifiable overall narrative structure? Your essay can explore some, all, or none of these questions. The questions are just here to get you thinking. But make sure you do not get lost in explaining the very compelling philosophy of the story. Our focus is plot, not theme.

Please make use of the sample student essays and checklists for writing about literature that I post as PDFs on the course webpage. These can help guide you through the writing process.

Audience: As always with literary criticism, this is a critical paper, not a book review. You can assume your audience has read the story, so there is no need to waste space with summary.

Purpose: Since this is a critical essay, you will need to find repeated patterns in the story that support your interpretations and readings. Keep in mind, while there is no one “correct” reading to a work of literature, there can be many wrong ones. It is not “all up to one’s interpretation.” You need to find multiple citations from the text to support your analysis.

Essay Structure: Your essay should be structured in the academic form you learned in ENGL 100, 1A or its equivalent. Intro: Your essay should begin with a well-organized Introduction that formally identifies your source works, names your method, covers the general structural ideas about plot and the main interpretations of the story your essay will explore, and ends with a Thesis. Thesis: In a critical essay, the Thesis should state the writer’s position on a single topic, an assertion about a significant element of the story being analyzed or an interpretation of it. It can therefore be considered an argument. Body: For this essay assignment, each of your main points should be about the structural or thematic importance of plot to the story. Together, these points should form complete support for the argument of the thesis. Paragraphs: Topic Sentences need to identify one of your main points or sub-points about the structural or thematic importance of plot to the story. After a TS asserts a point, the rest of the paragraph needs to support and explain that concept with original discussions, explanations, and definitions as well as quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from your sources. Conclusion: Your final paragraph should be brief and should not just repeat information already given in the essay. To add some freshness, you can instead bring up a final new image, plot complication, or analogous form that encapsulates points you have already made in the body of the essay.

Format: Essays for this course must use MLA style formatting and citations. Failure to use MLA or excessive errors can result in a failing grade. The MLA style guide, any good English manual (like the Diana Hacker series), or the OWL at Purdue website ( can give you help on using this style correctly.

Highlights include:

  • All essays must be typed and double-spaced
  • Margins must be 1-inch on all sides of the page. Align the left margin only.
  • Use 12 point Times or Courier font
  • On the first page (only) type your name, professor name (“Professor Smith”), course number (English 1B), and date at the top left corner margin 1″ from the top of the page
  • On each page put your last name and page number in the upper right hand corner outside the margin, ½” from the top of the page (most insert page # commands will default to this placement)
  • The title (not underlined or italicized or in quotes) should be centered above the first paragraph
  • Proper MLA citations for all sources (for this essay, just the story)
  • A Works Cited page

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