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Novel Essay Intro

SUMMARY:

  • A good introductory paragraph 1. gets your reader’s attention, 2. introduces your topic, and 3. presents your stance on the topic (thesis).

LINKS:

Right after your title is the introductory paragraph. Like an appetizer for a meal, the introductory paragraph sets up the reader’s palate and gives him a foretaste of what is to come. You want start your paper on a positive note by putting forth the best writing possible.

Like writing the title, you can wait to write your introductory paragraph until you are done with the body of the paper. Some people prefer to do it this way since they want to know exactly where their paper goes before they make an introduction to it. When you write your introductory paragraph is a matter of personal preference.

Your introductory paragraph needs to accomplish three main things: it must 1. grip your reader, 2. introduce your topic, and 3. present your stance on the topic (in the form of your thesis statement). If you’re writing a large academic paper, you’ll also want to contextualize your paper’s claim by discussing points other writers have made on the topic.

There are a variety of ways this can be achieved. Some writers find it useful to put a quote at the beginning of the introductory paragraph. This is often an effective way of getting the attention of your reader:

“Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives…”

Hmm. Interesting…Tell me more. This introduction has set off the paper with an interesting quote and makes the reader want to continue reading. How has Jefferson’s public life differed from his private life? Notice how this introduction also helps frame the paper. Now the reader expects to learn about the duality of Thomas Jefferson’s life.

Another common method of opening a paper is to provide a startling statistic or fact. This approach is most useful in essays that relate to current issues, rather than English or scientific essays.

“The fact that one in every five teenagers between the ages of thirteen and fifteen smokes calls into question the efficacy of laws prohibiting advertising cigarettes to children…”

The reader is given an interesting statistic to chew on (the fact that so many children smoke) while you set up your paper. Now your reader is expecting to read an essay on cigarette advertising laws.

When writing English papers, introducing your topic includes introducing your author and the aspect of the text that you’ll be analyzing.

“Love is a widely felt emotion. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas uses the universality of love to develop a connection with his reader…”

Here, the reader is introduced to the piece of text that will be analyzed, the author, and the essay topic. Nice.

The previous sample introduction contains a general sentence at the beginning that bring up a very broad topic: love. From there, the introductory paragraph whittles down to something more specific:
how Dumas uses love in his novel to develop a connection with the reader. You’d expect this paragraph to march right on down to the thesis statement,
which belongs at the end of the introductory paragraph. Good introductory paragraphs often have this ‘funnel’ sort of format–going from something broad (such as love) to something more specific until the thesis is presented.

Try to avoid the some of the more hackneyed openers:

  • “Have you ever wondered why…”
  • “Webster’s dictionary defines…”
  • “X is a very important issue facing America today…”

 

Introduction Strategies    
Excluding scientific and technical writing (which often has pre-established formats), most other topics lend themselves to a variety of introductory gambits. Suppose the assignment is to write a literary analysis of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita. Below are several different ways to start that essay. Please note that not all introductions would be appropriate for one particular thesis or approach. But having a repertoire of openings at our disposal often helps lead us to insights we didn’t know we had.

Begin with a quotation
Although this approach can be overused, it can be very effective when you have an appropriate quotation. That quotation may relate directly to the subject or it may be only indirectly related (and thus require further explanation). Do not force a quotation into this spot; if an appropriate quotation is not available, select another method.

  • "The novel Lolita," the critic Charles Blight said in 1959, "is proof that American civilization is on the verge of total moral collapse" (45). The judgment of critics and readers in subsequent years, however, has proclaimed Lolita to be one of the great love stories of all time and one of the best proofs that American civilization is still vibrant and alive.
  • "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul" (11). These opening lines of Lolita reveal the essence of Humbert’s complexity and compulsion, his saving grace and his damning passion.

Begin with a concession
Start with a statement recognizing an opinion or approach different from the one you plan to take in your essay.

  • Many critics have pointed to the unrelenting word games and puns throughout Lolita as proof that Vladimir Nabokov’s major concern has always been language and art. Although these subjects certainly loom in all his works, a close examination of Lolita reveals that morality — the way people treat each other — is just as major a concern for him as language and art.

Begin with a paradox
A paradox is a seeming self contradiction.
 

  • By 1959 Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita had been banned in several cities as pornographic. Today it is required reading not only in literature courses but also in philosophy courses that explore the nature of love. Since its publication, the novel’s subject has been recognized to be love, not lust; art, not perversion.

Begin with a short anecdote or narrative

  • When the original movie version of Lolita was released in the early 1960s, Sue Lyon, the young actress who starred as the provocative "nymphet" of the title, was judged too young to be allowed to see the movie in the theater.

Begin with an interesting fact or statistic

  • Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov — two acknowledged masters of English prose — were not even native speakers of English. Conrad’s native tongue was Polish; Nabokov’s, Russian.

Begin with a question or several questions that will be answered in the paper

  • How could a book now acknowledged as a masterpiece not only of fiction but also of English prose have been banned when it was published? How could a novel that dealt with love and art be thought of as pornographic? Why would a society so mindful of free speech as America ban any book in the first place?

Begin with relevant background material
Background material should be presented concisely and should be clearly related to your thesis. A rambling discussion of material only remotely related to your main point will confuse and bore your readers.

  • Although he was born in Russia and lived for many years in England, Germany, and France before coming to America in 1941, Vladimir Nabokov is now considered one of the great American novelists of the 20th century. This opinion, however, is not based solely on his mastery of English prose. His novel Lolita has been said to have captured the essence of American life in the 1950s better than any novel written by a writer born in this country.

Begin by stating a long-term effect or effects without immediately stating the cause

  • It caused howls of protest from the guardians of public morality in the 1950s. Indirectly it helped bring about both artistic and personal freedom in the 1960s. Today it is a recognized classic of art and thought — Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Begin with an analogy

  • Like a hurricane that brings fear and panic along with its powerful winds, uprooting trees and disrupting belief in an all-merciful God, so the novel Lolita swept across America in the 1950s, bringing fear and panic that pedophilia would be loosed on the land. Instead, the novel, like a hurricane, blew over trees of thought that were not deeply rooted in American experience, exposing their gnarled premises while helping to clear the way for the artistic freedom of the 1960s.

Begin with a definition of a term that is important to your essay
Avoid simple dictionary definitions. Create an expanded definition that explains how the term applies to your topic and essay.

  • Every few years the ugly charge of "pornography" is aimed at some novel or movie. Never was the term more inappropriately used than in the case of Lolita, yet the taint of that word still lingers in the minds of many when they hear the book’s title. What exactly is "pornography" that it should stir such feelings and be so hated? The problem, of course, is that no one can agree on what pornography actually is. That it has something to do with sex seems clear; beyond that, there is a chaos of opinion. When the small-minded or special-interest definitions are pushed aside, however, we are left with D.H. Lawrence’s provocative definition: pornography is anything that "does dirt on sex." By that definition, Lolita is the opposite of pornography — it is a celebration of sex and love.