PAPER GUIDELINES for your 500 word paper on a work of literature (text) or film.

PLEASE READ THIS PAGE CLOSELY! Students who do not follow instructions make a very bad impression: they may appear to be disrespectful, indifferent, lazy, insulting, or just plain dumb.

What I am asking you to do--a close reading--may be something no other teacher has asked you to do. Close reading may run counter to the kinds of historicist, biographical, and sociological "reading" what you have been taught. So close reading may involve a degree of unlearning from you have been taught to do and have been rewarded for doing. Close reading is about learning, not judging or denouncing.

Before emailing your paper, return to this page and read it. Ask yourself: Did I do what I was asked to do? If the answer is "yes," please email me your paper. If the answer is "no," then do what you need to do until you can answer "yes."

Here's what I want you to do:
1. You are to do a close reading of passage from a text or of a scene or sequence composed of approximately 4-8 shots. Write on a scene or sequence we have not discussed in class from a film assigned for the course. How do you know you have chosen a passage or a sequence or scene worth discussing? That is a good question and difficult to answer. Well, if you google the text, you will probably find a lot of generic papers, some for sale, that could give you some obvious answers (like "To be or not to be" in Hamlet.) In a great text, almost every word is theoretically worth discussing. In a great film, every shot is theoretically worth discussing. Some shots, scenes, and sequences invite or even demand closer attention than do others. A shot-reverse-shot sequence is usually not worth reading closely. But there are exceptions. There is no way to predict what is worth discussing, although people tend to be drawn to the same moments in a given film or text.

If you are uncertain what doing a "close reading" means, go here and here. For a classic book of close readings, see Cleanth Brooks' The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry(1947). Here is an exemplary chapter from the book.

2. Close reading, or slow reading, requires repeated viewings. So watch the film again. Do not write your paper based on your memory of a single viewing. Watch the film on a device that allows you to pause it (the way you would have a book open to a page your were discussing). Have a computer or pen and paper with you so you can take notes as you watch the film again. These notes are the basis for the first draft of your paper. As you start to write your draft, keep the film available to you so that you can keep watching the scene over again or so you can pause on certain shots as you write about them. Watching or reading and writing are continuous, overlapping activities, Writing and watching are not discontinuous, separable stages (first watch, then write). As you write, you are in dialogue both with what you are writing about and with your reader.

3. Quote the text as it is relevant. Include screen captures of each shot you are discussing. You can do with with a VLC player on a computer. Or you can google "screen captures" and see what kind of software you need to download. Insert this in the body of your paper where they are most relevant. Number them so you can refer to them in your paper. The shots are the equivalent of text you would quote from a book.

Here is how I want you to write your title and you first paragraph.

1. Your paper must have a title, and in the title you must put the name of the film you are discussing and the director. Your reader should know quite easily what you will be discussing in your paper based on reading your title alone.

2. In your final draft of your first paragraph, you need to give the following information in your first sentence:

(a) the title of the text or film; (b) the first and last names of the author or the director of the film; and (c) the year the film was released.

3. If a text, give the page number or lines of whatever you quote. If a film, give the time stamp of the scene or sequence you are discussing and put it at the end of your first sentence.

4. In your first sentence, you also need to indicate the scene or sequence you will discuss. Break this sentence down into two clauses, the first dependent, the second independent.

Example of your dependent clause:

In the aftermath of the boar hunt scene that opens Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985), . . .

Put the title of the film in your first, dependent clause. In your the dependent clause, describe what happens in the film just before the scene you are describing so that you reader can better remember it.

Example: "In the aftermath of the boar hunt scene that opens"

5. For film papers only: In your second sentence and, if you need it, your third sentence, vividly describe the sequence or scene you will discuss. Mention the number of shots, Describe the kinds of shots you are discussing. By “vividly,” I mean describe it so well that your reader can remember the scene or sequence you say you will discuss. “Vividly” also means describing in an analytical way what is notable, worth discussing. Your selection is based on something you have observedabout a shot or sequence of shots others may have missed or may have noticed but not thought about. (By the way, this is why it is important to keep the film close to you. You may well want to watch it again or go back--or forward-- to other shots in the film.)

