What Is a Literary Essay?

Like opinion pieces, literary essays are written to inform the reader while sometimes delivering a message; unlike opinion pieces, literary essays are not designed to persuade, although affecting the way people think is often a by-product whenever information and ideas are imparted. Literary essays are also distinguishable from opinion pieces by their length, which may be as long as 8,000 words.

Although literary essays may involve an individual experience and dwell upon personal reflections similar to personal essays, the focal point of literary essays is the subject of the essay and not the writer. What also makes the literary essay stand apart from all other forms of nonfiction including personal and opinion essays is that the writing must demonstrate a convincing command of writing techniques and evince a sense of language. In other words, they must be well written.

The Subject

The wonderful thing about literary essays is that you can pick any topic you desire to serve as the centerpiece of your essay. The subject may be very explicit, such as a particular species of butterfly, or the topic may be more general, such as describing a city. The important thing is that regardless of how expansive or narrow the topic, your literary essay must appeal to a wide audience and preferably deliver a message that addresses many readers.

You need not limit yourself to one subject in a literary essay; it is possible to write about two subjects. Often when doing this, one of the subjects is a personal experience or consists of personal reflections. When you do write about two subjects, you need to make certain they come together by the end of the essay.

Deciding upon the topic of your literary essay is half the fun. You can write about anything at all, choosing something that has always interested you that you want to study further or a subject that you have only recently been intrigued by and now want to explore. What is more, the venue for your search is everywhere and anywhere. You can surf the Internet, peruse the shelves of a library or bookstore, read articles in magazines and newspapers, or just consider the world around you.

What is critical in composing a respectable literary essay is that once you select your subject, you know the standards and writing techniques that is expected in the genre. If you simply convey information, then you have written an article; if you instruct in a didactic manner, you have written a scholarly piece. And while there is nothing wrong with either genres, it does not make for a literary essay.

  1. Home
  2. Writing Nonfiction
  3. The Literary Essay
  4. What Is a Literary Essay?
Visit other About.com sites: