how to write a essay on a novel

How to Write an Essay about a Novel – Step by Step Guide

how to write a essay on a novel

Writing about literature used to scare the heck out of me. I really couldn’t wrap my mind around analyzing a novel. You have the story. You have the characters. But so what? I had no idea what to write.

Luckily, a brilliant professor I had as an undergrad taught me how to analyze a novel in an essay. I taught this process in the university and as a tutor for many years. It’s simple, and it works. And in this tutorial, I’ll show it to you. So, let’s go!

Writing an essay about a novel or any work of fiction is a 6-step process. Steps 1-3 are the analysis part. Steps 4-6 are the writing part.

Step 1. create a list of elements of the novel .

Ask yourself, “What are the elements of this book?”

Well, here is a list of elements present in any work of fiction, any novel:

how to write a essay on a novel

Here is a table of literary elements along with their descriptions. 

In this step, you simply pick 3-6 elements from the list I just gave you and arrange them as bullet points. You just want to make sure you pick elements that you are most familiar or comfortable with.

For example, you can create the following list:

This is just for you to capture the possibilities of what you can write about. It’s a very simple and quick step because I already gave you a list of elements. 

Step 2. Pick 3 elements you are most comfortable with

In this step, we’ll use what I call The Power of Three . You don’t need more than three elements to write an excellent essay about a novel or a book. 

Just pick three from the list you just created with which you are most familiar or that you understand the best. These will correspond to three sections in your essay. 

If you’re an English major, you’ll be a lot more familiar with the term “metaphor” than if you major in Accounting. 

But even if you’re a Math major, you are at least probably already familiar with what a story or a character is. And you’ve probably had a takeaway or a lesson from stories you’ve read or seen on screen.

Just pick what you can relate to most readily and easily. 

For example, you can pick Characters , Symbols , and Takeaways . Great!

how to write a essay on a novel

You Can Also Pick Examples of an Element 

Let’s say that you are really unfamiliar with most of the elements. In that case, you can just pick one and then list three examples of it.

For example, you can pick the element of Characters . And now all you need to do is choose three of the most memorable characters. You can do this with many of the elements of a novel.

You can pick three themes , such as Romance, Envy, and Adultery. 

You can pick three symbols , such as a rose, a ring, and a boat. These can represent love, marriage, and departure. 

Okay, great job picking your elements or examples of them. 

For the rest of this tutorial, I chose to write about a novel by Fedor Dostoyevskiy, The Brothers Karamazov. This will be our example. 

It is one of the greatest novels ever written. And it’s a mystery novel, too, which makes it fun. 

So now, let’s choose either three elements of this novel or three examples of an element. I find that one of the easiest ways to do this is to pick one element – Characters – and three examples of it. 

In other words, I’m picking three characters. And the entire essay will be about these three characters.

Now, you may ask, if I write only about the characters, am I really writing an essay about the novel? 

And the answer is, Yes. Because you can’t write about everything at once. You must pick something. Pick your battles. 

And by doing that, you will have plenty of opportunities to make a statement about the whole novel. Does that make sense? 

Just trust the process, and it will all become clear in the next steps. 

Let’s pick the three brothers – Alexei, Dmitriy, and Ivan. 

And don’t worry – I won’t assume that you have read the book. And I won’t spoil it for you if you’re planning to. 

So we have the three brothers. We’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 3. Identify a relationship among these elements

In this step, you want to think about how these three elements that you picked are related to one another. 

In this particular case, the three brothers are obviously related because they are brothers. But I want you to dig deeper and see if there is perhaps a theme in the novel that may be connecting the elements.

how to write a essay on a novel

And, yes, I am using another element – theme – just to help me think about the book. Be creative and use whatever is available to you. It just so happens that religion is a very strong theme in this novel. 

What do the three brothers have in common? 

  • They have the same father.
  • Each one has a romantic interest (meaning, a beloved woman).
  • All three have some kind of a relationship with God. 

These are three ways in which the brothers are related to one another. All we need is one type of a relationship among them to write this essay. 

This is a religious novel, and yes, some of the characters will be linked to a form of a divinity. In this case, the religion is Christianity.

Note: there are many ways in which you can play with elements of a novel and examples of them. Here’s a detailed video I made about this process:

Let’s see if we can pick the best relationship of those we just enumerated.  

They all have the same father. 

This relationship is only factual. It is not very interesting in any way. So we move on to the next one.

They all have women they love.

Each brother has a romantic interest, to use a literary term. We can examine each of the brothers as a lover. 

Who is the most fervent lover? Who is perhaps more distant and closed? This is an interesting connecting relationship to explore. 

One of them is the most passionate about his woman, but so is another one – I won’t say who so I don’t spoil the novel for you. The third brother seems rather intellectual about his love interest. 

So, romantic interest is a good candidate for a connecting relationship. Let’s explore the next connection candidate. 

They all relate to God in one way or another. 

Let’s see if we can put the brothers’ relationships with God in some sort of an order. Well, Alexei is a monk in learning. He lives at the monastery and studies Christianity. He is the closest to God.

Dmitriy is a believer, but he is more distant from God due to his passionate affair with his woman. He loses his head many times and does things that are ungodly, according to the author. So, although he is a believer, he is more distant from God than is Alexei.

Finally, Ivan is a self-proclaimed atheist. Therefore, he is the farthest away from God.

It looks like we got ourselves a nice sequence, or progression, which we can probably use to write this essay about this novel. 

What is the sequence? The sequence is: 

Alexei is the closest to God, Dmitriy is second closest, and Ivan is pretty far away.

It looks like we have a pattern here. 

If we look at the brothers in the book and watch their emotions closely, we’ll come to the conclusion that they go from blissful to very emotionally unstable to downright miserable to the point of insanity.

Here’s the conclusion we must make: 

The closer the character’s relationship with God, the happier he is, and the farther away he is from God, the more miserable he appears to be.

how to write a essay on a novel

Wow. This is quite a conclusion. It looks like we have just uncovered one of Dostoyevskiy’s main arguments in this novel, if not the main point he is trying to make.

Now that we’ve identified our three elements (examples) and a strong connecting relationship among them, we can move on to Step 4.

Step 4. Take a stand and write your thesis statement

Now we’re ready to formulate our thesis statement. It consists of two parts:

  • Your Thesis (your main argument)
  • Your Outline of Support (how you plan to support your main point)

By now, we have everything we need to write a very clear and strong thesis statement. 

First, let’s state our thesis as clearly and succinctly as possible, based on what we already know:

“In his novel Brothers Karamazov , Dostoyevskiy describes a world in which happiness is directly proportional to proximity to God. The closer to God a character is, the happier and more emotionally stable he is, and vice versa.”

See how clear this is? And most importantly, this is clear not only to the reader, but also to you as the writer. Now you know exactly what statement you will be supporting in the body of the essay. 

Are we finished with the thesis statement? Not yet. The second part consists of your supporting points. And again, we have everything we need to write it. Let’s do it.

“Alexei’s state of mind is ultimately blissful, because he is a true and observant believer. Dmitriy’s faith is upstaged by his passion for a woman, and he suffers a lot as a result. Ivan’s renunciation of God makes him the unhappiest of the brothers and eventually leads him to insanity.”

Guess what – we have just written our complete thesis statement. And it’s also our whole first paragraph. 

We are ready for Step 5. 

Step 5. Write the body of the essay

Again, just like in the previous step, you have everything you need to structure and write out the body of this essay.

How many main sections will this essay have? Because we are writing about three brothers, it only makes sense that our essay will have three main sections.

how to write a essay on a novel

Each section may have one or more paragraphs. So, here’s an important question to consider:

How many words or pages do you have to write? 

Let’s say your teacher or professor wants you to write 2,000 words on this topic. Then, here is your strategic breakdown:

  • Thesis Statement (first paragraph) = 100 words
  • Conclusion (last paragraph) = 100 words
  • Body of the Essay = 1,800 words

Let me show you how easy it is to subdivide the body of the essay into sections and subsections.

We already know that we have three sections. And we need 1,800 words total for the body. This leads us to 600 words per main section (meaning, per brother). 

Can we subdivide further? Yes, we can. And we should.

When discussing each of the brothers, we connect two subjects: his relationship with God AND his psychological state. That’s how we make those connections. 

So, we should simply subdivide each section of 600 words into two subsections of 300 words each. And now all we need to do is to write each part as if it were a standalone 300-word essay.

how to write a essay on a novel

Does this make sense? See how simple and clear this is?

Writing Your Paragraphs

Writing good paragraphs is a topic for an entire article of its own. It is a science and an art.

In essence, you start your paragraph with a good lead sentence in which you make one point. Then, you provide reasons, explanations, and examples to support it. 

Here is an article I wrote on how to write great paragraphs .

Once you’ve written the body of the essay, one last step remains. 

Step 6. Add an introduction and a conclusion 

Introductions and conclusions are those little parts of an essay that your teachers and professors will want you to write. 


In our example, we already have a full opening paragraph going. It’s our thesis statement. 

To write an introduction, all you need to do is add one or two sentences above the thesis statement. 

Here is our thesis statement:

“In his novel Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevskiy describes a world in which happiness is directly proportional to proximity to God. The closer to God a character is, the happier and more emotionally stable he is, and vice versa. Alexei’s state of mind is ultimately blissful, because he is a true and observant believer. Dmitriy’s faith is upstaged by his passion for a woman, and he suffers a lot as a result. Ivan’s renunciation of God makes him the unhappiest of the brothers and eventually leads him to insanity.”

As you can see, it is a complete paragraph that doesn’t lack anything. But because we need to have an introduction, here is a sentence with which we can open this paragraph:

“Dostoyevskiy is a great Russian novelist who explores the theme of religion in many of his books.”

And then just proceed with the rest of the paragraph. Read this sentence followed by the thesis statement, and you see that it works great. And it took me about 30 seconds to write this introductory sentence. 

You can write conclusions in several different ways. But the most time-proven way is to simply restate your thesis. 

If you write your thesis statement the way I teach, you will have a really strong opening paragraph that can be easily reworded to craft a good conclusion. 

Here is an article I wrote (which includes a video) on how to write conclusions .


You’ve made it to the end, and now you know exactly how to write an essay about a novel or any work of fiction!

Tutor Phil is an e-learning professional who helps adult learners finish their degrees by teaching them academic writing skills.

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how to write a essay on a novel

How to Write an Essay

Use the links below to jump directly to any section of this guide:

Essay Writing Fundamentals

How to prepare to write an essay, how to edit an essay, how to share and publish your essays, how to get essay writing help, how to find essay writing inspiration, resources for teaching essay writing.

Essays, short prose compositions on a particular theme or topic, are the bread and butter of academic life. You write them in class, for homework, and on standardized tests to show what you know. Unlike other kinds of academic writing (like the research paper) and creative writing (like short stories and poems), essays allow you to develop your original thoughts on a prompt or question. Essays come in many varieties: they can be expository (fleshing out an idea or claim), descriptive, (explaining a person, place, or thing), narrative (relating a personal experience), or persuasive (attempting to win over a reader). This guide is a collection of dozens of links about academic essay writing that we have researched, categorized, and annotated in order to help you improve your essay writing. 

Essays are different from other forms of writing; in turn, there are different kinds of essays. This section contains general resources for getting to know the essay and its variants. These resources introduce and define the essay as a genre, and will teach you what to expect from essay-based assessments.

Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab

One of the most trusted academic writing sites, Purdue OWL provides a concise introduction to the four most common types of academic essays.

"The Essay: History and Definition" (ThoughtCo)

This snappy article from ThoughtCo talks about the origins of the essay and different kinds of essays you might be asked to write. 

"What Is An Essay?" Video Lecture (Coursera)

The University of California at Irvine's free video lecture, available on Coursera, tells  you everything you need to know about the essay.

Wikipedia Article on the "Essay"

Wikipedia's article on the essay is comprehensive, providing both English-language and global perspectives on the essay form. Learn about the essay's history, forms, and styles.

"Understanding College and Academic Writing" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

This list of common academic writing assignments (including types of essay prompts) will help you know what to expect from essay-based assessments.

Before you start writing your essay, you need to figure out who you're writing for (audience), what you're writing about (topic/theme), and what you're going to say (argument and thesis). This section contains links to handouts, chapters, videos and more to help you prepare to write an essay.

How to Identify Your Audience

"Audience" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This handout provides questions you can ask yourself to determine the audience for an academic writing assignment. It also suggests strategies for fitting your paper to your intended audience.

"Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content" (Univ. of Minnesota Libraries)

This extensive book chapter from Writing for Success , available online through Minnesota Libraries Publishing, is followed by exercises to try out your new pre-writing skills.

"Determining Audience" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

This guide from a community college's writing center shows you how to know your audience, and how to incorporate that knowledge in your thesis statement.

"Know Your Audience" ( Paper Rater Blog)

This short blog post uses examples to show how implied audiences for essays differ. It reminds you to think of your instructor as an observer, who will know only the information you pass along.

How to Choose a Theme or Topic

"Research Tutorial: Developing Your Topic" (YouTube)

Take a look at this short video tutorial from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to understand the basics of developing a writing topic.

"How to Choose a Paper Topic" (WikiHow)

This simple, step-by-step guide (with pictures!) walks you through choosing a paper topic. It starts with a detailed description of brainstorming and ends with strategies to refine your broad topic.

"How to Read an Assignment: Moving From Assignment to Topic" (Harvard College Writing Center)

Did your teacher give you a prompt or other instructions? This guide helps you understand the relationship between an essay assignment and your essay's topic.

"Guidelines for Choosing a Topic" (CliffsNotes)

This study guide from CliffsNotes both discusses how to choose a topic and makes a useful distinction between "topic" and "thesis."

How to Come Up with an Argument

"Argument" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

Not sure what "argument" means in the context of academic writing? This page from the University of North Carolina is a good place to start.

"The Essay Guide: Finding an Argument" (Study Hub)

This handout explains why it's important to have an argument when beginning your essay, and provides tools to help you choose a viable argument.

"Writing a Thesis and Making an Argument" (University of Iowa)

This page from the University of Iowa's Writing Center contains exercises through which you can develop and refine your argument and thesis statement.

