How to Write a Five-Paragraph Essay About a Story

Essays about stories examine themes.
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A five-paragraph essay about a story is called a literary response essay. It's basically persuasive: the writer is persuading the reader that he clearly understands and can interpret one of the themes behind a book, short story, play or poem. Literary response format, essential for AP testing, has definite steps to its creation, and these steps also lead the writer to a better understanding of the work.

1 The Opening Paragraph

The introductory paragraph contains the preliminary discussion of the essay's theme and the thesis the writer will argue. The pattern for this first paragraph is precise: it begins with a general statement about the theme and proceeds to name the author, the work and the literary devices used to make the theme clear. It concludes with a thesis: "Jealousy comes in many forms, all of them destructive. William Shakespeare's 'Othello' uses metaphor, allusion and imagery to convey this theme. Both Othello and Iago are destroyed by horrendous jealousies that infect their minds."

2 Three Body Paragraphs

The opening paragraph's last sentence, the thesis, is the point that will be argued in all the body paragraphs; The literary devices noted -- metaphor, allusion and imagery -- are the topics of the individual paragraphs, each paragraph examining the thesis in terms of the literary device. For example, the body paragraph about metaphors might give Shakespeare's comparison of jealousy to the "burn[ing] mines of sulphur" or "the green-eyed monster." Examining the work through both its theme and its literary devices invites the writer to carefully scrutinize and understand textual details.

3 The Closing Paragraph

Writers can create a simple closing paragraph by taking the opening paragraph and reversing its sentences; however, each sentence must be carefully re-written -- and this cannot be emphasized too strongly -- in light of the evidence presented in the body paragraphs. The thesis will alter into a statement that is proven already by the essay's arguments if the writer has documented them carefully; the remaining closing sentences will naturally fall into place as commentary on the rewritten thesis. Make sure to avoid formulaic writing: Never begin the closing paragraph with "in conclusion."

4 Citations are Vital

It's extremely important to include generous cited quotations in the essay, at least two to three per paragraph. These are the concrete details -- the evidence -- proving the writer's ideas. They should be cited with a page number or a poem's line number in parentheses (95), or act/scene/line divisions for plays (1.3.44). If the writer follows these steps to write a literary response essay, he should create a work that is clear, well organized and successfully persuasive.

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.