The No-Fail Way to Write a Literature Analysis Essay (or, why your essay’s like a sandwich)

An essay is really just a lot of smaller parts stacked on top of one another.

Since the parts are pretty standard, it's a  big waste o' time and effort to approach every essay with a brand new strategy.

Are you ready for a no-fail plan that will help you write a solid literature response essay? Good, because I’m ready to share it with you!

You're Working Too Hard

When you analyze literature, your job is to find good quotes and say something intelligent about them. But most of the time, you’re probably spending way too much time and effort determining how to do that analysis in order to present a killer argument.

You might be tearing your hair out, putting so much energy into building your essay, one painstaking idea at a time, that you don’t end up with any time to revise or edit it well, and after all that work, you still end up with the same grade as always.

Do you know what you need? (OK, yes, a vacation. That, too.) You need more structure.

More structure = fewer choices = faster, easier writing. [Tweet that!]

The solution is to think in terms of an essay recipe (ressaype?). A recipe is a set of steps you can use for consistent results. It tells you exactly what to do. It tells you the right amounts of all the ingredients. The more you make a recipe, the better you get at it. The more automatic the actions become.

If You Can Make a Sandwich, You Can Write an Essay

Your essay is like a sandwich. It has important evidence and analysis held in place by more run-of-the-mill parts that might not add the most flavor, but that hold everything together.

Actually, your essay is like a big sandwich made up of smaller sandwiches. Like a turkey club sandwich. Or something you would see on Epic Mealtime.

Once you see the sandwich pattern, you can stack different types and different numbers of sandwiches together to make every single type of essay. For real.

We’ll start with the biggest sandwich and then pull apart the layers to see what kinds of sandwiches are inside!

Sandwich 1: The Whole Enchilada

  • Top piece of bread: Introduction
  • Insides: Body Paragraph Sandwiches
  • Bottom piece of bread: Conclusion

Your introduction’s job is to get the reader pumped up for your argument. It should start with a snazzy welcome that makes your reader feel right at home, and it should and end with a statement of what you’ll be proving. Struggle with the opening? Check out my suggestions for how to write a great hook. 

The conclusion is your chance to exit gracefully by restating your argument and reminding your reader why it’s important.

Sandwich 2: The Body Paragraph Sandwich

Time to prove your position by offering specific evidence and analysis. When you’re writing about a novel, play, short story or poem, your evidence will be direct quotes from the text. You should choose ones that will leave room for your analysis. If the quote says everything you wanted to say, it's not a good quote to use.

  • Top piece of bread: Topic sentence
  • Insides: Quote Sandwich(es); the number varies but is usually between one and three
  • Bottom piece of bread: Concluding sentence

Sandwich 3: The Quote Sandwich

So how do you prove your position? You have to use those quotes you selected. What “using” means is tricky. It's the crux of this type of essay. Just stating some line from the work of literature does nothing! You’ve got to present that line so that it makes sense and also connects back to your big claim (your thesis) and your sub claim (your topic sentence).

  • Top piece of bread: Context for the quote (what’s going on in the story at this point?) and attribution (who said or thought this? A character? The author?)
  • Insides: Quote
  • Bottom piece of bread: Analysis

Sandwich 4: The Analysis Sandwich

Analyzing your quote takes the most brainpower. But it’s still a sandwich! Your job is to explain the quote and connect it back to your argument.

  • Top piece of bread: What the quote means (especially if it’s terse or in challenging language)
  • Insides: Deeper significance, often related to the author's word choice or use of literary device
  • Bottom piece of bread: Spell out exactly how it connects to and supports your argument

If you stack all of those sandwiches together, here’s what you get:

Mayo is Extra

Is there more to writing a great essay? Well, yes. You'll probably want to add in some great fixins, like transitions, sentence variety, and specific vocab. But doesn't it make sense to do those after the fact? First get your sandwich assembled, then worry about all the extras.

The point of this recipe is that you’ll be able to see the big picture. You'll always know where you are in your essay. 

I see so many students get stuck on literature essays simply because they get lost! They’ve got interesting ideas, well-chosen quotes, and good writing chops. But they aren’t sure what to do next.

Following these sandwich recipes will help you keep track of where you are. You’ll be able to tell when you’ve got enough in each section because you’ll have a specific goal.

Am I saying this is easy? Heck no! In my opinion, a great piece of literature analysis is one of the crowning achievements of human civilization. Only slightly behind a perfect chocolate souffle. If you can nail one of these babies, you’ll go far. (Especially on the new SAT.)

If this looks daunting, or if the idea makes sense but you’re not sure how to apply it, let’s chat! When you work with me one-on-one I help you formulate your ideas and make a writing plan so that you know exactly what to do next on your essay.

Got questions? Schedule a free consultation!