First and foremost, I think it’s useful to let you know what my essay is about, otherwise, the whole presentation is redundant. The essay is entitled ‘What makes a book a classic’, and in it, I explore and form the criteria for what makes a classic book by comparing 3 examples of so-called classics and then applying it to another book that is not yet considered a classic.
The aim of writing this essay was to, first of all, get a taste of what English literature at university would be like; I decided to treat this as a trial run; if I enjoyed writing the essay and found the overall process bearable, literature at university would be a viable option for me. Fortunately, although my question was not that of a typical English literature essay, as it was quite open ended and spanned multiple books from multiple movements, the general experience was something I quite enjoyed, and this process helped cement the fact that I would want to study English literature at university.
Another aim was to get used to the more formal style of writing required. Generally, at school, up until this year, we were never given word limits, or rigid reference systems, and I had never written a formal bibliography before, so this project helped to make me more comfortable with formal essays, and I realised which methods of referencing worked for me and what order to work in in order to maximise my productivity and use of time.
forming my question
My essay, as I have mentioned before, is entitled ‘What makes a book a classic?’ and in it, I decided to explore three ‘classics’ from three literary movements – Renaissance, Modern, and Postmodern. The examples I chose to explore were Romeo & Juliet, Catch 22, and The Kite Runner, respectively. I had decided at the beginning of the year that I would be writing a literature essay, and that I would be focusing on the concept of classic literature, and I acknowledged that classic literature may not necessarily mean classic books, which is why I included a play. Often, these classics are more respected than modern literature, which got me to thinking; why? Because sometimes modern works are also considered classics whereas older works of literature which are contemporaries of classics are too obscure to be well known. My initial question was Why is classical literature valued more than modern literature? but I later realized that this was a huge generalization and couldn't be applied to every book.
forming my question 3
After this I started wondering about people’s opinion of classical literature. With creative arts, there is usually a group of people who reward particularly good work – the film industry has the Academy Awards, given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the music industry has the Grammy Awards, presented by The Recording Academy, so my question evolved to ‘Who decides what makes a book a classic’. Literature, while it has institutions such as the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded annually, rewards works produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction", in the words of Alfred Nobel. But it does not reward or categorise classics, per se; no one decides to label certain books as classics and others as not, mainly because classical literature is subjective – not everyone will agree on which work should be considered a classic, but the majority somehow do on certain examples. Therefore, they must have something in common, which is why I decided my finalised question was to be ‘what makes a book a classic’
about my essay
The range of dates of publication in the books I chose to explore would allow a wider scope for exploration, and I could compare examples of classics from a range of different time periods. After I had analysed these books with regards to theme, characterisation, and setting, I would form criteria for what makes a classic, and then apply it to a more recently written book that is not yet considered a classic, but has the potential to be. For this I chose to apply the criteria to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (in other words the last one).
So to go into a little more detail, in my preliminary research I chose key themes that appear in the majority of writing; mortality, human emotion, and conflict, which I divided up into more specific themes. For mortality, I examined coming of age, death, and overcoming the odds. For Human emotion, I explored love, loyalty, duty, and fear, and for conflict, I analysed peace and war, good and evil, and internal conflict. After this I decided to look at setting and characterization, which are equally important components of a novel. After this, I would develop my criteria for what makes a book a classic, and then I would apply it to Harry Potter.
about my essay 2
Overall, I concluded that Harry Potter is a classic; it displays the universal experiences of love, conflict, pressure, and fear, thereby showing readers a reflection of themselves and of human nature; it also explores how power or greed can adversely affect human nature, it is practically synonymous with post-modern writing – the majority of people born after the 90’s have read it, and everyone has an opinion on it; the book has left a lasting impression on many of its readers, and, finally, at every reread, the book offers new discussion points, new ideas, and ‘never exhausts all it has to say to its readers’. Finally, it focuses on the emotional growth of a character from youth to adulthood, which allows readers to grow up along with the characters.
about my essay 4
As this was a literature essay, I knew it would mean that the project would be slightly different, especially regarding resources, when it came to the mark scheme, as research was not a key factor of the essay as much as development and argument was. While I did use sources, the majority of my essay was subjective to my own exploration of the books, so a lot of it was based on my own ideas, with a few references of other critics’ ideas interspersed in. With literature essays, you could easily base an essay off of someone else’s ideas, but that's usually called plagiarism, and frowned upon, so it means that my bibliography perhaps is not as strong as it could be with for example, a scientific research-based essay.
After my planning review was finished, over the Christmas holidays I spent some time familiarising myself with the books I had chosen, and compiling the quotations I might need pertaining to each theme I discussed because I thought having the quotations ready to write would be more efficient than flipping through the books to find the right quote. The compilation of quotes can be found in my log. As well as this, I spent some time watching TEDtalks and researching on JSTOR, which is also detailed in my log, and I finished forming an action plan in order to keep me on track for the rest of the year, in which I would set start and finish dates and reflect on each part of the writing process. Once school had started again, I decided to start writing my essay.
Every week, I dedicated approximately 2 hours to writing, so I could keep a steady pace through the year, allowing me to finish before the end of the year. This was convenient because every Monday morning I have two free periods – sorry – study sessions, and I felt that the steady progress would keep me motivated to write, and I also didn't want to cram in my writing every time we had a half term holiday as I felt it would be detrimental to the quality of my essay
So I finished my essay quite recently, and then I forgot about it for a few weeks, which actually proved beneficial because I looked at it with a fresh mind-set and changed a few things, edited the structure and some wording. However, what I had been putting off the whole time was references. But I knew I’d have to do it inevitably, so one day over the May half term I decided to sit down and write out all my references. Guess how long it took me. No, seriously, guess. It took 6 and a half hours…
I learned a valuable lesson during the writing. NEVER LEAVE REFERENCES TO DO ALL TOGETHER AT THE END. In the future when I’m writing formal essays I now know that putting in references as I go along is much more efficient than going through and putting in 40 odd references at the end, especially since its so easy to make a mistake when you’re numbering the references, which I did…twice, and then you have to find out where you went wrong and then change all the numbering from there and- just- lesson learned.
So that was a challenge I faced quite late in the process, and although it seemed insurmountable at the time, I knew logically that I was just time-consuming, and if I just kept going I’d finish. However, another challenge I faced was close to my mid-project review. Due to the fact that I had started my project quite early, I had a lot of spare time at the beginning of the year, allowing me to get a head start on my planning and research, instead of just doing the bare minimum I specified in my plan. As a result, I was quite ahead of my project plan for the majority of the time. However, due to other factors such as mock exams, music exams, external essay competitions, as well as other extra-curricular activities, I had to take some time away from my project, which then put me in the place that I had calculated I would be at in my initial action plan.
Over the Easter holidays, I had managed to finish approximately 80% of the project and eventually ended up deleting half of it, as I was unsatisfied with the way it flowed, and realised I had taken on too many points to cover and analyse. To overcome the setback, I then wrote a brief skeletal structure of the essay by writing the first point sentence of each paragraph to ensure I remain on task in each paragraph, and aid myself in being selective, and I also got rid of some themes that I was initially going to discuss, such as themes of duty, religion and suffering and I did feel the need to omit some planned paragraphs, as quickly into the writing process I realised my paragraphs were longer than expected. I overcame this by reviewing my essay plan and remove certain paragraphs that were less pertinent to the quality of my argument. Furthermore, I became quite worried about sources, because a lot of the sources I looked at were either A-level help websites such as Sparknotes, or they were highly academic journals on JSTOR, and I thought that finding a balance would be important.
As a result, I conducted source evaluations for every source I found, as I found that resources I used over that holidays played a part in my writing the essay to a sub par standard to what I was aiming for, therefore by using more credible resources, I could improve the overall quality of my argument and coherence of my essay.
For these evaluations, I looked at a source’s currency, authority, reliability, accuracy and purpose, so certain sources I had to be careful with when referencing. For example, in my essay, I use a quotation directly from JK Rowling about Harry Potter’s characterization pertaining directly to the concept of coming of age, but it came from a website called ‘the Leaky Cauldron’, which is made for fans, and it was written about 10 years ago, however, I only needed to cite it for the essay for the quotation itself, so while its currency and purpose were slightly questionable, it was acceptable to cite because of the reason for citation. More examples of this can be found in my log in the appendix
If I were giving advice to someone starting their EPQ process, there are a couple of things I’d say. When deciding on what question to do, there are do’s and don’ts.
DO pick a question on a topic you enjoy, and won't mind researching for months on end. I chose this topic because I love English literature, and I knew that a lot of my research would involve reading novels. It also prepares me for the university style of research and independent writing and allowed me to evaluate whether English literature would be a viable choice at university. I have since concluded that it is (unless I get marked down in this project, in which, we’ll see
DON’T do my question because that would be very unoriginal and rude, especially after I gave you advice! In all seriousness, the more original a question, the less likely an examiner is to compare it to previous projects. You shouldn't choose a question because someone else is doing that topic and they seem like they know what they’re doing because it is an entirely original and independent response
DO choose a broad question. At times I thought ‘5000 words? Not so bad.” But it is. It's a lot, and you can’t write a response to a question that has a yes/no answer. That being said, too broad a question is also a bad idea (it's a fine balance, I know). This is something I experienced because I realized early on that each planned paragraph was longer than anticipated, so, through a selection process I had to remove some paragraphs that were less relevant to the question.
Finally, DON’T say ‘I’ll do it next half term, I’ll do it in 3 weeks, after ILA’s. the second you say that you’ve already lost. I personally felt much more productive in the times when I only accomplished maybe one paragraph a week rather than absolutely 0 progress for about a month, and then writing 2 pages in a day.
So overall, to reflect on my EPQ journey, I’ve mentioned the challenges I faced, so to reiterate; disjointed writing, referencing at the end instead of all the way through, and also worrying at first that I would be too far below the word limit, and then later worrying that I’d be too far above the word limit
I think the structure of my essay allowed the comparative element to be a focal point – I compared by theme or device throughout rather than doing each book separately, and this made it easier to form criteria and apply it.
I, for the most part, followed my action plan every week which allowed me steady progress, but, as I got closer to the end and only had less than eight paragraphs left, I pushed myself to finish writing as soon as possible in order to allow myself more reflection and editing time, as well as allowing me the half term to focus on exam revision and presentation preparation, resulting in finishing the essay earlier than initially planned.
what I'd do differently
If I were to do the whole process again, there are a few things I’d do differently – I’ve said it before but I would reference while writing, not at the end.
I would also plan my research more specifically. In my log, in the action plan, you’ll see the words ‘preliminary research’ as my first entry, and I feel that, instead of just looking at resources and watching TED talks, I should’ve finalized my question first and then I would have had more refined research points to look at
what I learned
What I learned from my EPQ journey
1. How to improve time management – I think one of the best decisions I made was to dedicate some of my frees to my EPQ and then treating it like going to a normal lesson; it wasn't optional, and I felt that allowed me steady progress
2. Research skills – this was the first time I had looked at more than two types of sources in an essay, let alone actually use them. So I learned about the difference in form and style regarding websites, books, journals, and blogs, and I widened the variety of my sources and I learned to be more selective in my research
3. The structuring of the essay – such a long essay needed a lot of thought regarding structure because I had a lot of info to get across in a concise manner, and this has given me some experience that makes me feel more confident for other essays
what I learned 2
4. My capacity to work independently – I really enjoyed choosing and researching an area chosen by me, for me, which is refreshing because usually in A Level subjects, you get some parts of the course you look forward to and others that don't really pique your interest as much, but in this process, I realized that no one, apart from my supervisor, could tell me that this point was wrong, or I couldn't explore that, because it was an entirely independent and free process and I think I enjoyed it, because I chose a topic that interested me, personally
That was a brief summary of my EPQ journey. Thank you so much, everyone, for coming to my presentation. I will now be opening myself up to any questions.
forming my question 2
Then I started exploring classic literature focusing on other cultures, as I am interested in languages, and take A-level French. I briefly examined books such as ‘The Little Prince’; a French book, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’; focusing on the literary Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s, and also ‘Crime and Punishment’, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. However, I realized this would require a wider knowledge of these books and their cultural relevance, and heavy focus on context, and perhaps even translation, so I concluded that foreign language books would take too much time, and, furthermore, as they all came from different cultures, it would not be accurate to compare all of them with the same criteria.
about my essay 3
A classic, in my opinion, is a book where a reader grows up with the characters, but, in later years, can revisit these books which keep a piece of their childhood. A classic, in order to be considered a classic, must be relatable to as many readers as possible; an argument I have sustained throughout, and although Harry Potteris totally fabricated and fictitious, generations of children have grown up along the series, only to revisit them well into adulthood, just like Catch 22 or the Kite Runner of Romeo and Juliet – I mean, sure they may have started out as required reading when readers were in school, but as we transition into adulthood the books all have relevant messages to give to us, about the importance of loyalty, or camaraderie, or of not faking your own death without telling anyone important