"Developing a Thesis" (Harvard College Writing Center)

This page from Harvard's Writing Center collates some helpful dos and don'ts of argumentative writing, from steps in constructing a thesis to avoiding vague and confrontational thesis statements.

"Suggestions for Developing Argumentative Essays" (Berkeley Student Learning Center)

This page offers concrete suggestions for each stage of the essay writing process, from topic selection to drafting and editing. 

How to Outline your Essay

"Outlines" (Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill via YouTube)

This short video tutorial from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows how to group your ideas into paragraphs or sections to begin the outlining process.

"Essay Outline" (Univ. of Washington Tacoma)

This two-page handout by a university professor simply defines the parts of an essay and then organizes them into an example outline.

"Types of Outlines and Samples" (Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab)

Purdue OWL gives examples of diverse outline strategies on this page, including the alphanumeric, full sentence, and decimal styles. 

"Outlining" (Harvard College Writing Center)

Once you have an argument, according to this handout, there are only three steps in the outline process: generalizing, ordering, and putting it all together. Then you're ready to write!

"Writing Essays" (Plymouth Univ.)

This packet, part of Plymouth University's Learning Development series, contains descriptions and diagrams relating to the outlining process.

"How to Write A Good Argumentative Essay: Logical Structure" ( via YouTube)

This longer video tutorial gives an overview of how to structure your essay in order to support your argument or thesis. It is part of a longer course on academic writing hosted on Udemy.

Now that you've chosen and refined your topic and created an outline, use these resources to complete the writing process. Most essays contain introductions (which articulate your thesis statement), body paragraphs, and conclusions. Transitions facilitate the flow from one paragraph to the next so that support for your thesis builds throughout the essay. Sources and citations show where you got the evidence to support your thesis, which ensures that you avoid plagiarism. 

How to Write an Introduction

"Introductions" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page identifies the role of the introduction in any successful paper, suggests strategies for writing introductions, and warns against less effective introductions.

"How to Write A Good Introduction" (Michigan State Writing Center)

Beginning with the most common missteps in writing introductions, this guide condenses the essentials of introduction composition into seven points.

"The Introductory Paragraph" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post from academic advisor and college enrollment counselor Grace Fleming focuses on ways to grab your reader's attention at the beginning of your essay.

"Introductions and Conclusions" (Univ. of Toronto)

This guide from the University of Toronto gives advice that applies to writing both introductions and conclusions, including dos and don'ts.

"How to Write Better Essays: No One Does Introductions Properly" ( The Guardian )

This news article interviews UK professors on student essay writing; they point to introductions as the area that needs the most improvement.

How to Write a Thesis Statement

"Writing an Effective Thesis Statement" (YouTube)

This short, simple video tutorial from a college composition instructor at Tulsa Community College explains what a thesis statement is and what it does. 

"Thesis Statement: Four Steps to a Great Essay" (YouTube)

This fantastic tutorial walks you through drafting a thesis, using an essay prompt on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as an example.

"How to Write a Thesis Statement" (WikiHow)

This step-by-step guide (with pictures!) walks you through coming up with, writing, and editing a thesis statement. It invites you think of your statement as a "working thesis" that can change.

"How to Write a Thesis Statement" (Univ. of Indiana Bloomington)

Ask yourself the questions on this page, part of Indiana Bloomington's Writing Tutorial Services, when you're writing and refining your thesis statement.

"Writing Tips: Thesis Statements" (Univ. of Illinois Center for Writing Studies)

This page gives plentiful examples of good to great thesis statements, and offers questions to ask yourself when formulating a thesis statement.

How to Write Body Paragraphs

"Body Paragraph" (Brightstorm)

This module of a free online course introduces you to the components of a body paragraph. These include the topic sentence, information, evidence, and analysis.

"Strong Body Paragraphs" (Washington Univ.)

This handout from Washington's Writing and Research Center offers in-depth descriptions of the parts of a successful body paragraph.

"Guide to Paragraph Structure" (Deakin Univ.)

This handout is notable for color-coding example body paragraphs to help you identify the functions various sentences perform.

"Writing Body Paragraphs" (Univ. of Minnesota Libraries)

The exercises in this section of Writing for Success  will help you practice writing good body paragraphs. It includes guidance on selecting primary support for your thesis.

"The Writing Process—Body Paragraphs" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

The information and exercises on this page will familiarize you with outlining and writing body paragraphs, and includes links to more information on topic sentences and transitions.

"The Five-Paragraph Essay" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post discusses body paragraphs in the context of one of the most common academic essay types in secondary schools.

How to Use Transitions

"Transitions" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains what a transition is, and how to know if you need to improve your transitions.

"Using Transitions Effectively" (Washington Univ.)

This handout defines transitions, offers tips for using them, and contains a useful list of common transitional words and phrases grouped by function.

"Transitions" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

This page compares paragraphs without transitions to paragraphs with transitions, and in doing so shows how important these connective words and phrases are.

"Transitions in Academic Essays" (Scribbr)

This page lists four techniques that will help you make sure your reader follows your train of thought, including grouping similar information and using transition words.

"Transitions" (El Paso Community College)

This handout shows example transitions within paragraphs for context, and explains how transitions improve your essay's flow and voice.

"Make Your Paragraphs Flow to Improve Writing" (ThoughtCo)

This blog post, another from academic advisor and college enrollment counselor Grace Fleming, talks about transitions and other strategies to improve your essay's overall flow.

"Transition Words" (

This handy word bank will help you find transition words when you're feeling stuck. It's grouped by the transition's function, whether that is to show agreement, opposition, condition, or consequence.

How to Write a Conclusion

"Parts of An Essay: Conclusions" (Brightstorm)

This module of a free online course explains how to conclude an academic essay. It suggests thinking about the "3Rs": return to hook, restate your thesis, and relate to the reader.

"Essay Conclusions" (Univ. of Maryland University College)

This overview of the academic essay conclusion contains helpful examples and links to further resources for writing good conclusions.

"How to End An Essay" (WikiHow)

This step-by-step guide (with pictures!) by an English Ph.D. walks you through writing a conclusion, from brainstorming to ending with a flourish.

"Ending the Essay: Conclusions" (Harvard College Writing Center)

This page collates useful strategies for writing an effective conclusion, and reminds you to "close the discussion without closing it off" to further conversation.

How to Include Sources and Citations

"Research and Citation Resources" (Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab)

Purdue OWL streamlines information about the three most common referencing styles (MLA, Chicago, and APA) and provides examples of how to cite different resources in each system.

EasyBib: Free Bibliography Generator

This online tool allows you to input information about your source and automatically generate citations in any style. Be sure to select your resource type before clicking the "cite it" button.


Like EasyBib, this online tool allows you to input information about your source and automatically generate citations in any style. 

Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA)

Here, you'll find the definitive and up-to-date record of MLA referencing rules. Order through the link above, or check to see if your library has a copy.

Chicago Manual of Style

Here, you'll find the definitive and up-to-date record of Chicago referencing rules. You can take a look at the table of contents, then choose to subscribe or start a free trial.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

"What is Plagiarism?" (

This nonprofit website contains numerous resources for identifying and avoiding plagiarism, and reminds you that even common activities like copying images from another website to your own site may constitute plagiarism.

"Plagiarism" (University of Oxford)

This interactive page from the University of Oxford helps you check for plagiarism in your work, making it clear how to avoid citing another person's work without full acknowledgement.

"Avoiding Plagiarism" (MIT Comparative Media Studies)

This quick guide explains what plagiarism is, what its consequences are, and how to avoid it. It starts by defining three words—quotation, paraphrase, and summary—that all constitute citation.

"Harvard Guide to Using Sources" (Harvard Extension School)

This comprehensive website from Harvard brings together articles, videos, and handouts about referencing, citation, and plagiarism. 

Grammarly contains tons of helpful grammar and writing resources, including a free tool to automatically scan your essay to check for close affinities to published work. 

Noplag is another popular online tool that automatically scans your essay to check for signs of plagiarism. Simply copy and paste your essay into the box and click "start checking."

Once you've written your essay, you'll want to edit (improve content), proofread (check for spelling and grammar mistakes), and finalize your work until you're ready to hand it in. This section brings together tips and resources for navigating the editing process. 

"Writing a First Draft" (Academic Help)

This is an introduction to the drafting process from the site Academic Help, with tips for getting your ideas on paper before editing begins.

"Editing and Proofreading" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page provides general strategies for revising your writing. They've intentionally left seven errors in the handout, to give you practice in spotting them.

"How to Proofread Effectively" (ThoughtCo)

This article from ThoughtCo, along with those linked at the bottom, help describe common mistakes to check for when proofreading.

"7 Simple Edits That Make Your Writing 100% More Powerful" (SmartBlogger)

This blog post emphasizes the importance of powerful, concise language, and reminds you that even your personal writing heroes create clunky first drafts.

"Editing Tips for Effective Writing" (Univ. of Pennsylvania)

On this page from Penn's International Relations department, you'll find tips for effective prose, errors to watch out for, and reminders about formatting.

"Editing the Essay" (Harvard College Writing Center)

This article, the first of two parts, gives you applicable strategies for the editing process. It suggests reading your essay aloud, removing any jargon, and being unafraid to remove even "dazzling" sentences that don't belong.

"Guide to Editing and Proofreading" (Oxford Learning Institute)

This handout from Oxford covers the basics of editing and proofreading, and reminds you that neither task should be rushed. 

In addition to plagiarism-checkers, Grammarly has a plug-in for your web browser that checks your writing for common mistakes.

After you've prepared, written, and edited your essay, you might want to share it outside the classroom. This section alerts you to print and web opportunities to share your essays with the wider world, from online writing communities and blogs to published journals geared toward young writers.

Sharing Your Essays Online

Go Teen Writers

Go Teen Writers is an online community for writers aged 13 - 19. It was founded by Stephanie Morrill, an author of contemporary young adult novels. 

Tumblr is a blogging website where you can share your writing and interact with other writers online. It's easy to add photos, links, audio, and video components.

Writersky provides an online platform for publishing and reading other youth writers' work. Its current content is mostly devoted to fiction.

Publishing Your Essays Online

This teen literary journal publishes in print, on the web, and (more frequently), on a blog. It is committed to ensuring that "teens see their authentic experience reflected on its pages."

The Matador Review

This youth writing platform celebrates "alternative," unconventional writing. The link above will take you directly to the site's "submissions" page.

Teen Ink has a website, monthly newsprint magazine, and quarterly poetry magazine promoting the work of young writers.

The largest online reading platform, Wattpad enables you to publish your work and read others' work. Its inline commenting feature allows you to share thoughts as you read along.

Publishing Your Essays in Print

Canvas Teen Literary Journal

This quarterly literary magazine is published for young writers by young writers. They accept many kinds of writing, including essays.

The Claremont Review

This biannual international magazine, first published in 1992, publishes poetry, essays, and short stories from writers aged 13 - 19.

Skipping Stones

This young writers magazine, founded in 1988, celebrates themes relating to ecological and cultural diversity. It publishes poems, photos, articles, and stories.

The Telling Room

This nonprofit writing center based in Maine publishes children's work on their website and in book form. The link above directs you to the site's submissions page.

Essay Contests

Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards

This prestigious international writing contest for students in grades 7 - 12 has been committed to "supporting the future of creativity since 1923."

Society of Professional Journalists High School Essay Contest

An annual essay contest on the theme of journalism and media, the Society of Professional Journalists High School Essay Contest awards scholarships up to $1,000.

National YoungArts Foundation

Here, you'll find information on a government-sponsored writing competition for writers aged 15 - 18. The foundation welcomes submissions of creative nonfiction, novels, scripts, poetry, short story and spoken word.

Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest

With prompts on a different literary work each year, this competition from Signet Classics awards college scholarships up to $1,000.

"The Ultimate Guide to High School Essay Contests" (CollegeVine)

See this handy guide from CollegeVine for a list of more competitions you can enter with your academic essay, from the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Awards to the National High School Essay Contest by the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Whether you're struggling to write academic essays or you think you're a pro, there are workshops and online tools that can help you become an even better writer. Even the most seasoned writers encounter writer's block, so be proactive and look through our curated list of resources to combat this common frustration.

Online Essay-writing Classes and Workshops

"Getting Started with Essay Writing" (Coursera)

Coursera offers lots of free, high-quality online classes taught by college professors. Here's one example, taught by instructors from the University of California Irvine.

"Writing and English" (Brightstorm)

Brightstorm's free video lectures are easy to navigate by topic. This unit on the parts of an essay features content on the essay hook, thesis, supporting evidence, and more.

"How to Write an Essay" (EdX)

EdX is another open online university course website with several two- to five-week courses on the essay. This one is geared toward English language learners.

Writer's Digest University

This renowned writers' website offers online workshops and interactive tutorials. The courses offered cover everything from how to get started through how to get published.

Signing up for this online writer's community gives you access to helpful resources as well as an international community of writers.

How to Overcome Writer's Block

"Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block" (Purdue OWL)

Purdue OWL offers a list of signs you might have writer's block, along with ways to overcome it. Consider trying out some "invention strategies" or ways to curb writing anxiety.

"Overcoming Writer's Block: Three Tips" ( The Guardian )

These tips, geared toward academic writing specifically, are practical and effective. The authors advocate setting realistic goals, creating dedicated writing time, and participating in social writing.

"Writing Tips: Strategies for Overcoming Writer's Block" (Univ. of Illinois)

This page from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Center for Writing Studies acquaints you with strategies that do and do not work to overcome writer's block.

"Writer's Block" (Univ. of Toronto)

Ask yourself the questions on this page; if the answer is "yes," try out some of the article's strategies. Each question is accompanied by at least two possible solutions.

If you have essays to write but are short on ideas, this section's links to prompts, example student essays, and celebrated essays by professional writers might help. You'll find writing prompts from a variety of sources, student essays to inspire you, and a number of essay writing collections.

Essay Writing Prompts

"50 Argumentative Essay Topics" (ThoughtCo)

Take a look at this list and the others ThoughtCo has curated for different kinds of essays. As the author notes, "a number of these topics are controversial and that's the point."

