A Guide to Writing a Critical Essay Print
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A Guide to Writing a Critical Essay

Length: 10 pages, 2500 words.

For essay collections, memoir, personal narratives, pathographies, reflective pieces, immersion journalism, hybrid narratives, travel and adventure tales, place-oriented nonfiction, non-traditional biography, and other contemporary creative nonfiction styles.

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The Main Components.

1) Begin with an overview of the writer, discussing his/her background, significant work, type of creative nonfiction.

2) Summarize the story or focus of the book at hand. Save (most of) your critical tone (pluses, minuses) for your analysis. Consider meeting the author more than halfway: he or she is trying to write creative nonfiction so be neither too dismissive nor too congratulatory. Balance the writer's intent with its execution.

3) Do a substantive analysis by evaluating two things:

3a) Content.

Describe in more detail the focus of the book. Why do you think this book has been written? I want to know what the book sets out to accomplish and whether or not the book gets there. Use quotations to prove your point, make your arguments.

3b) Style.

Describe in some detail the style of the book. Give examples to show what the style is. It may mix styles or be ruthlessly consistent or a tweener. One good way to identify a style is to compare it (if you can) to other books stylistically similar. Evaluate how well you believe the author’s content is served by the style he or she adopts.

The above is a suggested form in which to write your critical essay. I understand if you want to follow it to a T. That’s fine. But consider also that these components are part of many critical essays or reviews and as guidelines they need be neither strictly adhered to nor balanced. Feel free to diverge from the plan if it makes sense to you—for example, doing more with style over content or content over style is OK.

Note: Good critical essays stand a very good chance of being published with good literary magazines and journals. They will often accept them because they don’t get enough of this kind of writing.