55 Writing about the Novel: Film Comparison

You began the process of writing your literary comparison paper in the Introduction to the Novel chapter by choosing an essay, reading it carefully, and writing a personal response. In this chapter, we will move through the remaining steps of writing your paper.

Step 3: Choose a Film for Comparison

The key to a good comparison essay is to choose two subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison is not to state the obvious, but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities.

When writing a film comparison paper, the point is to make an argument that will make your audience think about your topic in a new and interesting way. You might explore how the novel and the film present the theme…or how the novel and the film explore the identity of a main character…or…the options are limitless. Here’s a quick video giving you a little overview of what a film vs novel comparison might look like:

To this end, your next goal is to choose a film adaptation of your novel. Some novels may only have one, but some have many that have been created over the last 100 years! Your adaptation could be a feature film, a YouTube short, or an indie film. Choose one that allows you to make an interesting point about the portrayal of the theme of the novel and the film.

Step 4: Research

Once you’ve chosen a second piece, it’s time to enter into the academic conversation to see what others are saying about the authors and the pieces you’ve chosen.

Regardless of the focus of your essay, discovering more about the author of the text you’ve chosen can add to your understanding of the text and add depth to your argument. Author pages are located in the Literature Online ProQuest database. Here, you can find information about an author and his/her work, along with a list of recent articles written about the author. This is a wonderful starting point for your research.


The next step is to attempt to locate articles about the text and the film themselves. For novels, it’s important to narrow down your database choices to the Literature category. For essays, you might have better luck searching the whole ProQuest library with the ProQuest Research Library Article Databases or databases like Flipster that include publications like newspapers and magazines.

Finally, you might look for articles pertinent to an issue discussed in the novel. For example, The Grapes of Wrath is about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, but it also contains an environmental theme. Depending on what aspect you want to highlight in your comparison, you might look for articles about the Great Depression or about farming and the environment.

Remember, it is helpful to keep a Research Journal to track your research. Your journal should include, at a minimum, the correct MLA citation of the source, a brief summary of the article, and any quotes that stick out to you. A note about how you think the article adds to your understanding of the topic or might contribute to your project is a good addition, as well.

Step 5: Thesis & Outline

Similar to other academic essays, the film comparison essay starts with a thesis that clearly introduces the two subjects that are to be compared and the reason for doing so.

This video highlights some of the key differences between novels and films:


Begin by deciding on your basis for comparison. The basis of comparison could include items like a similar theme, differences in the focus of the piece, or the way both pieces represent an important issue.

This article gives some helpful advice on choosing a topic.

Once you’ve decided on the basis of comparison, you should focus on the points of comparison between the two pieces. For example, if you are focusing on how the literary elements and the cinematic elements used impact the message, you might make a table of each of these elements. Then, you’d find examples of each element from each piece. Remember, a comparison includes both similarities and differences.

By putting together your basis of comparison and your points of comparison, you’ll have a thesis that both makes an argument and gives readers a map of your essay.

A good thesis should be:

  • Arguable (not a statement of fact)
    • Statement of Fact: “The novel and the film of Pride and Prejudice are similar in many ways.”
    • Arguable: “The film version of Pride and Prejudice changes key moments in the text that alter the portrayal of the theme.”
  • Provable by the text (not a personal opinion)
    • Personal Opinion: “‘The novel is definitely better than the movie.”
    • Provable by the Texts: “Both the novel and the film focus on the importance of identity.”
  • Surprising (not obvious)
    • Obvious: “The movie provides a modern take on the novel.”
    • Surprising: “Though the movie stays true to the original themes of the novel, the modern version may lead viewers to believe that the characters in the book held different values than are portrayed in the novel.”
  • Specific (not general)
    • General: “Both the novel and the film highlight the plight of women.”
    • Specific: “The novel and the film highlight the plight of women by focusing on specific experiences of the protagonist. “

The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience. You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

  1. Block: Organize topics according to the subjects themselves, discussing the novel and then the film.
  2. Woven: Organize according to individual points, discussing both the novel and the film point by point.


Exercises: Create a Thesis and Outline

You’ll want to start by identifying the theme of both pieces and deciding how you want to tie them together. Then, you’ll want to think through the points of similarity and difference in the two pieces.

In two columns, write down the points that are similar and those that are different. Make sure to jot down quotes from the two pieces that illustrate these ideas.

Following the tips in this section, create a thesis and outline for your novel/film comparison paper.

Here’s a sample thesis and outline:

Step 6: Drafting Tips

Once you have a solid thesis and outline, it’s time to start drafting your essay. As in any academic essay, you’ll begin with an introduction. The introduction should include a hook that connects your readers to your topic. Then, you should introduce the topic. In this case, you will want to include the authors and title of the novel and the director and title of the film. Finally, your introduction should include your thesis. Remember, your thesis should be the last sentence of your introduction.

In a film comparison essay, you may want to follow your introduction with background on both pieces. Assume that your readers have at least heard of either the novel or the film, but that they might not have read the novel or watched the film–or both–…or maybe it’s been awhile. For example, if you were writing about Pride and Prejudice, you might include a brief introduction to Austen and her novel and an introduction to the version of the film you’ve chosen. The background section should be no more than two short paragraphs.

In the body of the paper, you’ll want to focus on supporting your argument. Regardless of the organizational scheme you choose, you’ll want to begin each paragraph with a topic sentence. This should be followed by the use of quotes from your two texts in support of your point. Remember to use the quote formula–always introduce and explain each quote and the relationship to your point! It’s very important that you address both literary pieces equally, balancing your argument. Finally, each paragraph should end with a wrap up sentence that tells readers the significance of the paragraph.

Here are some transition words that are helpful in tying points together:

Transition Words for a Comparison Essay
Comparison Contrast
One Similarity One Difference
Another Similarity Another Difference
Both Conversely
Like In Contrast
Likewise Unlike
Similarly While
In a Similar Fashion Whereas

Finally, your paper will end with a conclusion that brings home your argument and helps readers to understand the importance/significance of your essay.

In this video, an instructor explains step by step how to write an essay comparing two films. Though you will be writing about a novel and a film, rather than two films, the same information applies.

Here’s another instructor explaining how to write a comparison essay about two poems. Note the similarities between the two videos.

Here’s a sample paper:



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