Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
Reading Response Papers
1. Explain the text you are responding to.
2. Tell what you think about what you read.
Thesis and Topic Sentences
Here are sample thesis and topic sentences (responding to the popular essay by Stephen King, Why We Crave Horror Movies.
Thesis Sentence: I agree with Stephen King that horror movies are very popular; however, I disagree that watching them keeps people from doing violence.
- Topic Sentence #1: Even though King wrote his essay many years ago, his assertion that horror movies are popular is still true today.
- Topic Sentence #2: King argues that people watch horror movies in order to keep their inner demons from coming out but I think that people watch horror movies more for the fun of it.
- Topic Sentence #3: What I most disagree with in the essay is the idea that watching violence prevents violence.
- Topic Sentence #4: The increase in public violence, including almost monthly accounts of school shootings, makes me wonder if, in fact, watching violence on the screen actually makes some people more prone to acting it out.
Conclusion topic sentence: Most of all, I think King's message to not worry about what we watch is naïve and possibly dangerous; in fact, my own response to his argument is to think more carefully about what sort of images I want to view and have rattling around in my own nightmares.
How to Respond
There are a variety of ways to respond. Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to help develop your response:
- Do you agree or disagree with the author's ideas?
- Is this article convincing? Where and why?
- What about the language, tone, style, or use of examples is effective for the audience?
- What in your own life does this article remind you of?
- How effective that article is at convincing the audience.
- What is the larger argument that this article is arguing about? What part does this article play in that larger discussion?
- Can you apply the lesson of this text to your own life experience?
- What is the meaning of this article? Why is it important?
When you've written a good thesis and topic sentence outline like the one above, writing the rest of the essay is easy.
Start with the outline. Add some examples from the article, your life or other things you've read, heard or seen. Before you write these all out, you might want to do a scratch outline like this:
Introduction: I can start this paragraph with a story about waking up with a nightmare as a kid after seeing a horror movie. Then I can add a summary sentence about the article: Stephen King, in his 1982 article for Playboy, “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” contends that we love horror movies because they help us to have a safe release valve for the inner demon inside of us.
Thesis: While I think Stephen King’s article, "Why We Crave Horror Movies" is an enjoyable read, I don’t believe that horror movies help us keep sane; in fact, I think that prolonged looking at violence probably desensitizes us, and makes us more prone to either act out in violence, or ignore the violence of others.
Topic Sentence #1: King is an exceptional writer, and I think he is especially effective in his use of language and tone to keep the reader engaged so that they enjoy reading even if they don't agree.
Supporting Evidence: I can use evidence from the article to show it is interesting and fun to read. I can also talk about how it was published in Playboy originally, and include information about the audience of Playboy and why they would like it, but also say I enjoyed it too. I will point out that even though I didn't like the dead baby in a blender joke, I found myself repeating it to my roommate who thought it was hilarious. That shows how King knows how to write in a way to keep us interested and also proves his point that we do like horror.
Topic Sentence #2: While King says watching horror movies keeps the “hungry alligators” under control, I think looking at violence desensitizes us.
Supporting Evidence: I can use evidence about my personal story of being desensitized to violence. I may use news items to confirm that people involved in mass shootings have watched lots of violent images. I can look up to see if there are any studies about that.
Topic Sentence #3: King believes that we are all crazy and would act out in violence if we didn't have periodic outlets like horror movies, but I believe watching violence can cause craziness, and that pretend violence leads some people towards real violence.
Supporting Evidence: I can use stories of people who have imitated violent acts from movies or video games to prove this point. I think the story about the two 12-year-old girls who stabbed another girl because of Slenderman would be good evidence here.
Topic #4: Most of all, I think that the article serves as a way to placate the original readers of Playboy into thinking that their own vice of viewing pornography is not only all right but actually beneficial.
Supporting Evidence: This idea is a new one that came to me as I started thinking about where the article was published. I can talk about the readers of Playboy and how this article would have originally appealed to them. I can also talk about how this article addresses a bigger question in our society of how what we watch influences us. Now that pornography doesn't have to be bought in a brown wrapper from behind a counter, does it have more or less power over us? Does Stephen King's argument about the power of the horror movie and other violent images to dispel the evil inside really stand up when those images are available 24/7, and real live beheadings of reporters by terrorists can be seen by anyone with a smartphone?
