Excellence in Literature (review)

Disclosure: I received this product free through the Homeschool Review Crew.

My oldest son has been working on writing a novel with his girlfriend, so I thought he might benefit from the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers from Everyday Education. The PDF e-book is over 400 pages long and has tons of valuable information for writers from middle school on up.

From Ballet Boy:

The part of the book that I used was Pointers and Tips on how to write what’s considered a “good” essay from a logical perspective. It included information on how to structure sound arguments, and thus how to fulfill the purpose of an essay. It touched on the fact that an essay is not meant to deliver facts so much as it to convey a convincing point of view, or to sell an idea.

The author discusses the weakness of starting your essay with something that is a trivial or obvious claim. For example, if your essay is about Hamlet and your opening sentence says “Hamlet was the Prince of Denmark and he dies at the end of the play,” that neither conveys new information to the reader nor takes a stand about anything. Another weak sentence starter it gives as an example is “The French Revolution, which started in 1789, brought about many changes.” This, too, is a fact that can be checked by any reputable source and therefore can’t be the topic of an essay. It’s only something that can guide you toward a sound and logical argument.

This is not to say that an essay shouldn’t have the facts in it. But the mistake people often make in writing essays is that they get hung up on the facts, myself included. Then their essay becomes the answer sheet to a trivia game instead of someone trying to convince you of a point or position. This renders the essay redundant.

Moving over to the novel I’m writing, I have started using some of these same principles to create a more engaging story, one that is less concerned about delivering facts and descriptions (talking about the time of day and how the wind blows) and is more about invoking concern, emotion, and feeling in myself and my future readers.

Recently I was writing a scene where my two main characters are interacting with each other, and one of them is injured, lying on a couch. Instead of having a description of the room that they’re talking in, I have different characters interact with their surroundings. For example, instead of describing that the couch has lots of pillows on it, I have one of my characters grab a pillow and move it slightly to better support his head. And instead of describing how the room has a soft rug (or carpet), I instead talk about how their feet sink into the soft ground whenever they take a step.

All in all, I’d say this is a very good resource that I would recommend to a beginner or someone who intends to write anything of importance, whether a thesis statement in grad school or a fantasy novel for teenagers.

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