"401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing" ( New York Times )

This list (and the linked lists to persuasive and narrative writing prompts), besides being impressive in length, is put together by actual high school English teachers.

"SAT Sample Essay Prompts" (College Board)

If you're a student in the U.S., your classroom essay prompts are likely modeled on the prompts in U.S. college entrance exams. Take a look at these official examples from the SAT.

"Popular College Application Essay Topics" (Princeton Review)

This page from the Princeton Review dissects recent Common Application essay topics and discusses strategies for answering them.

Example Student Essays

"501 Writing Prompts" (DePaul Univ.)

This nearly 200-page packet, compiled by the LearningExpress Skill Builder in Focus Writing Team, is stuffed with writing prompts, example essays, and commentary.

"Topics in English" (Kibin)

Kibin is a for-pay essay help website, but its example essays (organized by topic) are available for free. You'll find essays on everything from  A Christmas Carol  to perseverance.

"Student Writing Models" (Thoughtful Learning)

Thoughtful Learning, a website that offers a variety of teaching materials, provides sample student essays on various topics and organizes them by grade level.

"Five-Paragraph Essay" (ThoughtCo)

In this blog post by a former professor of English and rhetoric, ThoughtCo brings together examples of five-paragraph essays and commentary on the form.

The Best Essay Writing Collections

The Best American Essays of the Century by Joyce Carol Oates (Amazon)

This collection of American essays spanning the twentieth century was compiled by award winning author and Princeton professor Joyce Carol Oates.

The Best American Essays 2017 by Leslie Jamison (Amazon)

Leslie Jamison, the celebrated author of essay collection  The Empathy Exams , collects recent, high-profile essays into a single volume.

The Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate (Amazon)

Documentary writer Phillip Lopate curates this historical overview of the personal essay's development, from the classical era to the present.

The White Album by Joan Didion (Amazon)

This seminal essay collection was authored by one of the most acclaimed personal essayists of all time, American journalist Joan Didion.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (Amazon)

Read this famous essay collection by David Foster Wallace, who is known for his experimentation with the essay form. He pushed the boundaries of personal essay, reportage, and political polemic.

"50 Successful Harvard Application Essays" (Staff of the The Harvard Crimson )

If you're looking for examples of exceptional college application essays, this volume from Harvard's daily student newspaper is one of the best collections on the market.

Are you an instructor looking for the best resources for teaching essay writing? This section contains resources for developing in-class activities and student homework assignments. You'll find content from both well-known university writing centers and online writing labs.

Essay Writing Classroom Activities for Students

"In-class Writing Exercises" (Univ. of North Carolina Writing Center)

This page lists exercises related to brainstorming, organizing, drafting, and revising. It also contains suggestions for how to implement the suggested exercises.

"Teaching with Writing" (Univ. of Minnesota Center for Writing)

Instructions and encouragement for using "freewriting," one-minute papers, logbooks, and other write-to-learn activities in the classroom can be found here.

"Writing Worksheets" (Berkeley Student Learning Center)

Berkeley offers this bank of writing worksheets to use in class. They are nested under headings for "Prewriting," "Revision," "Research Papers" and more.

"Using Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism" (DePaul University)

Use these activities and worksheets from DePaul's Teaching Commons when instructing students on proper academic citation practices.

Essay Writing Homework Activities for Students

"Grammar and Punctuation Exercises" (Aims Online Writing Lab)

These five interactive online activities allow students to practice editing and proofreading. They'll hone their skills in correcting comma splices and run-ons, identifying fragments, using correct pronoun agreement, and comma usage.

"Student Interactives" (Read Write Think)

Read Write Think hosts interactive tools, games, and videos for developing writing skills. They can practice organizing and summarizing, writing poetry, and developing lines of inquiry and analysis.

This free website offers writing and grammar activities for all grade levels. The lessons are designed to be used both for large classes and smaller groups.

"Writing Activities and Lessons for Every Grade" (Education World)

Education World's page on writing activities and lessons links you to more free, online resources for learning how to "W.R.I.T.E.": write, revise, inform, think, and edit.

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Literacy Ideas

How to Write a Novel Study: A Complete Guide for Students & Teachers

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What Is a Novel Study?

A novel study is essentially the process of reading and studying a novel closely. There are three formats the novel study can follow, namely:

  • The whole-class format
  • The small group format
  • The individual format

Each of these formats comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Which you will use in your classroom will depend on several variables, including the novel study’s purpose, class demographics, time constraints, etc. 

This article will look at activities you can use with your students in a novel study. Though the focus will primarily be on the whole-class format, the activities outlined below can easily be adapted for small-group and individual novel studies. 

But first, let’s take a look at some of the many considerable benefits of the novel study.

What Are the Benefits of a Novel Study?

The benefits of this type of learning are many and varied. Essentially, the novel itself serves as a jumping-off point for a diverse range of learning experiences that can benefit students’ learning in many ways. 

Here are just three of these benefits.

1. Encourages a Love of Reading

As teachers, we are well aware of how much literature can enrich our lives. However, for many of our students, reading is a chore in and of itself and is to be avoided whenever possible.

The novel study sets aside time in class to focus on reading in an engaging manner that not only encourages students to enjoy reading but helps them develop the tools and strategies required to get the most out of the books they read.

2. Builds a Wider Knowledge Base

Sharing books in this manner creates opportunities for students to become exposed to experiences far beyond those of their daily lives. Not only will they enter new and unfamiliar worlds through the portal of fiction, but they’ll also be exposed to the experiences and opinions of other students in the class. These experiences and opinions may differ markedly from their own.

It will also widen the student’s knowledge and understanding of text structure, vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar . Novel studies are an extremely effective way to practice comprehension skills and improve critical thinking.

3. Boosts Class Cohesion

Whole class novel studies help your students to flex their muscles of cooperation as they work their way through a text together. They also help students to understand each other, take on board the opinions of others, and learn to defend their own thoughts and opinions.

While reading is often viewed as a solitary activity, reading in this manner can become a social experience that helps students to bond as a class.

What Should I Do in a Novel Study?

There are many different ways to undertake a novel study in your classroom. 

For example, some teachers like to read the entire novel to their students first before going back through it as a class, focusing then on student interactions with the text.

Other teachers like to weave guided reading activities into their novel study sessions. However, this often works better with smaller groups where students can be grouped according to ability and assigned texts accordingly.

What shape a novel study takes in your classroom will depend on your student demographics and learning objectives. However, we can helpfully divide the various activities into pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading. You can select those that suit your situation best. 

Now, let’s look at some of these.

How to Start a Novel Study

Your novel study begins even before the first page is read. The activities below will help students tune in to the book they are about to read. 

This is a crucial stage of the novel study, especially if the book is of historical significance or deals with historical events and where some background knowledge may be essential for understanding the novel. 

Prereading Activities

  • Examine the Covers

Before opening the book, have students examine the covers closely, both front and back. What can they tell about the book before opening it based on:

  • The cover illustration?
  • The author’s name?
  • The blurb on the back?

It’s useful to do this as a whole-class discussion to allow for sharing ideas. Ask questions to encourage reflection and get students to make predictions about the novel based on their answers and observations. For example:

  • What information does the cover provide?
  • Does the cover illustration intrigue you? Why?
  • Does this novel remind you of any other books you’ve read? Why?
  • Do you recognize the author’s name? What else have they written?

It can be pretty surprising just how much information you can glean from a novel’s covers.

  • Generate a List of Questions

Once students have had a good chance to examine the novel’s covers in small groups, get them to generate questions they have about the book and its contents.

These questions may be based on their expectations in the first activity, but they may also be general questions related to common elements in all novels. For example:

  • Where is the story set?
  • When is it set?
  • Who is the main character/protagonist in the novel?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What is the nature of the central conflict?
  • What happens in the climax? Resolution? Etc.

While most of these questions will not be answered entirely until the students have read the novel, asking these questions will get the students thinking about the novel’s structure from the outset. This will be extremely useful for later activities.

  • Take a Peek Inside

Now, it’s time to open the book to look closer. Task students to go ‘finger-walking’ through the book and, without reading the novel, explore the book’s pages for more surface information. For example:

  • When was the book published? Why is this significant?
  • Are there any illustrations inside? What impression do they make?
  • Does the book have chapters? What do the chapter titles tell us about the story?
  • Open a random page and read it. What language register does the writer use? What point of view is employed?

Encouraging students to work in small groups can be helpful here. You can also ask prompting questions to help students maintain focus during this activity.

During Reading Activities

The whole-class format is perhaps the most widely used in the classroom context. In this format, each student will usually have a copy of the text and follow along while the teacher or another student reads. 

The reading will pause at intervals to allow the students to engage in discussion, ask questions, or complete various activities supporting learning goals related to the text they have been reading.

In general, novel study activities will focus on:

  • Building vocabulary
  • Improving comprehension
  • Making text-to-text connections
  • Making text-to-self connections
  • Making text-to-world connections

In the following section, we’ll look at each of these in turn.

Reading is a fantastic way to build vocabulary; when your students encounter new vocabulary while reading, encourage them to employ several strategies to decipher the word before resorting to their dictionaries.

Firstly, what clues to the word’s meaning can the students find in the word itself? Do students recognize the word’s root or affixes? Does it resemble any other words they already know the meaning of?

Secondly, students should look at the context in which the word is used, not just in the sentence itself but also in the preceding and following paragraphs. What clues can the students find to the word’s meaning?

After analyzing the parts of the word and exhausting context clues, students can look up the word in dictionaries. However, they will still need to do some legwork to make the new word stick. Some valuable ways of committing a new word to memory include:

  • Sketching a visual interpretation of the word
  • Making a list of synonyms of the word using a thesaurus to assist
  • Apply the target words in personal contexts (in conversation/writing sentences)
  • Reading Comprehension

Vocabulary is only one aspect of comprehension. Novel studies afford students a valuable opportunity to develop their deep comprehension abilities.

Beyond just understanding the meaning of the words in a novel, students will work on their understanding of skills such as:

  • Identifying the central idea/themes
  • Examining character/plot development
  • Distinguishing between fact and opinion
  • Summarizing
  • Inferencing
  • Comparing and contrasting

While activities for teaching some of the more basic comprehension skills may be more self-evident, activities for teaching higher-level skills, such as inferencing, may require a bit more thought and planning.

We can define inference as the process of deriving a conclusion based on the available evidence in the text combined with the student’s background knowledge and experience. 

Put simply, inference involves reading between the lines.

Inference = What is in the text + What I already know

To encourage students to use inference while completing a novel study, ask questions building on prompts such as:

  • Why do you think…
  • What do you think would happen if…
  • What can you conclude about x based on what you’ve read?
  • How does the writer feel about…
  • How do you think x feels?

If you want to learn more about teaching inference in the classroom, check out our thorough article on the topic here .

  • Making Connections

While vocabulary building and developing reading comprehension skills are a big part of what novel studies are all about, this type of reading lends itself to a deeper exploration of the power of the written word.

Too often, our students read prescribed texts without ever making any personal or profound connections to the material they read. Students can better understand what they are reading by exploring ways of connecting to a novel. There are three main types of connections we can explore:

  • Text-to-self connections
  • Text-to-text connections
  • Text-to-world connections

Let’s look at how students can make each type of connection in a novel study.


This is all about the student making a personal connection and responding to the text as an individual. Essentially, this type of connection is about encouraging the students to share their thoughts and feelings on various aspects of the novel. This sharing can take the form of oral contributions to class discussions and debates or in the form of a written response.

Either way, question prompts are a great way to kick things off. Here are some examples to get the ball rolling.

  • What does this incident remind you of in your own life?
  • Which character do you identify with the most?
  • Have you ever been in a similar situation? What happened?
  • What would you do in this situation?


These connections are all about the student linking the novel they are studying to other texts they have read or seen. This could include other novels, comics, nonfiction books, websites, and poems.

Here are some useful prompts to encourage your students to make text-to-text connections.

  • Have you ever read anything like this before?
  • How is this text similar to/different from other texts you’ve looked at?
  • What other fictional character does the hero of this novel remind you of?


Making a text-to-world connection requires students to think about the novel in terms of the wider world. Here, students forge links with the broader culture and current affairs. Text-to-world connections will frequently require students to tie the novel into other areas of learning, such as social studies and the sciences.

Here are a few helpful text-to-world prompts.

  • How do the events described in the novel relate to real-world events?
  • What issues explored in the novel are pertinent in today’s world?
  • How does the world described in the novel relate to the world we live in now?

Post-Reading Activities

novel study | HOW TO SUMMARIZE AN ARTICLE | How to Write a Novel Study: A Complete Guide for Students & Teachers |

The number of possible activities you can do to complete a novel is almost endless. Which activities you choose will depend on what aspect of the novel and/or objectives you are trying to teach. Here are just a few popular tasks students regularly complete after they finish reading a novel.

  • Create a timeline of events.
  • Graph the plot .
  • Write a character profile.
  • Design an alternative book cover/blurb.
  • Write a summary of the novel.
  • Write an alternative ending.
  • Have a formal debate based on themes or issues explored in the novel.
  • Write a book review.

Well, that’s enough to start a novel study in your classroom. However, if you’d like to read more on reading comprehension strategies you can employ in your novel studies, check out our depth article on the topic here .

The flexibility of the novel study format lends itself well to almost any age group; just be sure to choose a text that matches the general reading ability of your class. For older kids, you may even want to involve them in deciding what text to study. 

However you decide to choose your novel, just be sure to read the text thoroughly in advance to stay one step ahead of your students – and don’t forget to have fun with it!

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How to Write a Book Name in an Essay

Last Updated: February 14, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Noah Taxis and by wikiHow staff writer, Danielle Blinka, MA, MPA . Noah Taxis is an English Teacher based in San Francisco, California. He has taught as a credentialed teacher for over four years: first at Mountain View High School as a 9th- and 11th-grade English Teacher, then at UISA (Ukiah Independent Study Academy) as a Middle School Independent Study Teacher. He is now a high school English teacher at St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in San Francisco. He received an MA in Secondary Education and Teaching from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. He also received an MA in Comparative and World Literature from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a BA in International Literary & Visual Studies and English from Tufts University. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 63,363 times.

