Last time we left off, you hopefully gained a good understanding of being concise and logical. Now, you must focus on the examples that you will specifically use in the essay. A good place to focus your attention first is the literary example. The literary example should always be strong because it is very specific: you are choosing a specific book and referencing certain events in the book. This sort of detailed evidence should boost your essay, but you must make sure the book is relevant to the prompt.
Things to consider:
1. Books that span a large amount of topics and time: Books that cover many topics are always good because they can relate to various prompts. These books are often ones that span large time eras as well. Think of it this way: you want a book that can cover many bases. The largely encompassing books can act as a safety net if you are stuck while writing the essay. Examples of such books might be David Copperfield or Gone With the Wind. If you are alarmed by the size of these books, consider perhaps Othello or The Grapes of Wrath. These books relate the tales of one person’s life over many years and thus cover many topics such as government, poverty, war, individuality, and freedom.
2. Books you know well or your teacher knows well: Another consideration when choosing the literary example is how well you know the book and its minor plot points. Books that are covered in school are good choices because you have done close readings of certain passages. You are familiar with some minor events or characters, and this can come in handy when your prompt is overly specific. For me, this book was The Great Gatsby. I had analyzed it thoroughly in class. Even though it did not cover very broad topics and focused mainly on class interactions, it was a book I could write about with my eyes closed.
3. Shakespeare and Mythology: Shakespeare is often good because it makes you seem intelligent. Beware, however, that certain plays are overused. Stay away from Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet and try being novel by using The Merchant of Venice. Also keep in mind that most SAT essay graders know many Shakespeare plays inside-out. The same word of caution goes for mythology. Certain aspects of Greek mythology are so well-known that using them in the essay can seem banal. Try focusing on events in Greek mythology that are not as well known as Achilles getting shot in the heel by Paris. Try tales such as one of Hercules’ twelve labors.
4. Classics versus bestsellers. This is the ever-present dilemma for the literary examples. Is your book “literary” enough? Classics covered in school or on recommended reading lists are sure-fire good examples, but you might not want to limit yourself there. Stay away from phenomenon books such as Twilight or Harry Potter. If you want to use bestsellers, attempt less well-known or slightly older bestselling books. For example, Kane and Abel is a good read and has literary merit. A good source of such fun reads with substance can be found in lists published by Amazon and ALA. These books are popular but not literary phenomenons, so they do not seem trite.
Hopefully, this helps when you are doing some light reading before bed.