6. In the final sentence of your first paragraph, state your thesis. Your thesis should primarily address the scene or sequence you are discussing and secondarily addressthe relation between that scene or sequence and its relation to the film. Your thesis must be one sentence.

7. Be sure to proofread your paper carefully. Your final draft should not have any typos or ungrammatical sentence constructions.

If you have any questions about this assignment, now is the time to ask them.

Here is an example from a paper I gave an "A."

Oblivious to Oblivion: Chaos and Hidetora’s Blindness in Ran (dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1985)

In the aftermath of the boar hunt scene that opens Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985), the hunting party decides to leave Lord Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) to rest when they realize he is asleep (0:07:05 - 0:08:45). This scene ends with a five-shot sequence beginning with a long shot of the king's three sons, followed by a long shot of Saburo (Daisuke Ryû) and Kyoami (Pîtâ), then a long shot of the entire area as Saburo shades Lord Hidetora while the others watch before exiting, followed by a medium long shot of Hidetora asleep in the shade placed by Saburo, and concluding with an extreme long shot of a pillar of white clouds billowing up against a blue sky. By highlighting Hidetora's blindness to Saburo’s display of loyalty, and by ending with a shot of clouds, this sequence economically introduces the chaotic world of the film.

The two most important parts of your paper are your TITLE and your THESIS. That's why two-thirds of your grade will be decided by them.Grading: If you don't put your name on your paper, it's an automatic E. If you don't have a proper title, it's an automatic E. If yu don't have a clearly defined paper topic, it's an automatic E. If you don't have a thesis, it's an automatic E. One third of your grade will be based on your title; one third on your thesis; and one third on the body of your paper (its coherence, organization, logic and rhetoric).

The format of your papers is that of a persuasive essay:

1. You must have a thesis (an argument you can state in one sentence, usually at the end of your first paragraph after you state your topic).

2. Underline your thesis sentence. Generally, it is a good idea to state your topic in a few sentences and then state your thesis, as the last sentence of your first paragraph. (Your thesis should be stated in one sentence.)

3. Feel free to contact me at any point in the composition process.

4. Write clear, concise, reader-friendly prose. Don't use "utilize" or "foreshadows." Say what you mean.

5. Don't use "seems to" and avoid "is" as a helping verb whenever possible (use an action verb instead).

Paper Format and Composition Guidelines:

--Your essay should have a title that describes specifically what your paper is about. If your title is overly general, it means you do not have a topic or a thesis. It's generally a good idea to have the title of the text(s) and / or film(s) you're discussing in your essay title.

--Do not summarize the text or the plot of or film you're discussing. You may assume that your reader has read or seen it carefully and is familiar with the argument or the plot.

--Proofread your essay carefully.

--Double space your paper.

--Do not refer to class discussion as in "In this class, we have . . . ." Similarly, do not personalize. You're writing to a general, informed audience who has seen hte films and rad the texts on which you are writing. If your paper were posted on a webpage, anyone logging on who is familiar with the material should be able to follow your argument.

--Spell out numbers and abbreviations: "Twentieth-century England" not "20th ct. England" (but not dates such as 1972 or October 12).

--Use the present tense when discussing a literary work or film as in "Shakespeare writes . . . ."

--Make sure that nouns and pronouns agree in number (a singular noun goes with a singular pronoun; a plural noun goes with a plural pronoun): "If someone says x, he or she may find . . " or "If people think . .they . . ." Do NOT write "If someone feels . . . they . . ." (in this case a singular noun has been ungrammatically linked to a plural pronoun).

--Give the name of the director and the year of release of any film being discussed, as in Macbeth (dir. Roman Polanski, 1972)

--Give names of actors in parentheses the first time you mention the character he or she plays. For example: "Veronica (Irene Jacob) sees that . . ."

--Underline or italicize titles of films and novels. Put titles of poems in quotation marks.

--When quoting verse (even from a play) indicate line breaks with a "/" and a capital letter in the beginning of the next line, as in "When shall we three meet again / In thunder, lightning, or in rain?"