When you’re writing an essay that includes a book title, it can be confusing to write the title correctly. However, it’s really easy once you know the rules. How you write the title will vary a little bit depending on the style your instructor assigns and if you are typing or handwriting the essay. Luckily, it's easy to follow the rules for writing a book name in an essay.

Writing Help

how to write a essay on a novel

Typing an Essay in MLA or Chicago Style Format

Step 1 Capitalize the first letter of all nouns, verbs, and adjectives in the book name.

  • For example, you would write To Kill a Mockingbird , The Lord of the Rings , or Wuthering Heights .

Step 2 Avoid capitalizing articles, prepositions, or coordinating conjunctions.

  • If you have the book name in front of you, you can just copy it down as it is printed.
  • Articles include a, an, and the.
  • Prepositions include at, in, on, of, about, since, from, for, until, during, over, above, under, underneath, below, beneath, near, by, next to, between, among, and opposite.
  • Coordinating conjunctions include the FANBOYS, which are for, and, not, but, or, yet, and

Step 3 Include punctuation in the italics if it’s part of the title.

  • For example, you would write the name of William Faulkner’s novel Absalom, Absalom! with both the comma and the exclamation point in italics.

Step 4 Highlight the book name.

  • If the highlight bar goes away, try again, making sure that you don’t click anywhere on the page after you highlight the book name.

Step 5 Click the italicize icon to format the title.

  • Alternatively, you can press the italicize icon before you type the title.
  • If you’re using Microsoft Word to type your essay, the italicize key may appear if you hover over the highlighted book name.

Step 6 Left click your mouse on another area of the document.

  • If the next word after your title appears italicized when you resume typing, simply highlight it and click the italicize icon to remove the formatting.

Step 7 Use quotation marks instead of italics if the book is part of an anthology.

  • For example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is sometimes published in one volume. In this case, you could write the name of the first novel as "The Fellowship of the Ring" when citing it in an essay.

Typing an Essay in APA Format

Step 1 Capitalize the first word and all words longer than 4 letters.

  • Capitalize the first letter of the words, not the entire word.
  • If the word is a two-part hyphenated word in the title, you should capitalize both words. For example, you would write Blue River: The Trial of a Mayor-Elect .
  • If there is a dash or colon in the title, you should capitalize the word after the punctuation, regardless of how long the word is. As above, you would write Blue River: The Trial of a Mayor-Elect .

Step 2 Include any punctuation in the italics if it’s part of the book name.

  • For example, you would write Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with the question mark italicized.

Step 3 Highlight the title.

  • If the book name is not highlighted, left click and drag your cursor again, making sure that you don’t click again anywhere on the page.

Step 4 Click the italicize icon to change the format of the title.

  • If you are using Microsoft Word, the italics icon may appear when you hover over the highlighted book title. It’s okay to click this key.

Step 5 Move your cursor off of the title.

Handwriting an Essay

Step 1 Capitalize the words according to the style format you are using.

  • For MLA and Chicago style essays, capitalize the first word of the book name and every word other than articles, prepositions, or coordinating conjunctions. For example, write The Lord of the Rings .
  • If you’re using APA style, capitalize the first word and all words longer than 4 letters. [9] X Research source This means you would write Public Policy in Local Government .

Step 2 Underline the complete title.

  • If you’re writing on lined paper, it may help to follow along the line of the paper. However, make sure your line is dark enough so that your instructor will see that you properly underlined the book name.

Step 3 Underline punctuation if it’s part of the title.

  • For example, you would write Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by underlining the punctuation marks as well as the words.

Expert Interview

how to write a essay on a novel

Thanks for reading our article! If you’d like to learn more about academic writing, check out our in-depth interview with Noah Taxis .

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Blog • Understanding Publishing

Posted on Sep 12, 2018

How to Write an Incredible Synopsis in 4 Simple Steps

Your novel is fully written, edited, and polished to perfection — you’re ready to pitch it to agents! But you’re missing a critical piece of persuasion: the synopsis. Even after putting together your entire book, you may have no idea how to write one, or even how to approach it.

Luckily, we’ve got answers for you. Read on for our best tips on writing a synopsis that’s clear, concise, captivating… and may even lead to an all-out agent battle over your novel!

What is a synopsis?

A synopsis is a summary of a book that familiarizes the reader with the plot and how it unfolds. Although these kinds of summaries also appear on the pages of school book reports and Wikipedia, this guide will focus on constructing one that you can send out to agents (and eventually publishers).

Your novel synopsis should achieve two things: firstly, it should convey the contents of your book, and secondly, it should be intriguing!

While you don’t need to pull out all the marketing stops at this stage, you should have a brief hook at the beginning and a sense of urgency underlying the text that will keep your reader going. It should make potential agents want to devour your whole manuscript — even though they’ll already know what happens.

While writing your synopsis, make sure that it includes:

  • A complete narrative arc
  • Your own voice and unique elements of your story
  • The ending or resolution ( unlike in a blurb )

As for the ideal length for this piece, it varies from project to project. Some authors recommend keeping it to 500 words, while others might write thousands. However, the standard range is about one to two single-spaced pages (or two to five double-spaced pages). And if you're interested in knowing how to format the whole of your manuscript for submission, we recommend downloading this manuscript format template. 



Manuscript Format Template

Get your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers.

You may also want to have an additional “brief” summary prepared for agents who specifically request a single page or less. Remember: as hard as it will be to distill all your hard work into that minimal space, it’s crucial to keep your synopsis digestible and agent-friendly.

How to write a novel synopsis in 4 steps

2rGBR99WtV8 Video Thumb

1. Get the basics down first

When it comes to writing a synopsis, substance is the name of the game. No matter how nicely you dress it up, an agent will disregard any piece that doesn’t demonstrate a fully fleshed out plot and strong narrative arc. So it stands to reason that as you begin writing, you should focus on the fundamentals.

Start with major plot points

Naturally, you want agents to be aware of your story's  major plot points . So the best way to start summarizing your story is to create a list of those plot points, including:

  • The inciting incident — what sparks the central conflict of your story?
  • The events of the rising action — what happens in the interlude between the inciting incident and the climax, and how does this build tension?
  • The height of the action, or climax , of your story — this one is the most important, as it should be the most exciting part of your book!
  • The resolution or ending — again, unlike a blurb, a synopsis doesn’t need to dangle the carrot of an unknown ending to the reader; you can and should reveal your story’s ending here, as this brings the plot and narrative arc to a close.

Listing these points effectively maps out the action and arc of your story, which will enable the reader to easily follow it from beginning to end.

Include character motivations

The key here is not to get too deep into characterization, since you don’t have much room to elaborate. Instead, simply emphasize character motivations at the beginning and end of your synopsis — first as justification for the inciting incident, then again to bring home the resolution. For example:

Beginning: “Sally has spent the past twenty years wondering who her birth parents are [motivation]. When a mysterious man offers her the chance to find them, she spontaneously buys a ticket to Florence to begin her journey [inciting action].”

Ending: “She returns to the US with the man who was her father all along [resolution], safe in the knowledge that she’ll never have to wonder about him again [restated motivation].”

Also note how the text here is written in third person, present tense, as it should be regardless of the tense or POV of your actual book. Writing a synopsis in first or second person doesn’t really work because it’s not meant to be narrated — just summarized. Basically, the present tense works to engage the reader while the third person allows the story to be told smoothly.


Query Submissions Tracker

Stay organized on your journey to find the right agent or publisher.

2. Highlight what’s unique

Now it’s time to spice up your synopsis by highlighting the elements that make it unique. Agents need to know what’s so special about your book in particular — and moreover, is it special enough to get readers to pick it up? Below are some features you might employ to grab an agent’s attention and assure them of your book’s appeal.

Your writing voice is an essential tool here: it conveys your novel’s tone and is one of the most important factors in making your work stand out. However, it’s also one of the most difficult elements to evoke in such a small amount of space.

The best way to capture voice in a synopsis is through extremely deliberate word choice and sentence structure. So if you were Jane Austen, you’d use clever words to magnify your wit: “When Darcy proposes to her apropos of nothing, Elizabeth has the quite understandable reaction of rejecting him.” You may not be able to use all the elaborate prose of your novel, but your synopsis should still reflect its overall feeling.

Plot twists

Even though they’re one of the oldest tricks in the book, readers will never tire of juicy plot twists. If your novel contains one or more of these twists, especially at the climax, make sure your synopsis accentuates it. But don’t hint too much at the twist, as this will make it seem more dramatic when it comes; a couple of words in the intro will suffice as foreshadowing.

For instance, if you were writing a summary of Gone Girl , you might open with “Nick Dunne wakes up one morning to find that his wife, Amy, has apparently disappeared. ” This implies that she may not be as “gone” as we think she is, setting the stage for the later reveal.

how to write a synopsis

Point of view

Another aspect that might set your book apart is a distinctive point of view . Since you’ll be giving your synopsis in third person, you can limit this inclusion to an introductory sentence: “This book is narrated from the point of view of a mouse.”

Although this strategy works best for books with a highly unusual point of view (such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, in which the story is told by Death), it can also be very helpful to remember for seemingly bog-standard narrators. If one of your characters narrates in first person, make sure to address their individual narrative quirks as well as any biases or limitations; highlighting an unreliable narrator can really add to your novel’s intrigue!

3. Edit for clarity and excess

Don’t shroud your synopsis in mystery; this is very frustrating to agents who just want to know what happens in your book! With that in mind, after you’ve written the bulk of your summary, it’s time to edit for clarity. You also may have to delete some text, so you can get it right in that couple-page sweet spot.

Editing for clarity

The paramount rule of synopses is a real doozy: tell, don’t show. It’s the opposite of that classic adage that writers have heard their whole lives, and it’s exactly what you need to write a successful synopsis. 

As you return to what you’ve written, scan for sentences that are vague or unclear, especially toward the beginning. Many writers fall into the trap of trying to hook agents by opening with a sentence akin to the first murky line of a literary novel. Again, though you do want your intro to be intriguing, it has to cut to the chase pretty quickly.

When it comes to opening a synopsis, you need to think like Tolkien, not Tolstoy. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Crisp, clear, and to the point: one of the very few times you should tell, rather than show .

Editing excess words

If your synopsis is longer than a couple of pages at this point, you need make some serious cutbacks. Read through what you have, scrutinizing every sentence and word, even if you think you’ve chosen them carefully. Reduce any run-on sentences or subordinate clauses that unnecessarily lengthen your piece.

Finally, eliminate irrelevant details — anything that doesn’t lead to the next plot point or directly contribute to your voice or other distinctive elements. It’s unlikely you’ll have included any of these in the first place, but just in case they’ve slipped through, cut them. Save the frills for your book; remember, your synopsis is all about substance .

4. Make sure it flows

By the time it’s finished, your synopsis should read like a summary from an excellent book review — or at the very least SparkNotes or Shmoop. This means not only clearly and concisely hitting every important point, but also reading in a smooth manner, placing just the right amount of emphasis on the critical moments and unique aspects we’ve discussed.

Get test readers

A great way to ensure that your synopsis is paced precisely and flows well is to give it to test readers, either someone you know or a professional editor . You’ve spent way too much time with these words to be objective about them, so pay attention to what other people suggest: possible word substitutions, transitions, and which details to emphasize versus delete.

Use professional synopses as models

You don’t want to look at examples of other synopses too soon, otherwise yours will come out sounding formulaic and stale. That said, professional synopses can be a very valuable tool for refining toward the end of the process! Compare and contrast them to the synopsis you’ve written, and adapt any techniques or turns of phrase you feel would enhance it.

Here’s an example of a strong (albeit brief) synopsis of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens , courtesy of the Oxford Companion to English Literature:

Phillip Pirrip, more commonly known as “Pip,” has been brought up by his tyrannical sister, wife of the gentle Joe Gargery. He is introduced to the house of Miss Havisham who, half-crazed by the desertion of her lover on her bridal night, has brought up the girl Estella to use her beauty as a means of torturing men. Pip falls in love with Estella and aspires to become a gentleman.

Money and expectations of more wealth come to him from a mysterious source, which he believes to be Miss Havisham. He goes to London, and in his new mode of life meanly abandons the devoted Joe Gargery, a humble connection of whom he is now ashamed.

Misfortunes come upon him. His benefactor proves to be an escaped convict, Abel Magwich, whom he as a boy had helped. Pip’s great expectations fade away and he is penniless. Estella meanwhile marries his sulky enemy Bentley Drummle, by whom she is cruelly ill treated.

In the end, taught by adversity, Pip returns to Joe Gargery and honest labor. He and Estella, who has also learnt her lesson, are finally reunited.

how to write a synopsis

This synopsis works well because it includes:

  • The inciting incident (Pip moving in with Miss Havisham), the rising action (him being in London), the climax (returning to Joe Gargery), and the resolution (reuniting with Estella)
  • Character motivations (Miss Havisham wants to punish all men because her fiancé betrayed her; Pip wants to become a gentleman so Estella will fall in love with him)
  • A plot twist (Pip’s benefactor being a criminal — whom he knows from his childhood!)
  • Distinctive voice (formal yet engaging, doesn’t detract from the plot) and smoothly written style (events are chronological and progress quickly)

Your synopsis is one of the biggest deciding factors in whether an agent wants to see more from you or not. No matter how chipper your query letter , the bottom line is that this summary tells agents (and later publishers) what they really need to know: what your book is about, what makes it unique, and most importantly, if they can sell it. 



How to Write a Query Letter

Learn to grab agents’ attention with 10 five-minute lessons.

That’s why it’s vital that you make your synopsis airtight. Fortunately, if you’ve followed these steps, yours will be chock full of plot details with a touch of your own special writing sauce: a synopsis that any agent (hopefully) won’t be able to resist. 

Many thanks to Reedsy editors (and former agents) Sam Brody and Rachel Stout  for consulting on this piece!

Do you have any tips for writing an irresistible synopsis? Leave them in the comments below!

2 responses

Elizabeth Westra says:

12/09/2018 – 22:10

This looks interesting, and I will read every word, but this would be different for a picture book. You only get one page to query for many children's books.

