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5 Ways to Stretch a Paper

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For some students, writing a long paper is a breeze. For others, the thought of writing a ten-page paper is dreadful. For them, it seems like every time they get an assignment, they write all of the information they can think of and end up a few pages short.

For students who struggle to come up with a lengthy paper, it might be helpful to start with an outline, complete a first draft of the paper, then fill in sub-topics under the main topics of your outline.

An initial outline of a paper about A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens might contain the following topics:

  1. Intro and overview of book
  2. Ebenezer Scrooge character
  3. Bob Cratchit and family
  4. Scrooge shows cruel tendencies
  5. Scrooge walks home
  6. Visited by three ghosts
  7. Scrooge becomes nice

Based on the outline above, you could probably come up with about three to five pages of writing. That can be pretty scary if you have a ten-page paper assignment!

No need to panic. What you really have at this point is the foundation for your paper. Now it’s time to start filling in with some meat.

1. Give historical background. Every book, in some way or another, reflects the cultural, social or political circumstances of its historical period. You can easily fill up a page or two with a description of the notable features of your book’s period and setting.

A Christmas Carol takes place in London, England during the mid-nineteenth century—a time when it was common for poor children to labor in factories and poor parents to be locked up in debtor’s prisons. In much of his writing, Dickens demonstrated deep concern for the plight of the poor. If you need to expand your paper on this book you could find a good resource on Victorian-era debtor’s prisons and write a lengthy but relevant passage on the topic.

2. Speak for your characters. This should be easy, because your characters are really symbols for types of people—and that makes it easy to imagine what they would be thinking. Since Scrooge represents stinginess and selfishness, you could insert a few paragraphs like this to express his likely thoughts:

Scrooge was annoyed at the two men who approached him to solicit money for the poor. He brooded over this annoyance as he walked toward his home. “Why should he give his hard-earned money to shiftless, lazy, good-for-nothings?” he wondered.

If you do something like this in three or four places, you'll soon fill an entire extra page.

3. Explore the symbolism. Any work of fiction will contain symbolism. While it might take a little time to get a good grasp of seeing the symbolism behind people and things, you’ll find that it’s a great page-filling topic once you get a knack.

Every character in A Christmas Carol symbolizes some element of humanity. Scrooge is a symbol of greed, while his poor but humble employee Bob Cratchit represents goodness and patience. The sickly but always cheerful Tiny Tim is the epitome of innocence and vulnerability.

When you start to explore the traits of your characters and determine the facets of humanity that they represent, you’ll find that this topic is good for a page or two!

4. Psychoanalyze the author. Authors write from the gut, and they write from their experiences. Find a biography of the author and include it in your bibliography. Read the biography for signs of things that are related to the events or themes of the book you’re reporting about.

For example, any brief biography of Dickens will tell you that Charles Dickens’ father spent time in a debtor’s prison. See how that could fit into your paper? You can spend several paragraphs talking about the events in author’s life that appear in the book he wrote.

5. Make a comparison. If you are really struggling to stretch your paper, you might want to select another book from the same author (or with some other common characteristic) and do a point by point comparison. This is a great way to lengthen a paper, but it might be a good idea to check with your teacher first.

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