--When quoting from a novel or short story, give the page number in parentheses after the quotation and put the period after the parentheses, as in "She said (1)."

--Use a 12 point font. I prefer Ariel.

--Make sure your paragraphs have strong transitions between them that tell your reader how you are developing your argument. Avoid "Another" as a transition. It tells your reader that you are listing points rather than developing an argument.

--Make sure your paragraphs are unified. Each paragraph should have one topic, and each paragraph should have a topic sentence which all the other sentences are subordinated to (just as your entire essay has a thesis sentence which subordinates everything else in your essay. A paragraph is like a mini-essay).

--It's O.K. to use "I" or "my" as in "I will argue" or "in my view," but do not personalize your argument ("When I saw the film I felt that . . ."). You're writing a persuasive essay directed at an audience, not an autobiography.

--Integrate quotations into your paper, don't leave them standing by themselves. Write: Victor Frankenstein says ".... (54)."

--Put two spaces between sentences.

--Look out for comma splices, a common error. Two successive complete sentences (independent clauses) may not be joined by a comma. They have to be separated by a period or linked by a colon or semi-colon.

For more information on the following topics (below), go to:

Effective Writing

  1. I ASSUME YOU WANT TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE WELL. I CAN TEACH YOU HOW TO DO THAT. You can teach yourself by paying close attention to what makes good writing good (sentence structure, word choice, clarity, and on on). You have to READ frequently and you have to read A LOT in order to learn how to write well. You have to read carefully not only to understand the meaning of what you are reading but to appreciate how the sentences, paragraphs, and so on are well-constructed. The intelligence of writer is inseparable from the intelligence of his or her prose.

    Marcel Proust, The Lemoine Affair (The Art of the Novella)
    Charlotte Mandell (Translator)

    Here are some models of good prose style here:

    The New Yorker


    The Intercept


    The TLS

    You are responsible for your own education. Don't confine your education to what your teachers tell you do. Go where you want to go and keep going. Rely on your own judgment (pursue what is good, pass over junk or develop a critical taste for it; there is comparatively very little "good" writing; there are very few oases to be found in the immense deserts of published writing, so drink deeply when you find them).

    George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

    Some relevant history of literary criticism:

    New Criticism

    For Idiosyncratic Reading


    From The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. W.K. Wimsatt, Jr., and Monroe C. Beardsley. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1954.

    Reading literature is not about staying in your comfort zone. Literature is frequently NOT ego affirming. Literature is generally difficult (genre fiction makes for easy reading). Close reading is difficult and can even be dangerous: "you have better have tenure," Paul de Man; Jacques Derrida did not get tenure in Paris; "I did not get tenure" anecdote by Avital Ronell in Stupidity; Geoffrey Hartman did not get tenure at Yale; Stephen Booth almost did not get tenure, but his first book won the James Lowell prize and so everyone decided he was OK; Pierre Bourdieu anecdotes in the introduction to his book Homo Academicus; Martin Heidegger did not get the job to which he first applied; he got the offer a year later but rejected it and took a job at Freiburg University instead.

    Sigmund Freud, "The Resistances of Psychoanlysis"

    All beginnings are dangerous.--The poet has the choice of either raising feeling from one step to the next and thus eventually increasing it to a very high level--or else attempting a sudden onslaught and pulling the bell-rope with all his might from the beginning: both have their dangers: in the first case, that his audience may flee out of boredom, in the second, out of fear.

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human II, "Mixed Opinions and and Maxims," section 163, ed. Gary Handwerk (Stanford UP, 2013), 67.

    Jacques Derrida

    Paul de Man

Everything hangs on your thesis. If you don't know what you are arguing, your paper will lack organization (transitions will be "also" and "another"; that tells you that you are listing points rather than developing an argument), your prose will become wordy and hazy, and typos will often start to show up as well. If you can't think up a title, you don't have a thesis.