Dorothy Potter Snyder says:

14/10/2018 – 20:11

I am curious if anyone has ideas on how translators can write a synopsis for agents / publishers of works in translation? Might there be something about why this author is important in his/her country of origin and literary tradition? Which authors more known to English language readers might relate to this author (they've never heard of before)?

Comments are currently closed.

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Writing A Book Title In Your Essay – The Right Way


Table of contents

  • 1 APA Style: How to Write Book Titles in Essays
  • 2 APA Style Essay: Writing The Name of The Author
  • 3 MLA Style Essay: Citing a Book Title
  • 4 Chicago Style Essay: Writing the Book Title
  • 5 Writing Various Types of Titles
  • 6 Should We Underline or Italicize Book Titles?

When you are writing an academic essay , the book title and author’s name should be written in italics. However, if the book title is part of a larger work (such as a journal article), it should be underlined instead. So, you’re wondering how to write a book title in an essay?

Writing an essay with a book title can be tricky, particularly because each style guide has its own formatting rules for including titles in the main text. Whether you are using MLA, APA, Chicago, or Harvard referencing styles, you will need to consider how to properly format the book title. For more complicated literature-based assignments, seeking assistance from an admission essay writing service may be wise, as they specialize in writing essays that incorporate academic sources.

In this article, we will explore how to write both titles in an essay properly so that you avoid any mistakes!

APA Style: How to Write Book Titles in Essays

When writing an essay, you must follow the style guide provided by your professor. Some teachers may require you to use APA style and others MLA style. There are some rules on how to quote a book title in an essay. You should use italics and quotation marks when writing book titles in essays. For example: “ The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. “

When writing a book title in APA Style , you should be aware of these rules:

Write the book title in italics and place it after the author’s name, which is presented in reverse order (last name first).

Use quotation marks around the headline of a chapter or article.

Capitalize proper names that are not common nouns (names of people, places, organizations), but do not capitalize words such as “and,” “or,” “to,” or “and/or.”

Do not capitalize prepositions that appear at the beginning of titles if they are followed by an article (e.g., “A,” “An”), but do capitalize prepositions at the beginning of titles if they are not followed by articles (“Of”).

The first word of the headline should be capitalized, as well as any other words after a colon or hyphen. For example, “The Elements of Style: Grammar for Everyone”  or “Theories of Personality: Critical Perspectives.”

Capitalize proper names and words derived from them (e.g., the names of people, places, organizations), except proper nouns used generically (e.g., ‘a bed’).

APA Style Essay: Writing The Name of The Author

You should always use the full name and surname of the author in your APA essay because this will give proper credit to the writer. If you do not mention the author’s full name, people may not know who wrote what and will think you copied it from somewhere else. This will cause lots of problems for you and your reputation as well.

Make sure that all authors’ names appear in the same format in each entry. For example, if one person’s surname is Smith and another’s is Jones, both have first names starting with “J.” It may seem like they are being cited as different people when they’re actually written differently from each other on separate pages in your paper.

To write an APA essay without any issues, there are certain rules that you need to follow while writing an author’s name in APA essay:

  • Use only one author’s name in your paper unless there are multiple authors
  • If there are multiple authors, then use both their last names followed by the initials of their first names
  • Only use initials of first names when there are three or more authors; otherwise, use full names with their last names
Example: Johnson, M.C., Carlson, M., Smith, J. N., & Hanover, L. E.

MLA Style Essay: Citing a Book Title

Now let’s discuss how to mention a book in an essay. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition, published by the Modern Language Association (2014), contains detailed rules about how to cite a book title in an essay.

The following guidelines will instruct you on how to refer to a book in an essay in MLA style :

  • List your sources at the end of your paper, before the works cited page or bibliography.
  • Use italics for titles of books, magazines, and newspapers, but not for articles within those publications, which should be placed in quotation marks.
  • Include all relevant book information under two categories: “title” and “author.” In the former category, include the work’s title and its subtitle if there is one; do this even if neither appears on your title page (see below). In the latter category, include only primary authors who have written or edited an entire book; if there are multiple contributors, you should cite them separately under each.

The general format for citing the title of the book in an essay is as follows:

Author’s last name, first initial (Date). Title of Book with Subtitle if there is one. Publisher Name/Location of Publisher; Year Published

Chicago Style Essay: Writing the Book Title

One of the most important things to remember when writing in Chicago style is how to write the title of a book in an essay. To write a good book title in an essay, you should follow these steps:

  • Write it at the beginning of your sentence.
  • Capitalize it just like any other noun or proper noun.
  • Put a comma after the title unless it’s an introductory clause or phrase. For example: “The Firm,” by John Grisham (not “by”) and “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D Salinger (not “and”).
  • In addition to the book’s name, punctuation marks should also be italicized.
For example: Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: Children’s Edition

Writing Various Types of Titles

Now that we covered how to write a book title and author in an essay, it’s time to look at some different types of titles. When you write a book title in an essay, several things must be considered. Whether it’s a book, series, chapter title, editor’s name, or author’s name, how you write it depends on where it appears in your paper.

Here are some key rules for writing headings for novels:

  •  Use capital letters to write the title of the novel. For example,  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett .
  • Use italics and capital letters to write the name of the author and his/her other works mentioned in a book title—for example,  Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) .

You should use quotation marks when writing headings of short title poems, articles, and stories.

However, before deciding which format to use, it is important to understand the main idea you want to express in your essay. Additionally, you could use essay papers for sale to help you accomplish your goal of writing an essay effectively.


Should We Underline or Italicize Book Titles?

It depends on which style guide you use. The Modern Language Association and Chicago Manual of Style both suggest using italics, while the American Psychological Association suggests using quotation marks with a few exceptions.

The way you write the title of a book in an essay is different depending on the instructions you were given. For example, if you’re writing an essay in APA style, use quotation marks around the book’s name. If you’re writing for MLA or Chicago style , however, italicize the book’s name instead. If you’re writing a handwritten essay instead of using a computer, capitalize and underline the book’s name.

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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Jacob Neumann; Standard Edition (November 3, 2016)
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Jacob Neumann has been teaching since 1996. He has taught at all levels, from early childhood to the university. He currently works as an associate professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, where he teaches teacher education classes. He also publishes research on effective teaching methods, teacher knowledge, and educational theory. One of the main goals in his work is to help people become better writers and better teachers.

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How To Write Book Titles The Proper Way: A Complete Guide For Writers

  • February 10, 2022

Book titles within essays or papers can be tricky. There are specific rules that are given for how to include a book title in a way that sets it apart from the content of your writing given by the Modern Language Association. However, as with many other things in life, there are exceptions to the rules. This article will guide you through the rules of the writing style guides so that you can include a book’s title in your paper or essay correctly.

How to write book titles:

Style guides and book titles.

When it comes to book titles within text, there are a few different style guides that have rules you can follow, depending on your writing type. The three types that you will encounter most often are; MLA style, Chicago manual of style, and APA. A writing instructor will usually tell you what style guide you are expected to use for a particular essay or paper.

MLA Style Guide

The MLA handbook states that you should always italicize book titles when styling book titles within your text. The exception to this rule are religious texts. You would not italicize the Holy Bible or the sacred books or titles of other religions. Note the following example.

Pam had stayed most of the summer indoors, re-reading her favorite book series. She was already up to  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone , and she didn’t regret not being more active or going outside.

In the above example, the book title is italicized. Fiction titles and nonfiction titles alike must be in italics when within the text.

Series Titles in MLA

In the above example, a book from a series was used. But what if the text had not specified which book from the series Pam was reading? Would it still need to be in italics? The answer is: in this case, yes. In other cases, sometimes.

It’s really not as confusing as it seems. When you are talking about a book series but don’t want or need to include the complete series titles for the purposes of your work, you only have to put words in italics that also appear in the book titles. So, because  Harry Potter  is part of the title of all of the books in the series, you would italicize his name every time you mention the book.

However, if you were talking about Katniss Everdeen, you would not have to do this, as the book series she is featured in doesn’t use her name in the titles of  The Hunger Games  series. The same would be true of books like the Nancy Drew books.

Quotation Marks

There are instances in which titles should be placed inside of quotation marks within a paper or essay. This is done when you cite the titles of poems , a chapter title, short stories, articles, or blogs.

How To Write Book Titles

So, for example, if you were to write a paper that featured a poem from a book, you would put the book title in italics and the poems cited in quotation marks.

An example of an enduring love poem is “Annabel Lee” from  The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. 

Chapter Title

Another time that quotation marks should be used is when using the title of a chapter. If you are citing a specific chapter of a book, you would enclose the title of the chapter in quotation marks, and the title of the book should be in italics.

The desperation and sadness of a man on death row can be seen in the “Wild Wind Blowing” chapter of Norman Mailer’s  The Executioner’s Song. 

Short Stories

Short stories are another case. Much like the title of a chapter or poem, in which the title is placed in quotation marks, while the title of the book or collection it is found in is italics. The same can be said for sections, stories, or chapters cited within a literary journal.

Stepping away from his norm of horror and gore, Stephen King writes of trust, love, and regret in his story “The Last Rung on the Ladder,” which can be found in his short story collection  Night Shift. 

Punctuation Marks

If you are citing a story or title that includes question marks, you need to make sure to italicize the question mark when citing. Keep all punctuation, such as a question mark, comma, ellipses, colon, or exclamation mark, as it is in the original individual books.

If you want a funny and irreverent read, you’ve got to try  Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.  Chelsea Handler has done a phenomenal job of being vulgar, relatable, and explaining life from her viewpoint in this hilarious and memorable book.

The Digital Age: Are Book Titles Underlined Anymore?

MLA style used to dictate that a book title should either be in italics or underlined. However, that is no longer the case. As computers started to take over as the major tool used in writing, it became unpopular to underline book titles. Therefore, this rule was dropped from the style guides.

However, it should be mentioned that when handwriting an essay or research paper, many instructors prefer that you underline book titles, as it’s relatively difficult to handwrite italics. If you are in a writing course or a class that is heavy on handwritten work, be sure to ask your instructor or teacher which method they prefer for citing a book title.

How To Write Book Titles

How to Come Up with Book Title Ideas

Now that quotation marks, italics, and style guides have been discussed, let’s move on to how you can come up with your own book title. If you’d like a title for your book that sounds interesting and will get a reader’s attention, you may find this article helpful.

Coming up with a good title for your book is a challenging yet essential marketing decision . The right title can make your target audience choose your new book off of the shelf instead of another writer’s work. Your book cover and your book title are quite possibly the most important marketing decisions you will make.

How to Choose a Good Book Title

Certain criteria should be met if you want to have a good book title , and there are specific steps involved in getting there. You may have assumed up until now that titles of books were just spur of the moment decisions made by authors or publishers, but a lot of work goes into writing good titles.

Grab the Reader’s Attention

As a general rule, you want your reader to remember your title and to sound interesting, even without the reader having seen the cover. There are several ways to do this. You can be a little dark with your title, be controversial, provoke the reader, or even be funny.

There are many examples of such works that use memorable and attention-seeking titles. The following are some different titles that are effective and would most likely provoke a reader to grab them from a shelf for closer inspection.

  • Burn After Writing (Sharon Jones)
  • Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling)
  • Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea (Chelsea Handler)
  • The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger)
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul (various authors)
  • God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (Kurt Vonnegut)

Shorter Titles

If your full title for your book is long, you may end up boring a reader or creating a situation where a reader tries to remember the title of your book, but it’s too long and ends up getting it confused with another book. Although you should always do your best to make sure that there aren’t books by other authors that share a title or have a title similar to your book (more on that in a minute), you don’t want a person to get confused and get the wrong book instead.

Research Your Title Ideas

It’s a good idea to take the titles you have considered for your book and make a list. Then, do your homework. You can use tools like Google Adwords to test out your title to see if there are others like it, or you can simply use any search engine and plug your title ideas into the search bar and see what similar or exact titles of the same words pop up.

Readers are generally busy people. They don’t have the time or the energy to ensure that writers get a title right. They’ll look for the book they are interested in, and if it proves to be too difficult, or if there are other books written that have the same title, they’ll move on to something else.

A writer really has to make sure that they have a title that isn’t going to be ignored, is interesting, isn’t too long, and isn’t too similar to other works.

The same goes for titles of short works within a larger body of work. Short works, like poems or stories, need to have unique titles as well when included in a larger body of work, such as a collection. If stories are similar in nature, be sure to title them differently so that readers will be able to tell them apart, as well.

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How to Write a College Essay

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The low-income lens in college essays

Students from low-income backgrounds may not realize that they have a unique perspective to present to admissions officers. If your identity has been shaped by financial difficulties and other obstacles, consider writing about these challenges in your college essays so that admissions officers understand the full context of your successes and academic accomplishments.

Bring us into your world. We want to know you. We want to know your truth.

Student challenges and extenuating circumstances

You may describe specific challenges that you have risen above in your college essays, such as:

  • You hold significant responsibilities in your household, such as providing care for an ill family member, babysitting siblings, or preparing family meals.
  • You have a part-time job to pay for school activities or household expenses.
  • You live with people other than your immediate family or have been in foster care.
  • You experienced homelessness or other temporary housing situations.
  • A parent has passed away or is not present in your life.
  • You commute a long distance to attend school.
  • Your family or community is not supportive of your educational goals.
  • You faced obstacles because English is not your first language.

Proper tone for college essays

If you choose to write about challenges in your life, be careful to avoid using overly critical or negative language when writing a college essay. This is a good opportunity to emphasize your emotional maturity and how challenges in your life have helped you grow as a person. You may compromise that impression if your tone is resentful or excessively dramatic.

College essay topic choice

Giving admissions officers a window into difficult experiences can present your story in your college application, but there are other topics that can also make for a strong essay (e.g. a favorite book, a community service project). Whichever angle you select to tell your story, highlight the most important things that have shaped and continue to shape your identity.

The writing process: brainstorm, outline, and draft

Writing a college essay can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Watch our webinar,  Write a College Essay that Stands Out , and download our worksheet as a template and foundation to help you craft a strong college essay. This college essay format may help you write your essay in a manner that goes beyond just a chronological explanation of your life or an expansion of your resume.

