Note: I’ve put these steps in an order that makes sense to me. You should complete them all as part of your revision, but you don’t have to complete them in the order I listed them. Whatever makes sense to you.
Step one: your main argument
Now that you’ve finished your rough draft, you’re probably closer to discovering your main argument/thesis statement.
Remember the question: what’s one aspect of Henry’s character can you or can you not relate to?
So, your main argument must say something specific about one aspect of Henry’s character. The more specific, the better. You also want to go beyond the most immediate, obvious thing.
Henry pretends he’s tough, but underneath he reveals a sensitive character.
This is true enough. But, you can go deeper than this. One way to do this is to get more precise. What do you mean by tough? What does that mean for Henry? What you do mean by sensitive? In what way is Henry sensitive?
Here’s the example I wrote in the “Sample Essay” post: Anna is very in touch with the emotional truth of every situation, and she is not afraid to express how she really feels, much like a child.
You can see that I have a few ideas in here, it’s complex, and it goes beyond the immediately obvious. I don’t just say that Anna is like a child. I explain what I mean by that by complicating it with two other ideas.
Now, your main argument has to work in concert with the body of your essay. You can’t state your main argument in your opening, and then proceed to talk about something different in your body. Your thesis statement and the body of your essay should function in a constant state of give and take when you’re drafting: something you say in your paragraph can help you further develop your thesis, and vice versa. When I’m drafting, I constantly go back and rework the main argument. I’m continually open to new ways of understanding the novel and understanding what I’m writing. So, when you’re drafting, your main argument should not be static. It should be dynamic: you should be constantly going back and refining it.
Read your entire essay.
- Does the main argument make a specific statement? Could it be more specific?
- Does everything you say in your essay expand on this main argument? If not, can you revise your main argument to make it more appropriate to what you’re writing? Do you need to rework any of your arguments to make them fit more in line with your main argument?
Step two: Eliminate repetition
You want to be vigilant in removing repetitive sentences, phrases, or words from your draft. Repetition is unconvincing. You are not going to convince people if you’re repeating yourself. The more you say one thing, the less convinced a human will be. With each repetitive statement, your point becomes weaker and weaker. So, if you say one thing once, don’t say it again. You want to get rid of repetitive sentences. This means eliminating them. Deleting them. The more you repeat something the less convinced your reader will be, and the more annoyed they will be. (get rid of repetition, is what I’m saying).
- Look for any repetitive sentences in your rewritten paragraph, and get rid of them.
You may think something like this: I had a 1,000 word draft, and by getting rid of everything repetitive, I only have a 700 word draft.
Here’s the thing: You only had a 700 word draft to begin with, plus 300 words of dead weight. Eliminating repetition is a good way to get an honest appraisal of where your essay is at.
Step three: Looking at Citations
Now would be a good moment to take a look at your evidence. The kind of evidence you use from the novel can have an enormous impact on the quality of your essay.
You want citations that
- are insightful. This means that the quote should have something meaty that you can analyze. For example, the following quote gives you a lot to analyze: “Kindergarten was mostly white air” (27). It is ambiguous, open to interpretation. Avoid quotes that just state mechanical actions, like this one: “I heard them walking around the house” (138). Not much going on in this quote that you can talk about.
- are from as many different parts of the novel as possible. You’re writing an analysis of Henry’s character as it evolves throughout the novel. There are 281 pages in the novel. If all of your quotes are from pages 1-100, then you’re leaving out everything that happens after page 100.
- are the correct length. A quote can be one word, or it can be a whole paragraph. But, no matter how long it is, you want to make sure you’re using the entirety of the quote. There’s nothing wrong with using a long quote–if you need to. Eliminate any parts of quotes you’re not using. Also, make sure to use enough of the quote to give us enough information.
- Go through your draft, and make sure all your citations are doing what they’re supposed to do. Make changes as necessary.
Step four: make sure your citations are integrated properly
Many people were doing this incorrectly on their Film Adaptation Assignments. Look closely at this document: How to Integrate Citations.
Simply put, follow these rules.
- A citation cannot be its own sentence. It must be connected to a sentence, or part of a sentence, that precedes it.
- The citation should be the end of your sentence. Don’t continue your sentence after the citation.
- The sentence that precedes the citation should contextualize it: where are we in the story? What’s happening? Who’s speaking? To whom? About what?
- Go through your draft, and make sure that each citation is properly integrated and contextualized.
Step five: strengthening your analysis
For each citation you provide, you want to make sure you’re looking at closely as possible at any word, phrase, or image that could contain more meaning. What to watch out for:
- Strong imagery
- Ambiguous words
- Words that convey emotion
- Meaningful action or body language
- Anything that fits into greater themes or patterns in the novel
- anything else that appears to contain meaning beyond the literal meaning
- How does this help advance your main argument?
- Comb through your paragraph. Look at the analysis that follows each citation. Are you looking at the citation closely enough? Are you expanding on the idea in your main argument? Add sentences of analysis as necessary.
Step six: transitions
Between each argument or each new idea, you should have an appropriate transitional word or phrase. Here is a document listing useful transitions.
Add transitional words or phrases as necessary. You can use these at the beginning of paragraphs, or between ideas in paragraphs.
Step seven: Look at first and last sentences of each paragraph
You want the first sentence of each paragraph to
- introduce the reader to the main idea of the paragraph.