Writing is a process. It takes time to write something good. I recommend writing at least two drafts of any paper, and writing over 2-3 days (not continuously, of course, but with breaks). As you write your first draft, you may still be in the process of figuring out your thesis. As you figure it out, your organization will also change. Or you may also see that you have new points to make that will help strengthen your case and / or new ways of addressing elements of the film or text you are discussing that seem to work against your argument. So your second draft will then usually be a major revision of your first. After you have what you think is your final draft, give it to a trusted friend to read. This is important. Writing is a dialogue. Having some read your rwork is a useful feedback and check. You may think your essay is more readable than it is.
Then go back and proofread and edit your final draft to make your prose more readable and concise where necessary. Add information as well, if necessary. Take out redundant material. Be sure to proofread!!

Don't get personally invested in your first draft or in a given sentence or even a title. You want to keep your eye on the final product. Everything that does not contribute to it has to go. Be concise!

One of the interesting and in some ways unsettling things about writing is that you only figure out what you are saying in the process of writing it up. Writing is a process of discovery. You should have a more or less good idea of where you going when you begin based on notes and thoughts, but you won't know exactly where you are going or how you will get there until after you've begun the process of writing.

  1. Do a close reading. Focus on a passage or a scene and discuss it in detail. That passage or scene is your paper topic. Cite the text or film to make your points. Develop your thesis. The text or film is your evidence. PLEASE. DO NOT REPEAT YOURSELF!!!!!
  2. Give your essay a proper title. ****If your are writing an essay on Hamlet, then Hamlet has to be in your title.***(The title of the film, play, novel, etc, you are writing on has to be in the title of your paper!). You may also have a subtitle in addition to your title. The title of your paper should specify and delimit your topic. For example, you could write a paper entitled "On Two Lines in Hamlet." Grading: If you don't have a proper title, it's an automatic E.
  3. Write on ONE scene of film or one passage of a text. (Do not compare two or more texts and films). Do a close reading of the text or film (and its paratexts). Do not discuss the writer or director (biographical criticism) and do not historicize (genetic criticism). Just focus on a detail of the text or film that is central to the meaning of the work as a whole. Read from the details of the text outwards.
  4. Your must have a thesis, an argument that you can state in one sentence and that should go at the end of your first paragraph, after you've stated your topic. GRADING: If you don't have a thesis, it's an automatic E. Arriving at a title and a thesis depends on your ability to ask certain kinds of questions about the reading or film you are discussing.
  5. THE BODY OF YOUR PAPER: paragraphs should be unified, have a topic sentence, and have transitions between them so that the reader understands why you are telling him or her what you're telling him or her.
  6. YOU MUST HAVE A PAPER TOPIC. BEGIN THIS WAY: In the first sentence of your essay, put the name of the author or director and the title of the book / essay or film. You can write something like this: "In Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, . . . " or "In Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne . . . ." and then establish the passage or scene--your paper topic--you will discuss and about which you will develop a thesis.GRADING: If you don't have a paper topic, it's an automatic E.
  7. Save your word docx with your last name in the doc title: for example, "Smith.docx." Then send it to my gmail account. If you don't save your docx this way, I won't read your paper.
  8. Do NOT write the five paragraph essay you learned to write in high school. Do not repeat your thesis in your conclusion. "Close the discussion without closing it off."
  9. Number your pages. 
  10. Underline or italicize titles of films and books. In the case of a film, put "dir." to indicate the director, then put the director's name with a comma at the end, and then put the year of release, as in "In Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1957) . . . " also, put the actor's name in parentheses after giving the character's name , as is "Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) . . ." You only need do this the first time you mention a film or a character.
  11. To whom are you writing? Your audience is imagined by you. It is not limited to me or to the other students in theclass. Your audience includes anyone who has read the text or seen the film you are reading closely.
  12. Do not use the word "throughout."
  13. Plain Style: A Guide to Written English (Long sentences are fine as long as they are easy to read--reader-friendly).
  14. Put your name on your paper. Grading: If you don't put your name on your paper, it's an automatic E.
  15. You may now stop reading this page. I assume you have been reading closely, closely enough to be reading this sentence. Keep on reading if you wish.


Remember to back up your points with concrete references to the film / text and quotations from it.