Essay feedback and revisions

Ask teachers, mentors, family, or friends for feedback on your essay. Reach out well in advance of any deadlines, and give them at least two weeks to provide feedback. Ask them in person if you can, but if you cannot, send them an email. If they agree to take a look, you can send them a message with your essay. Download a sample message below.

After receiving feedback, revise! You should plan on going through a few drafts. Here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • You do not have to incorporate all feedback. Accept what you think is most helpful. 
  • Edits and revisions should not remove your voice or completely alter your writing style. 
  • Pay attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and even formatting. 
  • It may help to read your essay out loud to catch mistakes you might otherwise skim over. 
  • Read your college essay from an admissions officer’s perspective.
  • For more college essay writing tips, continue reading the FAQs below.

Detailed FAQs about college admissions essays

Mechanics, structure, and content are vital parts of a successful essay. Our Detailed College Essays FAQs page covers each category in detail to give your essay a strong start and finish. Learn about how to write a college essay, how long a college essay should be, and more.

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How to Write a Mystery Novel: A Comprehensive Guide

  • by Andrea Feccomandi
  • May 22, 2024

Mystery novels have long fascinated readers with their blend of suspense, intrigue, and clever twists. From classic Agatha Christie mysteries to modern Gillian Flynn psychological thrillers, the genre continues evolving and captivating audiences worldwide.

The key to writing a successful mystery novel is knowing how to create suspense and intrigue , capable of dragging readers into an increasingly thick web of secrets and twists.

In this article, we will explore the essential techniques and strategies for creating a mystery novel that will captivate readers, holding their attention from beginning to end. Let’s go!

Mystery novel definition

Before analyzing how to write a mystery novel, we have to first define what a mystery novel is.

MYSTERY NOVEL DEFINITION What is a Mystery Novel? A mystery novel, often referred to as a whodunit or detective fiction , is a genre of literature characterized by its focus on solving a crime or unraveling a puzzle . Typically, these novels feature a central mystery or crime that drives the narrative, often involving a detective, amateur sleuth, or protagonist who must use their wits and investigative skills to uncover the truth. The plot of a mystery novel typically includes elements such as suspects, clues, red herrings, and plot twists, leading to a climactic reveal or resolution at the end of the story.

Let’s now analyze in detail the characteristics of a mystery novel and how to write it.

How to write a mystery novel: #1 Crafting a compelling plot

Central to any successful mystery novel is creating a compelling plot that keeps readers guessing until the final resolution. The plot has to lead readers to discover the truth through a labyrinth of clues, suspicions, and revelations.

At the heart of the plot lies the central mystery or crime that drives the narrative forward, serving as the focal point around which the story unfolds. This mystery sets the stage for the protagonist to begin a quest searching for the truth.

The key to crafting a compelling plot is finding the right balance between intrigue and revelation , keeping readers on the edge of their seats as they eagerly await the final twist.

Key stages of mystery novel’s plot

A well-structured plot typically follows a series of critical stages, each essential to the development and resolution of the mystery.

  • The story begins by introducing the crime or mystery , drawing readers into the novel’s world and setting the stage for future events. This initial phase is crucial for establishing the stakes and generating intrigue, enticing readers to delve deeper into the story.
  • As the plot progresses, the protagonist takes center stage. They start an investigation to uncover clues, interrogate suspects, and unravel the mystery’s secrets. This phase is characterized by tension and suspense as the protagonist encounters obstacles and challenges, testing their resolve and determination.
  • Finally, as the story reaches its climax , the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place, leading to a dramatic resolution where the truth is finally revealed . This climactic moment is the culmination of the protagonist’s journey, marking the end of the mystery and providing closure for both the characters and the readers.

How to write a mystery novel: #2 Developing complex characters

By focusing on the development of complex characters , writers can create a richer, more immersive mystery novel.

Characters who are multi-dimensional and relatable add depth to the narrative, making the story more compelling and keeping readers invested in the outcome.


At the core of most mystery stories is the protagonist , often a detective or an amateur sleuth, whose unique skills, flaws, and personal motivations drive the investigation. Developing a memorable detective requires attention to detail, from their backstory and personality traits to their methods of solving crimes.

Equally important is the antagonist , whose actions and motivations are central to the mystery. A well-developed antagonist should have a compelling backstory and clear motives, making them more than just a villain but a fully realized character . Understanding the antagonist’s perspective can add depth to the story and create a more engaging conflict .

how to write a mystery novel: bibisco's character sheets

Supporting characters

Supporting characters also play crucial roles in a mystery novel. These can include suspects, witnesses, allies , and even secondary antagonists. Each character should have a distinct personality, background, and set of motivations that contribute to the complexity of the plot. These characters can provide red herrings, clues, and additional layers of intrigue, keeping readers guessing about their true roles in the mystery .

Character evolution

When developing characters, it’s important to balance their strengths and weaknesses , making them relatable and realistic. Characters should evolve throughout the story , responding to the challenges they face and revealing different facets of their personalities. This growth can make the characters more engaging and the story more dynamic.

Dialogue is another crucial aspect of character development. Through dialogue, characters can reveal their thoughts, emotions, and intentions. Writing realistic and engaging dialogue helps bring characters to life and can also serve as a tool for advancing the plot and uncovering clues.

How to write a mystery novel: #3 Building suspense

Suspense is the lifeblood of any mystery novel, crucial for keeping readers deeply engaged with the story . Building suspense effectively requires a combination of pacing, strategic reveals, and the careful management of information.

One of the most important elements in creating suspense is pacing. A well-paced mystery novel balances fast and slow moments , creating a rhythm that keeps readers intrigued. Rapid sequences filled with action or significant discoveries can raise tension, while slower scenes can provide necessary breathers, allowing readers to absorb information and anticipate what’s coming next. Alternating between these speeds can prevent the story from becoming predictable, maintaining a sense of urgency and momentum.


Ending chapters or sections with cliffhangers is a tried-and-true technique for maintaining suspense. By concluding with an unresolved issue or a surprising revelation , you compel readers to continue turning the pages. These cliffhangers can be as subtle as a mysterious phone call or as dramatic as a sudden confrontation, but they should always leave the reader wanting more.


Foreshadowing is another powerful tool for building suspense. By subtly hinting at future events, you can create a sense of impending doom or excitement . This technique keeps readers on alert, making them aware that significant developments are on the horizon. Effective foreshadowing plants clues that are later revealed to be significant, rewarding attentive readers and adding depth to the story.

Timing and delayed Information

The strategic withholding of information is essential in a mystery novel. By delaying key revelations, you can build suspense and maintain intrigue. This technique involves giving readers just enough information to keep them engaged while holding back critical details that are revealed late r in the story. The timing of these revelations is crucial; too early, and you risk losing suspense; too late, and you might frustrate readers.


Keeping the plot unpredictable is vital for sustaining suspense. While it’s important to lay down a trail of clues, the journey to solving the mystery should be filled with unexpected turns . Introduce red herrings to mislead readers and create false leads, but ensure that the ultimate resolution is logical and satisfying. The balance between predictability and surprise is delicate; you want to keep readers guessing without making the plot feel arbitrary or unfair.

Emotional Engagement

Lastly, emotional engagement plays a significant role in building suspense. When readers care deeply about the characters and their outcomes , every twist and turn in the plot is heightened. Develop characters that readers can empathize with , and place them in perilous situations that evoke genuine concern and anticipation.

How to write a mystery novel: #4 Choosing the right setting

The setting of your mystery novel should complement the tone and themes of your story . Whether it’s a foggy, Victorian-era London, a small, sleepy village with hidden secrets, or a bustling modern city with a dark underbelly, the setting should serve as a backdrop that enriches the narrative.

Think about locations that naturally lend themselves to mystery and suspense —places with history, secrets, and an inherent sense of intrigue.

A well-crafted setting becomes an integral part of the storytelling, adding depth and complexity to your narrative.

Creating Atmosphere

Atmosphere is the emotional tone or mood of a scene , and it plays a crucial role in building suspense. Use descriptive language to create a vivid picture of the setting, focusing on sensory details . Describe the eerie silence of an abandoned house, the oppressive heat of a tropical jungle, or the chilling wind of a coastal town at night. These details help to immerse readers and evoke the desired emotional response.

Utilizing the setting to enhance the plot

The setting can be more than just a backdrop; it can be an active element in your story . Incorporate the environment into the plot by using it to create obstacles, hide clues, or enhance character interactions. For example, a dense forest can serve as a hiding place for a crucial piece of evidence, or a maze-like mansion can heighten tension during a cat-and-mouse chase. The setting can also reflect the internal states of your characters , with stormy weather mirroring turmoil or a peaceful garden symbolizing calm.

how to write a mystery novel: bibisco's settings creation tool

Historical and Cultural Context

If your mystery novel is set in a specific historical period or cultural context, ensure that the details are accurate and well-researched . Authenticity in the depiction of historical settings or cultural nuances adds depth and credibility to your story. It also allows you to explore unique aspects of the era or culture that can influence the mystery , such as societal norms, available technology, and historical events.

Mood and Tone

The mood and tone of your novel should be consistent with the atmosphere you are trying to create . A dark, brooding tone can be enhanced by settings that are shadowy and filled with ominous sounds, while a lighter, more adventurous mystery might feature brighter, more dynamic environments. Use the setting to reinforce the overall mood of your story , ensuring that it resonates with the themes and emotions you wish to convey.

How to write a mystery novel: #5 Incorporating clues and red herrings

A critical element of a successful mystery novel is the strategic placement of clues and red herrings. These elements keep readers engaged, encouraging them to solve the mystery alongside the protagonist while maintaining an air of unpredictability.

By incorporating clues and red herrings, you can create a mystery that is both challenging and rewarding for readers. The balance of true clues and false leads keeps the narrative intriguing, maintaining suspense and engagement until the very end.

Placing clues strategically

Clues are the breadcrumbs that lead readers and the protagonist toward solving the mystery. These should be introduced at key points throughout the narrative to maintain interest and forward momentum. When placing clues, consider the following:

  • Subtlety . Not all clues should be obvious. Some can be hidden in plain sight, requiring keen observation to identify their significance.
  • Relevance . Each clue should have a purpose, contributing to the unraveling of the mystery. Irrelevant details can frustrate readers and distract them from the plot.
  • Variety . Use different types of clues—physical evidence, witness testimonies, inconsistencies in alibis, or revealing conversations—to keep the narrative dynamic and engaging.

Balancing obvious and subtle clues

Achieving the right balance between obvious and subtle clues is crucial. Too many obvious clues can make the solution too predictable, while overly subtle clues can confuse readers and make the resolution feel unearned. A mix of both keeps readers on their toes, providing moments of revelation and satisfaction as they piece together the puzzle.

Using Red Herrings

Red herrings are false leads or distractions that divert attention away from the true solution. These are essential in creating suspense and maintaining the mystery’s complexity. Effective red herrings:

  • Mislead without deceiving. While red herrings should mislead, they must still be plausible within the story’s context. Avoid making them feel contrived or unfair.
  • Enhance the plot. Red herrings should add depth to the story, contributing to character development or subplots, rather than serving as mere distractions.
  • Resolve satisfactorily . Ensure that red herrings are resolved by the end of the story, providing closure for the reader. Unresolved red herrings can leave readers feeling unsatisfied.

Ensuring Logical Resolution

As you weave clues and red herrings throughout your narrative, it’s essential to ensure that the mystery’s resolution is logical and satisfying . Every clue should fit into the final solution, and the resolution should feel both surprising and inevitable. Consider these tips.

  • Plan ahead . Outline your mystery in advance, knowing where you will place each clue and red herring and how they will contribute to the resolution.
  • Foreshadowing. Use foreshadowing to plant hints about the true solution, making the resolution feel earned and credible.
  • Avoid excessive use of coincidences . While coincidences can occasionally drive the plot forward, relying too heavily on them can make your story feel unrealistic and damage the logic of your narrative.
  • Consistency . Maintain consistency in character actions and motivations. Ensure that the behavior of the characters aligns with the final resolution.
  • Avoid deus ex machina . Avoid relying on convenient or contrived plot devices ( deus ex machina ) to resolve the mystery, as this can feel unsatisfying for the readers.

Engaging the reader

Engage readers by encouraging them to solve the mystery alongside the protagonist . Pose questions, present multiple suspects, and reveal new information gradually. This interactive element can make the reading experience more immersive and enjoyable.

How to write a mystery novel: #6 Examples and case studies

Examining successful mystery novels can provide valuable insights into the genre’s techniques and conventions.

By analyzing these works, we can learn from master storytellers how to write a mystery novel.

Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”

Agatha Christie is renowned for her intricate plots and memorable characters. “ Murder on the Orient Express ” is a prime example of her skill in crafting a mystery that keeps readers guessing until the very end.

  • Complex characters . Each passenger on the train has a unique background and potential motive, creating a web of suspicion. Christie’s ability to flesh out multiple characters within a confined setting adds depth and intrigue to the story.
  • Clues and red herrings. Christie plants clues and red herrings throughout the novel. The resolution is surprising yet logical, demonstrating how well-crafted misdirection can enhance the mystery.
  • Atmosphere. The claustrophobic setting of the train enhances the suspense, and the winter storm trapping the passengers intensifies the sense of urgency and danger.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series is a cornerstone of the mystery genre. “ The Hound of the Baskervilles ” showcases his talent for blending Gothic atmosphere with detective fiction.

  • Setting and Atmosphere. The eerie moors and the legend of the supernatural hound create a chilling atmosphere. Doyle’s vivid descriptions immerse readers in a setting that feels both real and otherworldly.
  • Pacing and Suspense . Doyle maintains a steady pace, balancing moments of high tension with quieter, investigative scenes. This keeps readers engaged while gradually building to the climactic reveal.
  • Holmes’ Methods . Holmes’ logical and methodical approach to solving the mystery contrasts with the story’s supernatural elements, grounding the narrative and providing a satisfying resolution.

Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”

A more contemporary example, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn , demonstrates how modern mystery novels can incorporate psychological depth and unreliable narration.