- follow logically from the last sentence of the previous paragraph.
- be a clear sentence that makes an analytical statement.
“Lionel calls the Garbage Cop to find out important information” is a factual statement. This is not what you want in your first line.
“Lionel’s interactions with the Garbage Cop reveal strengths in his character that we haven’t seen up to this point” is an analytical statement. These are the kinds of things you want in your first line.
You want the last sentence of each paragraph to
- to end off on a punchy note. Last sentences of paragraphs are often short.
- lead gracefully into the first sentence of the next paragraph.
- Revise and rewrite the first and last sentences of each paragraph as necessary.
Step eight: Revise your second paragraph
According to the structure that I gave you, your second paragraph should describe a specific event from your life. Keep these threethings in mind:
- Use as much sensory imagery as possible (describe things that you can see, hear, feel, taste, or smell).
- Remember that you can present yourself however you like: heroic, pathetic, sensitive, brash, cool, loserish, etc.
- It should, in some way, help compare or contrast a specific aspect of your experience with a specific aspect of Henry’s character.
Revise and rewrite your second paragraph as necessary.
Step nine: revise your opening paragraph
This is a good moment to rewrite your opening. You have a much better idea of how to introduce your essay once you’ve written the rest of it. Like you did for the body paragraphs, keep whatever you like, and get rid of the rest.
- Consider audience and purpose: letter to a potential readers of this book giving your opinion of whether they should read it or not.
- Could be pretty short.
- You should state the title of the book at the author’s name somewhere in your opening.
- Titles of novels should be in Italics. Motherless Brooklyn.
- Spell the author’s name correctly.
- Give a brief (one or two sentence) summary of relevant aspects of the novel.
- State whether you enjoyed the book, and whether or not you can relate to Henry in any way
- Should contain your main argument. It’s easiest if this is the last sentence of your opening.
Step ten: write a short closing paragraph
Your closing can be super short, a few sentences should do it.
Stay away from the standard academic “in conclusion” and then proceed to summarize your main points. You don’t need to summarize your main points. You already said them (see note on repetition above).
You basically want to get out of there as quickly as possible. The date is over, you had a good time, you just told a good joke, and it’s a good time to end the evening. You can talk about other ideas you didn’t have time to discuss, raise possible areas of discussion for another paper, or raise some questions you didn’t have time to answer. You can gracefully reflect on your process with the ideas in this piece. I don’t know. I don’t have good advice about how to write an ending. Try something.
Step eleven: Give it another read through.
Now that your whole essay is in front of you, look for all of the things in steps 1-7 again.
Step twelve: Style
Once you have all your content done, it’s time to think more about the style of your writing. One thing to consider: in order to maintain maximal interest, vary the lengths of your sentences. Have some shorter ones. Follow that up with longer sentences, ones that delight our imagination and tickle our thirst for original, unique ideas and leave us hungry for more of your brilliance. Then, maybe a medium-length sentence, for effect. You can even add in very short little punchy sentences that produce a desired effect. Like this.
Step thirteen: words
Writing is made up of individual words. Duh. But this is important. You want to make sure that your words are:
- Precise. Use the right word, and use the most precise one possible. Am I referring to a house? An apartment? A pied-a-terre ? A crash pad? A safe haven? A dump? A palace?
- Varied. In drafts it’s easy to repeat the same word over and over again. Try to vary your words as much as possible. Use a dictionary and thesaurus. Use them!
- Spelled correctly
Read through your draft, seeing if you can be more precise and varied in your use of words.
Step fourteen: editing for grammar
Everyone makes grammatical mistakes when they write drafts. Even the best writer in the world. But you can’t apply for a job or a university or send a memo to your boss or a letter to customers that is full of grammatical mistakes.
- Print out your draft and edit on that. There are mistakes you’ll catch on the page that you won’t catch on a screen.
- Read your draft out loud. Reading it out loud will allow you to catch any weird-sounding sentences.
- Come to my office and show me a draft. I’ll help you. I love helping people fix grammar mistakes. I am a grammar nerd. I am an English teacher.
Vigilantly watch out for the small things. One good idea is to read the draft over a bunch of times, each time looking for one thing. Here are something things to watch out for:
- Making sure all of your sentences are full sentences
- Making sure you have to run-on sentences
- putting an S at the end of words wherever it belongs
- making sure your verbs are in the present tense when discussing action in the novel (Lionel goes to the Zendo, speaks to Gerard, sleeps with Kimmery…)
- Any other grammatical issues that you see.
Step fifteen: Works Cited
Add a list of works cited. List the novel, and any other sources you may have consulted. The Dawson library has instructions on how to write a Works Cited in MLA format.
Step sixteen: Add a title
For me, this is the most fun part. Try to come up with something concise, fun, and that represents what you’re saying in your paper. Don’t write “Ham on Rye Final Draft.” Do your best.
Step seventeen: by……
Write your name at the top of your post. Write “by” and then your name. Be a proud author.
Step eighteen: include a feature image
The dessert of this exercise. Search the web for a fun and appropriate image. See the panel on the left that says “Featured Image”? That’s where you post your feature image.
Step nineteen: publish
Publish your post to the category “Ham on Rye Final Draft.” (Don’t click on “FA Rough Draft” by accident)
Step twenty: party time
Take some time to feel good about what you’ve done. This was a difficult task. A real accomplishment. Go and spend quality time doing something that brings you joy.