AP English Essay Writing Tips: Part 1 – The Introduction

Nov 30, 10 AP English Essay Writing Tips: Part 1 – The Introduction

By Lori Moritz

For those of you that need to prepare for writing an AP English Essay, I understand your pain. I went through it, too.

AP Essays are probably the least exciting writing that you will encounter in life.

However, if you want a passing score (and an opportunity to get some college credit so you don’t have to write even more essays in your college English class), you will need to master AP Essay writing skills.

This article will cover the Introduction only. Other posts in this series cover Essay Body, Conclusion, Mechanics, and Style.

Here are some tips for editing AP essays using a real rough draft from an AP student.

The Prompt: How effective is Hawthorne’s use of light as a symbol or motif in the novel The Scarlet Letter? What does he share through his use of this imagery?

Here is the student’s introduction:

The Colors of Light

Take in as much light as possible to be prepared for when that dark moment comes. The darkness of guilt can lead one to confession or destruction. The depiction one makes on light speaks about their personality and the darkness they feel inside. Light helps set the environment and mood that characters give off. The novel, The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, descriptively enhances a story of sin and how pain affects everyone around it. Hester Prynne sailed across the ocean to the New World in hopes of happiness, yet finds herself in a tight bind. She committed adultery and is stuck to face her sin with a scarlet colored “A” upon her clothing. The father timidly avoids confession; however he is eaten alive by guilt. Reverend Dimmesdale later confesses to his sin and abruptly faces judgment day. Hawthorne’s use of light imagery aids his writing in bringing his scenes and aspects vivid and alive. The reader gathers information about characters, personalities and settings by the depiction of light given by Hawthorne. He compares and contrasts light with love and evil or even hope and despair and leaves the reader to define their own imagination with the descriptions they are provided with. Through the portrayal of light, Hawthorne compellingly establishes imagery in characters and settings throughout his writing.

My comments:

First, let’s go over what an introduction ought to have:

  • a catchy introductory sentence that states something with the meaning that light can be used as a symbol in literature.
  • a second sentence that adds depth and meaning to the first
  • an introduction to the novel and how the author does the same thing as you state in the first two sentences (this should be several sentences long)
  • a thesis statement that clearly outlines your opinion and three to four arguments to support it. You should answer the questions asked in the prompt near the end of your introduction.

Let’s step through the student intro in pieces. Here are the first two sentences:

Take in as much light as possible to be prepared for when that dark moment comes. The darkness of guilt can lead one to confession or destruction.

A literal interpretation reveals that the first sentence warns the reader to appreciate what he has now because the future will not be so happy, and the second sentence states that there are only two ways to relieve a guilty conscience. I am not sure how sentence two follows or relates to sentence one. They both express distinct ideas.

In an introduction, make sure to stick to one line of thought. Perhaps these sentences belong elsewhere in the essay. As is, neither of them effectively introduces the fact that an author can use light as a symbol to enhance theme in a novel.

Now let’s look at the next two sentences:

The depiction one makes on light speaks about their personality and the darkness they feel inside. Light helps set the environment and mood that characters give off.

First of all… the depiction one makes on light should speak about his or her personality, not their personality because one implies a singular person.

Second of all, this idea is out of place in the overall structure of the introduction. The background information should come first, which are the next five sentences:

The novel, The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, descriptively enhances a story of sin and how pain affects everyone around it. Hester Prynne sailed across the ocean to the New World in hopes of happiness, yet finds herself in a tight bind. She committed adultery and is stuck to face her sin with a scarlet colored “A” upon her clothing. The father timidly avoids confession; however he is eaten alive by guilt. Reverend Dimmesdale later confesses to his sin and abruptly faces judgment day.

Although everything stated here is true, it doesn’t clearly support the main theme of the essay, which is to prove that Hawthorne used light imagery as a symbol in his novel, and that he was trying to convey a message through its use.

Never write anything in an AP essay that is not relevant to the issue at hand. You must be able to tie everything, even background, back to the prompt.

There must be light imagery in the summary.

The final sentences:

Hawthorne’s use of light imagery aids his writing in bringing his scenes and aspects vivid and alive. The reader gathers information about characters, personalities and settings by the depiction of light given by Hawthorne. He compares and contrasts light with love and evil or even hope and despair and leaves the reader to define their own imagination with the descriptions they are provided with. Through the portrayal of light, Hawthorne compellingly establishes imagery in characters and settings throughout his writing.

These sentences attempt to form a thesis. The student’s thesis is that Hawthorne uses light to define his characters and establish setting.

Ok, fine… fine…

Except:

What did he do it for? What was Hawthorne trying to say?

An AP essay needs to explore the author’s motivation for employing the symbols. You have to use evidence from the novel to make judgments on what the author wanted to communicate. This introduction needs to be reworded to include a deeper meaning… an idea of what Hawthorne was trying to convey. Maybe he wanted to convey that nothing is completely good nor bad. Since shadows and light mix upon every object, it requires them both for one to see. Or some such…

Here is how I would edit this introduction:

There are times when light can shine enough upon the darkest aspects of the soul that a person can finally come to grips with harbored guilt. The authors of fine literature tend to use this quality of light to enhance the depth of their characters. Nathaniel Hawthorne effectively uses light as a literary symbol in his novel The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne, the novel’s protagonist, must face the dark character of society in response to her own dark deeds. Hawthorne places light within her to illuminate her strength, while the reverend Dimmesdale, her lover in adultery, gets swallowed by his dark reluctance to confess his sins. Hawthorne’s use of light imagery makes these characters vivid and alive. Hawthorne enhances his novel by effectively scattering symbols of light and dark throughout the pages not only to illuminate the effects of sin and pain, but also to convey that no person nor object  in life can represent pure good or evil.

My intent in this revision is to preserve the general idea that the student had. I reworded the sentences, rearranged the order of representation, eliminated redundancies, and added an extra level of depth to the thesis.

If you have a paper you would like me to review and edit, please email me, and I will help you ASAP.

Hope this helps!

1 Comment

  1. Sergio /

    It will be nice if you keep writing for part 2; body and a part 3; conclusion