  • Character complexity . The novel delves deeply into the psyches of its two main characters, Nick and Amy. Their flawed, multi-dimensional personalities add layers of intrigue and unpredictability.
  • Unreliable narrators: Flynn’s use of unreliable narration keeps readers guessing about the true nature of the characters and events. This technique adds complexity and suspense to the narrative.
  • Plot twists. “Gone Girl” is renowned for its shocking plot twists , which are meticulously foreshadowed yet still manage to surprise. Flynn’s ability to subvert expectations keeps readers on edge throughout the novel.

Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”

Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” is a classic example of hard-boiled detective fiction, showcasing the genre’s gritty style and complex plotting.

  • Dialogue and style. Chandler’s sharp, witty dialogue and vivid prose create a distinctive atmosphere. His writing style is integral to the novel’s appeal, enhancing the mood and characterization.
  • Moral ambiguity . The characters in “The Big Sleep” often operate in a morally gray area, adding depth and realism to the story. This complexity makes the characters more relatable and the plot more engaging.
  • Intricate plot . The novel’s plot is famously complex, with numerous twists and turns. Chandler’s ability to weave multiple storylines together creates a rich, layered narrative that rewards careful reading.

Tana French’s “In the Woods”

Tana French’s “In the Woods” exemplifies how modern psychological thrillers can combine character-driven stories with compelling mysteries.

  • Character development . French’s focus on the psychological depth of her protagonists adds emotional resonance to the mystery. The characters’ personal struggles are intertwined with the investigation, making the story more engaging.
  • Atmosphere . The novel’s setting—a small Irish town with a dark past—creates a haunting atmosphere. French’s evocative descriptions draw readers into the world of the story.
  • Ambiguity and unresolved questions . “In the Woods” leaves some questions unanswered, which can be polarizing but also adds to the novel’s realism and depth. This ambiguity encourages readers to think critically and engage with the narrative on a deeper level.

How bibisco writing software can help you write a captivating mystery novel

bibisco is a powerful tool for writing a mystery novel, offering features that help you organize your plot, develop complex characters, and maintain suspense throughout your story.

With its detailed character sheets , you can create intricate backstories and motivations, essential for crafting believable suspects and compelling detectives. The timeline feature allows you to track key events and clues, ensuring a coherent and engaging plot.

bibisco's timeline tool

Additionally, bibisco’s note-taking and scene management capabilities help you weave red herrings and pivotal revelations seamlessly into your narrative, making it easier to keep readers engaged.

Conclusion: how to write a mystery novel

Writing a compelling mystery novel requires a delicate balance of plot, character development, suspense, and intrigue. By mastering the techniques outlined in this guide, you’ll be well-equipped to craft a captivating mystery that keeps readers engaged and guessing until the final page.

Happy writing!

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How To Properly Quote A Book: Citing Quotes From A Book The Right Way

December 6, 2023 By Training Authors Leave a Comment Click here for FREE training for Christian writers

how to write a essay on a novel

Citing a quote can be a mark of respect for the original author’s eloquent expression—adopting their words to enrich your own work. Done with attention to proper attribution, it acknowledges the value of their contribution to your narrative. But are you confident you’re doing it with the integrity it deserves?

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the importance of accurate quoting
  • Learn the proper techniques for citation
  • Gain access to resources that streamline quoting practices

Understanding How to Accurately Attribute Quotations from Books

The significance of quoting with precision.

Respecting copyright and intellectual property, you enhance both the legal and ethical standing of your work. As you acknowledge others’ contributions, you also bolster the reliability of your own content. Remember, a careful citation is more than a formality; it reinforces your commitment to academic honesty and the golden rule of treating others’ work as you would wish yours to be treated.

You strengthen your arguments when you incorporate authoritative voices from relevant literature. Incorporating the insights of others shows you’ve engaged deeply with the topic and are presenting a well-considered perspective.

Citing A Book: Principles For Accurate Attribution

Choosing a Quotation Style

Select a citation style according to your field of study or the publication’s requirements. Whether it’s APA for the social sciences, MLA for humanities, or the Chicago style for a variety of purposes, each format has precise rules for quoting sources effectively.

APA Style Direct Quote Example: “Here’s a direct quote” (Johnson, 2016, p. 52).

MLA Style Direct Quote Example: “Here’s a direct quote” (Johnson 52).

Chicago Style Direct Quote Example: “Here’s a direct quote” (Johnson, 2016, 52).

Formatting Quotes and Citations

Depending on the length, format quotes using quotation marks for shorter excerpts or indented blocks for longer passages. Remember to include relevant details like the author’s last name, publication year, and page numbers, as detailed by the citation style you’re using.

Paraphrasing and Summarizing

When you reword an author’s ideas in your own style, that’s paraphrasing. Summarizing condenses the main points into a brief overview. Both require citations, as the ideas originate from another person’s work.

Steering Clear of Quoting and Citation Errors

Remain vigilant about punctuation when quoting; periods and commas should be inside the quotation marks. Accuracy in quoting demands that every comma, period, and citation appears in its rightful place to maintain readability and prevent miscommunication.

Maintain the integrity of quotes by verifying their sources before inclusion. Misattribution can undermine your credibility. Use digital tools like Google Books or Wikiquote to confirm quotations and attribute them correctly.

Always attribute quotes to avoid accidental plagiarism. Using someone else’s words without proper credit can have serious consequences and impugn your integrity. Remember to employ a consistent format for in-text citations and full references in the bibliography to comply with academic standards.

Quoting from literature enriches your work, imbuing it with depth and authority. Follow these guidelines to cite with confidence and navigate the nuances of academic integrity with ease.

Guides on Correctly Citing Literature (MLA and Chicago Style)

Recognized Styles :

  • Modern Language Association (MLA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

Notable Differences :

  • MLA primarily used for humanities.
  • APA preferred for sciences.
  • CMS suitable for broad range of subjects.
  • MLA or APA? Humanities often use MLA, while APA is for sciences.
  • CMS relevance? Offers flexibility across various subjects.

Formatting Essentials :

  • MLA : Author’s last name, first name. Book Title. Publisher, Year Published.
  • APA : Author’s last name, initials. (Year Published). Book Title. Publisher.
  • CMS : Author’s last name, first name. Book Title. City of publication: Publisher, Year Published.

Suggested Literature

For Nonfiction Authors:

  • Navigating Common Errors in Drafting
  • Mastering Self-Review Techniques

Enhance Your Editing Skills:

  • Recognize and Fix Typical Writing Slip-ups
  • Implement Effective DIY Revision Strategies

Common Inquiries Regarding Book Quotations

Apa style book quotation formatting.

When quoting from a book in APA style, include the author’s last name, publication year, and page number in parentheses after the quote. For example, (Smith, 2020, p. 152).

Incorporating Book Quotes into Essays

To integrate a direct quote, introduce it with a signal phrase, such as “According to Smith (2020),” followed by the quotation and a parenthetical citation.

Citing Book Titles in Text

Italicize the title of the book within the essay text. Also, capitalize the major words of the title, for instance, The Great Gatsby .

Referencing Direct Quotes from Individuals in Scholarly Writing

For a direct quote from a person, include their name, the year, and the page number if available, much like a book citation. Example: (Doe, 2021, p. 45).

In-Text Citation Example

When citing within the body of an essay, you might write, “It is noted that ‘the data reflects…’ (Smith, 2020, p. 152).”

Attributing Quotes from Books in Academic Work

To correctly attribute a quote from a book:

  • Introduce the quote with the author’s name
  • Include a citation after the quote
  • Add the full citation in the reference list at the end of your paper

Resources for How to Properly Quote a Book

  • American Psychological Association
  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • APA vs MLA – The Key Differences in Format and Citation

Recommended Reading

  • 5 Editing Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Nonfiction Book
  • 5 Steps to Self-Editing Your Writing

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how to write a essay on a novel

How to Write a Novel in 7 Easy Steps

1. create a writing ritual.

There’s a reason we put art in quiet museums, why symphonies are played in grand concert halls, why we worship in soaring cathedrals: There’s something about silence and sanctity that prepares us for awe. We must create a space insulated from the everyday noise in order to experience something profound. I try to do the same thing when I start a new novel. I follow a ritual that, slowly, step-by-step, shepherds my mind into the mental space necessary for literature to happen. It begins in the morning, first thing, before checking email, before reading the news. I go into my office, close the door, light a candle, put on some soothing music, snuggle into a big comfy chair, turn on an overhead lamp, open my laptop and start a new Word document and title it “My Novel,” and this is the moment when having a ritual is really important, because as I stare at that demented blinking cursor amid all that ghastly barren space and I realize I don’t have the first clue where to begin or what to do and I doubt I’ll ever have a good idea ever again and I question whether I’m even a real writer at all, I can reassure myself that yes, I must be a real writer, because, after all, I have a writing ritual .

2. Write longhand

That blinking cursor being just far too horrible and disturbing (and also kind of needy, am I right?), I switch to writing by hand. I put away the laptop and write in a journal, a diary, a legal pad. That way maybe I’ll stop judgmentally deleting every sentence as soon as I write it, a habit that even gluing thumbtacks upside-down on the backspace key did not cure.

3. The first sentence should contain the whole novel in miniature

Here I am, in my comfiest chair, with my favorite pen (a kind of substantial-feeling metal pen where the ink flows darkly and freely but somehow never splotches), and I’m holding a blank journal (one that’s large enough to feel important but not so large that it’s cumbersome), a journal with pages that are lined (because unlined pages feel too sloppy, and grid paper feels too formal and fussy and maybe a little masochistic), with a perfectly curated playlist of instrumental music murmuring at a low volume in the background, with an overhead light tuned at exactly the same color temperature as the outside light according to the Kelvin scale—here I am, tranquil, organized, prepared for awe, ready to write a sentence worthy of great literature, a sentence that proves I am indeed a real writer, that this whole being-a-writer thing was indeed a good idea, that going into vast student-loan debt to study creative writing wasn’t an enormous waste of money, that my friends were wrong when they gave me that pinched-face look after reading one of my early stories, that my parents were wrong when I switched majors from engineering to English and they said, “How about you write as a hobby while working a job that actually makes money?”—I need to write a sentence that exonerates me, in other words, for possibly poor decision-making in my youth—and when this is all just way too much pressure to put on one sentence and the sentence unsurprisingly does not emerge and I can’t even excrete one single word and I stare at the blank lined journal for so long that my playlist runs out and the room plunges into grave-like silence, this is when I realize it’s actually important not to write that sentence but instead to do a prodigious amount of…

4. Research!

I spend literally days on Google Scholar. I find an interesting study from psychology and then look up all the citations listed in that study and then read those studies, too, and then those citations and so on and so forth, a quadratic explosion of material I absolutely must get through before I can even think about writing another word. And when my wife or friends or parents ask me what I’m doing with all those printouts fully neoned in yellow highlighter, all those cryptic notecards I’ve pinned to the huge new corkboard on the wall, when they ask what’s happening with that novel I promised I was writing, I can say something that’s both truthful and artfully oblique: “It’s marinating.”

5. Create an outline

After doing so much research that I now basically have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in several new esoteric subjects (evolutionary psychology, say, or graph theory mathematics), and after putting so many notecards on the corkboard that it begins to resemble some kind of sprawling movie-bad-guy’s insane obsession-wall, I return to that still-empty notebook and, with all this newfound wisdom, I finally successfully write the first sentence of my new novel:

Both Chuck and Elizabeth were staring out their respective windows.

And then I immediately regret every single word.

I mean, what kind of name is Chuck ? And what’s with that word both , which I realize only after reading the sentence an embarrassing three or four times is completely redundant and unnecessary? And didn’t countless teachers in the creative writing education that I am still paying off warn me against passive constructions like were staring ? And would they be staring out the window or out of the window? Or maybe staring through the window? I suddenly don’t know. I am suddenly so unsure of the language, it’s as if I’ve just learned it.

And don’t even get me started on the multisyllabic horror that is respective .

6. Revise each word in this sentence several times, and then also do the same thing in every sentence thereafter, for, like, the next 600 pages

This should take roughly two to 10 years, during which time I regularly whine to my wife about how I should have gone into finance, or how I should have gone into advertising, or how I should have been a goddamn engineer like my goddamn parents wanted me to.

After which, violà ! I’ve finished my novel!

7. Do it all again

When people approach me at readings and say well-meaning things like “You have such natural talent” or “You’re so gifted” or “Writing must come so easy for you,” I just try to thank them. I don’t tell them that back home there is another intimidatingly blank journal, another empty corkboard, another unopened package of pens, that no matter how many novels I write, the steps always seem the same, that writing a novel seems completely impossible when you’re at the beginning. Instead, when people ask their inevitable follow-up question—“What are you writing next?”—I just smile tightly and say something vague: “It’s marinating.”

Wellness,  by Nathan Hill

My book is not my baby — but the two do have a lot in common

For me, publishing a book isn't the same as giving birth. it's more like sending my child to preschool, by noa silver.

I remember in my first year of motherhood the way I felt my world grow smaller and more intimate , the pace of my life grow slower and more focused. When my husband would come home from coaching and consulting meetings, networking events, and the workshops he facilitated, he would find me ensconced in the tiny world of our home, wrapped up in the milky sweetness of the baby. The private, domestic realm became my primary realm during those early months of motherhood, when I would walk around and around our small apartment with my baby wrapped to my chest, murmuring “shh, shh,” over and over again, like a mantra, or a prayer. Her heart beating against my heart, recreating womb-like conditions on the outside.

In the same sun-drenched week in August, that baby, my elder daughter, started preschool and I signed a publishing contract for my debut novel, "California Dreaming ." Two years after that, my younger daughter has started at that same preschool, and "California Dreaming" is mere days from being released.

Like those early months of motherhood, writing is an intensely private, solitary act. For me, to write necessitates going inward, it requires shutting out the outside world and external stimuli for the sake of being able to listen fully. My writing process takes inspiration from Anne Lamott’s practice of the one-inch picture frame. All through my daughters’ early years, I would carve out pockets of time — while they napped, or after bedtime, or when they were at the playground — to write. My pace of writing my novel was complementary to the pace of motherhood, the pace of attending to a baby and then a toddler. Each day I wrote just 250 words, filling my one-inch frame.