Topic Sentence #5: As the profiles of school shooters and other mass murderers demonstrate, King is wrong about his contention that what we watch doesn't matter in real life.
Supporting Evidence: I can talk about the recent increase in numbers of mass shootings and tie that to the increase in violent video games and kids having all sorts of images available to them all the time. Maybe I can find some evidence showing that these shooters are influenced by what they have seen and want to imitate images on the screen. I can point out that perhaps the fact that in video games the participants are actively involved in shooting and hurting other people might be different than the experience of watching that King describes.
Conclusion Topic Sentence: King's article does not make me want to beat the door down to see the next horror flick at my neighborhood theater; instead, I'll take his point of view as a precautionary tale and be even more careful to monitor what I watch and how I think about what I see.
Supporting Evidence: I can talk about how I found myself worrying about the Ebola epidemic in Africa, even though I was half the world away, and how my roommate obsessively talked about terrorist killings. I want to conclude with the idea that we need to be sure we think about the effect that images have on us. Even though we may not have nightmares like I had as a child, I think that the images we look at can fill us with fear, worry, and despair. Maybe I can end with some statistics of how many Americans are on anti-depressant drugs. Perhaps believing that what we love can't hurt us has made us that way?
More on Stephen King
This interview with Stephen King was done at about the same time he wrote: "Why We Crave Horror Movies." In it, he talks about why he sleeps with the light on. You might want to look up interviews of the author you are responding to and see if they have any interesting details you can use to prove your response point or maybe a detail you can use in the introduction and conclusion.
Using King's interview, I could end my essay with:
Perhaps my leeriness about horror movies is something we all secretly feel, for even King, in an interview done at the time of writing this essay, admits that he sleeps with the light on.
History of Why We Crave Horror Movies
Stephen King's article Why We Crave Horror Movies was originally published by Playboy Magazine in 1982 as "The Horror Movie as Junk Food." This short essay was an extract from his book Danse Macabre (1980), which was King's take on the importance of the horror genre in movies and literature. Since then, this short and witty piece has taken on a life of its own as a regular feature in many College English textbooks.
King's thesis, that we crave horror movies because watching violence helps us keep our own demons in check, has not lost its power to provoke students to either scorn or cynical admiration. I always point out to students most essays are part of a stream of thought about a larger argument. In this case, King's argument about horror movies as being good for the soul seeks to answer the perennial question of "How does media affect us?"
The best responses always try to look outside the essay in order to grasp where this text fits in the larger argument about that topic. When you think carefully about an essay, you may find the arguments in the essay are convincing and interesting, but you still don't believe them. Be careful to look for what assumptions the author includes in their thinking. Many of my students like the idea that horror movies "exorcise" the demons, but they don't agree with King that we are all crazy.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Tyler Varzeas on August 23, 2017:
I am also writing for my English 1304.02 class and this article really stood out to me because I love horror movies. It was very helpful and informative in terms of what it may be like to write a research and response essay like this.
Cade Cowart on January 11, 2017:
I actually read this piece in my 1302 English course and had to write a response to it! I wish I had found this earlier it poses some very fascinating ideas as well as is very helpful in writing a response paper!
Lauren Archer on January 11, 2017:
Last year, I wrote a paper in response to King's "Why We Crave Horror Movies." I agree with a lot of the content you have written and enjoyed reading your different topic points. I especially liked your idea of using the example of the girls and Slenderman as supporting evidence because of the contrast of this incident with the typical innocence associated with children.
Donnah75 on August 13, 2016:
Thanks! This King essay is in the AP text I'm using this year. I may use this as an extra model/ example for students to reference for reader response journal entries.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on July 08, 2015:
Thanks B.Leekley--You are absolutely correct that this same format works for Book Reviews.
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 08, 2015:
This is a timely article for me. I have been thinking about writing hubs about my responses to books I've read recently.