I am not the first to notice the connection between writing and parenting , but while many have compared publishing a book to giving birth, for me there is an even more apt comparison. Both child and book lived in and then with me for many years after their births. For me, publishing a book feels most parallel to sending my child to preschool for the first time, for it is in both these acts that that which once lived solely inside the private, domestic realm, and within only a few primary relationships, now enters the public sphere.

The distinction between the public and private realms, the separation between domestic and political spheres, has long been deeply intertwined with the preservation of a capitalistic society. Mothering so often happens outside of the public sphere, outside of the public gaze, and much has been written about the hidden, unpaid labor of caretaking. In our society, there is a hiddenness inherent in the domestic realm and a hiddenness to the lives and experiences of women.

Like those early months of motherhood, writing is an intensely private, solitary act.

Perhaps the novel form itself could be considered a kind of public square, a forum in which human relationships, motivations, self-discovery, and journeying gets played out again and again through different lenses, and under different gazes. Historically, even in the context of the novel, significant female life experiences — childbirth and abortion, breastfeeding and postpartum depression —  have not been explored nearly as deeply as those life experiences of typical male self-development.

In my writing, I am drawn to exploring the inner lives of women, especially during moments of significant life transitions. In "California Dreaming," the main character is Elena, who, over the course of the novel, grows from a young, idealistic early 20-something, into a 30-year-old woman who reckons with the decisions she has made, the values she holds and the stories she has inherited. It is a bildungsroman, a story form that traces the general and spiritual coming-of-age process, and it is told in the first-person point of view, granting Elena herself the narrative voice to describe her journey. There is an intimacy in using the first-person, a way of drawing near to the narrator that allows for greater play and insight into the narrator’s own development, her way of viewing the world, her inner life.

In an interview with Terry Gross in 1985, the writer Grace Paley reflected, “When you write, you illuminate what’s hidden, and that’s a political act.” For many years, my primary world has been the private, domestic, intimate world of mothering little children and writing and rewriting and editing a novel. A hidden world. And now, gradually, there are bridges between the private and public realms, and that which has been hidden is becoming illuminated, revealed.

In the months after giving birth, I felt the deep truth of the fact that I was not fully separate from my children. And yet, as they have grown, we have each gone through periods of differentiation, of reasserting the boundaries of self. My children no longer exist primarily in a carrier or in my arms; they are no longer solely dyadic extensions of me. They go to school, they have thoughts and experiences and dreams and feelings and wishes that I am not witness to, and that they navigate with peers and teachers and the many other people who populate their life. They have relationships that are their own.

So, too, with my novel. For many years I worked in private tandem with the novel, with my own creative process. In the months since I signed my book deal, however, I have begun to experience the way my creative process—a process of unfolding, refining, listening, and responding—is being transmuted into an object, into something that will go out into the world, into the public sphere, and there take on a life of its own. We are differentiating, my book and I, and soon it will be in relationship with others, with readers who will encounter it as themselves, and form judgments, connections, and opinions about it that are distinct from my own.

Motherhood’s value has often been located in the fact that the children we are mothering will eventually become citizens of the larger society. Similarly, a book on its publishing journey—as I have newfound understanding and appreciation for—ultimately becomes a commodity. The publishing industry measures a book’s success in sales, and even my chance at publishing another book in the future may rest on the sales numbers of my first. In these months of preparing for my book’s launch, of asking bookstores and libraries to stock my book, and friends and family to pre-order, I have been struck by my own doubts of its inherent worth. To ask people to buy it , to spend money on it, has necessarily sent me diving into questions of its value : Will this book change your life? Must it be read? Will you like it? I don’t know.

For many years, my primary world has been the private, domestic, intimate world of mothering little children and writing and rewriting and editing a novel. A hidden world.

Here’s what I do know: it had to be written. It called to me again and again during the writing process itself, that private, intimate birthing and caring for of this idea, these characters, this story, this particular viewpoint on the whole messy endeavor that we call life, and I couldn’t not write it.

In many ways, this is the same way I feel toward mothering my children. I don’t know who they will become, or what they will or will not contribute to society. I mother them in this moment, now, because they are here, in front of me, whole and perfect and messy and complete human beings just as they are. I attend to them because I must, because I am called to with my whole self.

It can seem at times that worth and value exist exclusively in the public sphere, in the shared collective, in the process of being witnessed and incorporated into the greater whole. But when this greater whole is one whose meaning rests in capital, then worth and value become markers for how much something contributes to capital: the book that sells well, or the child who grows up to be a “productive” member of society—a worker, a voter, a consumer.

It is not that I am against a shared, collective space, not that I wish for more individualized and individualistic paths toward meaning — far from it. However, in the context of a public sphere that primarily operates in terms of product, output and money, the private realm can sometimes seem a place of refuge, a place where creative process and attentive mothering can actually coexist in harmony, for the sake of attention itself, for the sake of love—and not future production or consumption.

Yet, I wonder whether that coexistence can only occur out of the public gaze, in a hidden domain, or if it would be possible for it to thrive in the public sphere. What kind of relationships could we have, the witnessers and the witnessed, in which we could write and mother from a place of intimate curiosity, where we could do so in a way that feels held by others, by community, where it is neither solely a solitary, lonely endeavor, nor one whose worth is measured in a balance sheet?

Perhaps it is only in a novel where we can fully explore that possibility.

personal stories from writers

  • What if I can't "savor every single moment" of their childhood?
  • The "groupie," the ghostwriter and me
  • My disapproving doctor father hated my work — but we had more in common than I thought

Noa Silver was born in Jerusalem and raised between Scotland and Maine. Her debut novel " California Dreaming " is due out in May.

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  • Writers & Writing

A Deep Dive Into the Novels of Louise Penny with Robert VanDellen

Louise Penny’s nineteenth Inspector Gamache/Three Pines murder-mystery novel is coming out in the fall of this year. She continues to captivate us with her amazing creative talent. Not only does Ms. Penny craft an outstanding story, packed with intrigue and adventure, she also touches the whole range of human emotions. She knows our basic instincts, desires, and wants. As an award-winning and best-selling author, her novels transcend the mystery genre at which she excels. Her writing career spans twenty years.

Louise Penny is recognized as one of the finest novelists in Canada, her homeland, the United States, England, and Europe. Led by the charming and wise Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector for the Quebec police force, Ms. Penny creates the very special village of Three Pines, with an engaging community of characters. This talk, complete with power point slides, will discuss the life of the author, her range of novels, and a closer look at some of her works.

About Robert VanDellen Bob Van Dellen earned his Ph.D. in English Literature from Indiana University and began his career as a professor at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana.

Bob taught graduate and undergraduate courses, was president of a consulting company, and served as the founding executive director of a Community Foundation. He returned to academia and concluded his career as president of a college in Michigan. He authored over ten feature-length scripts for videos, which included four with Curt Gowdy of American Sportsman fame and one with the famous Roy Rogers. He published several essays and conducted numerous seminars and workshops.

Since 2016, he has presented over twenty-five Talks on Literature. These are now being converted into a multi-series collection of essays, titled Reflections on Literature: Exploring Meanings and Messages. Volume I, The Modern Novel from the Roaring Twenties to the Mythic West released in July, 2023.

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Yale awards nine honorary degrees.

The nine recipients of Yale honorary degrees in 2024.

Front row, from left, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Judith Rodin, Peter Salovey, Mahzarin Banaji, and Hortense Spillers.  Second row, from left, László Lovász,  Kehinde Wiley,  Mario Capecchi, and Stephen Breyer. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

During its 323rd graduation ceremony on Monday, Yale conferred honorary degrees on nine individuals who have achieved distinction in their fields.

This year’s honorary degree recipients included the eminent social psychologist Mahzarin Banaji; retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer; Nobel Prize-winning molecular geneticist Mario Capecchi; health policy leader Risa Lavizzo-Mourey; mathematician and computer scientist László Lovász; research psychologist and global thought leader Judith Rodin; literary critic Hortense Spillers; and visual artist Kehinde Wiley ’01 M.F.A.

And also receiving an honorary degree was Yale President Peter Salovey, who presided over his final Commencement as Yale’s leader before his planned return to the faculty this summer.

The awarding of honorary degrees, which has been a Yale tradition since 1702, recognizes pioneering achievement or exemplary contribution to the common good.

The honorary degree recipients and their citations follow:

Mahzarin Banaji Social psychologist Doctor of Social Science

“ Groundbreaking scholar whose pioneering work has helped establish the role that unconscious processes play in governing human social action, you have educated us to appreciate how our judgment of others may spring, not from conscious dislike or animosity, but from implicit biases we do not recognize or understand. These ‘mind bugs’ occur outside of our awareness or control and give rise to prejudices based on race, gender, age, and other characteristics. Intrepid investigator whose work has opened minds and hearts by illuminating what leads us to categorize others, we are pleased to admit explicit bias in your favor as we honor a beloved former Yale faculty member with the degree of Doctor of Social Science. ”

Stephen Breyer Jurist, retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Doctor of Laws

“ Supreme court justice for over a quarter century, you are known for your pragmatic philosophy, a belief that the judiciary must adapt to changing society and consider real-world consequences for human beings when deciding cases. Your fact and data-driven decisions in matters involving school integration, the rights of criminal suspects, a woman’s prerogative to control her own body, and many more, mark you as someone who shares Justice Holmes’ belief that the important thing is ‘not where we stand, but in what direction we are moving.’ Quintessential enlightenment man, Yale celebrates a justice who reminds us that judges must hew to principle, not politics, as we honor you with the degree of Doctor of Laws. ”

Mario Capecchi Molecular geneticist Doctor of Science

“ Born in Verona to a mother who was taken to Dachau, you lived alone on the streets during the Holocaust from age four, scrounging for food, until, through a set of miraculous circumstances, you were brought to the United States. Without any formal schooling until you were nine, you rose to share the Nobel Prize in medicine for the development of gene targeting in mouse embryo stem cells, a discovery that has led to major advancements in human disease, drug development, and more. Inspiring scientist, whose life lessons teach us all and whose story exemplifies the triumph of the human spirit, we award you the degree of Doctor of Science. ”

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey Health policy leader Doctor of Medical Sciences

“ Trailblazing physician, geriatrician, and first woman and first African American to be president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, you have devoted your career to empowering communities and corporations to making equitable health care a shared value. Your persuasiveness has prevailed on big corporations to heed your cry of ‘Less sugar! Less sugar!’ and to help create a healthier America. Yale salutes a visionary who is insistent that all Americans — from every zip code in our nation — can live longer, healthier, better lives, as, with a big glass of delicious water, we toast and award you the degree of Doctor of Medical Sciences. ”

László Lovász Mathematician and computer scientist Doctor of Engineering and Technology

“ Brilliant mathematician and theoretical computer scientist, your pathbreaking contributions in combinatorics, a branch of pure mathematics, have led to real-life applications in computer science, engineering and technology, statistics, and science that serve and advance humankind.  Over time you have received nearly every award a mathematician can earn, including the Abel Prize, the highest award in mathematics. We are honored that you have agreed to receive one more, from the university where you taught and conducted research for over a half decade, and which itself is honored to present you with the degree of Doctor of Engineering and Technology. ”

Judith Rodin Global thought leader Doctor of Humane Letters

“ Pioneering leader who served as the first woman president of both the University of Pennsylvania and the Rockefeller Foundation, you have helped reshape two great institutions to face the needs of modern times. In both, your creative and forward-looking ideas — from health psychology to resilient cities — galvanized initiatives that emphasized change amidst challenge. Yale celebrates as well your twenty-two years in New Haven as a Yale faculty member, educator, dean of the graduate school, and university provost. A resilient and transformational leader wherever you go, Yale salutes an innovator we still think of as ‘one of our own,’ as we proudly confer on you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. ”

Peter Salovey P resident of Yale University Doctor of Humane Letters

“ When you step down in June as Yale’s 23rd president, you will enter history as the Yale professor who has held more senior leadership positions at the university than anyone in its 322-year history. Beginning with your presidency of the  Graduate and Professional Student Senate  when you were a Ph.D. student, you have been, serially, chair of the Psychology Department, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, dean of Yale College, provost, and president — a cornucopia of senior positions held by no other Yale historical personage, ever.

“ When you were appointed, you said you hoped to help a great university create a more accessible, a more innovative, and a more excellent Yale. You have done all three. Yale now has a dramatically wider array of socioeconomic and geographic diversity across its student body, departments, and schools. New buildings have brought together scattered faculty who now work with and learn from each other. New Haven’s economy is strengthened because of your partnership with its mayor. And the new faculty and academic collaborations in schools and programs that you have prioritized have made Yale more innovative and forward looking in developing ways to address society’s greatest challenges.

“ From the start of your presidency your stated aim has been inspiring Yale as a community where students, staff, and faculty collaborate with one another to make a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. As you return now to the faculty after a suitable rest, no doubt to galvanize students as the excellent teacher you always have been, Yale offers its thanks, as we gratefully confer on you your fourth Yale degree, doctor of Humane Letters. ”

Hortense Spillers Literary critic Doctor of Humanities

“ Inspiring Black feminist theorist and critic, your foundational work, embedded in your deep historical and literary knowledge, challenges received thought and provides us a profound understanding of how race and gender shape the modern world. In three books and dozens of essays, you rewrite the American grammar book, claiming the insurgent ground as you revolutionize how we consider and write about our nation’s history and culture. Pioneering thinker, we celebrate the marvels of your inventiveness, and your enduring contributions to letters, as we proudly confer on you the degree of Doctor of Humanities. ”

Kehinde Wiley ’01 M.F.A. Visual artist Doctor of Fine Arts

“ Internationally renowned painter and sculptor, whose portrait of President Obama hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, your arresting portraits, like all pioneering art, break the category, depicting ‘common’ people in traditional styles that raise questions about privilege, power, authority, and representation. Artist recognized around the world for your vibrant and imaginative work, and an awardee of the W.E.B. Du Bois medal for ‘contributions to African and African American culture, and advocacy for intercultural understanding and human rights,’ Yale honors you with a second Yale degree, Doctor of Fine Arts. ”

  • Commencement 2024: A celebration of community
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