Writing about Structure

When it comes to revising for English Language, you need to focus on remembering each exam question and the skills required and on learning key terminology. For analysing language, this terminology will be more familiar because you will have covered it throughout your school career. However, the terminology for structure might not be so neatly labelled with specific techniques but is no less easy to learn.

Here is a list of structural choices which you can look out for when answering Paper 1 Question 3 and 4.

  • The Opening
  • Order of events
  • Timeline
  • Links between sections / paragraphs
  • Changes in perspective
  • Shift in focus
  • Pace
  • Repetition
  • Narrative Voice
  • Dialogue
  • Contrast

Additionally, it would be useful to learn some key verbs to use to discuss this kind of analysis:

  • The writer introduces
  • The writer returns to
  • The focus widens / narrows
  • The writer shifts away from
  • The writer changes the scene to
  • This contrasts with
  • This echoes
  • This emphasises
  • The pace increases (or slows)
  • The character in the scene is frozen
  • The writer takes us back (or forward) in time
  • We follow the character as …

Finally, it might be useful to check out this more detailed diagram of a story structure so you can track how an extract might fit in this and to understand how a writer is moving through the plot.

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Using Paragraphs to Control Pace

The extract of Patrick Ness’s book More Than This – the prologue of the book, in fact – uses paragraphs to control the pace of the writing and manages the reader’s experience.

Ness starts the prologue with a short, single sentence paragraph. This dramatic opening structure, along with the shocking content, has a huge impact on the reader instantly grabbing their attention. The crafting of this sentence is designed to have the maximum impact with the fairly innocuous start of ‘Here is the boy’ followed by a comma, adding a pause and introducing tension and finally a single word after the comma, the participle adjective ‘drowning’. The reader is under no illusion that this character is in dire peril.

He continues to use these short single sentence paragraphs, and sometimes even single word paragraphs, to slow the pace right down, forcing the reader to linger on what is happening in the action. In one section, there are three single sentence paragraphs in a row and these paragraphs voice the unspoken realisation of the boy that he is going to die and because of the structure, the reader dwells on this realisation too, thus increasing the emotional resonance of the piece.

The prologue ends as it begins, the circular structure bringing a short and brutal end to the dramatic action: ‘He dies’. This simple sentence is completely unambiguous and leaves the reader reeling.

Ness also uses long paragraphs to allow the pace to build up, not allowing the reader to rest or pause and thus mirroring the experience of the boy in the story who is struggling to breathe as the ocean spins him around. Looking at the second paragraph of the prologue, Ness also using longer sentences, lists of verbs (‘ spin him… topple him… force him’) and repetition (‘down and down’) which all add to the character’s desperate situation and makes the reader feel strongly for the fated boy as he fights against the might of the sea.

 

Extract here Extract_ More Than This by Patrick Ness _ Children’s books _ theguardian.com.

Writing about Repetition

This is a technique used by writers, often to emphasise something or draw something to the reader’s attention. It is important that you read carefully the surrounding text in order to establish the context: what is the writer trying to convey here? Is there are particular tone or mood? Is the writer building tension? What exactly is being repeated as this will be significant?

Answering these questions will help you understand what the effect is on the reader – crucial for your Language and Literature GCSE exam responses.

Consider the repetition used in the opening to the BFG:

Sophie couldn’t sleep.

A brilliant moonbeam was slanting through a gap in the curtains. It was shining right onto her pillow.

The other children in the dormitory had been asleep for hours.

The moonbeam was like a silver blade slicing through the room on to her face.

The house was absolutely silent. No voices came up from downstairs. There were no footsteps on the floor above either.

The window behind the curtain was wide open, but nobody was walking on the pavement outside. No cars went by on the street. Not the tiniest sound could be heard anywhere. Sophie had never known such silence.

You will notice that the extract has repetition of ‘no’ and ‘not’ to show how quiet it was in the dormitory. By focusing on just the nouns which follow the ‘no’, it helps you to notice that all the description is about sound which is then heightened by the final sentence of the extract.

When writing analytically about this extract, it is important to be specific about the effect and identify how it works with other devices or descriptions given in the extract to create an overall effect. A response which does this might be:

Dahl uses repetition in the extract to build tension and create atmosphere. By repeating the structure ‘no’+noun, he emphasises the lack of sound. This is reinforced by the final simple sentence of the paragraph: ‘Sophie had never known such silence’. The use of ‘never’ here further underlines how unusual it was for it to be so quiet.

The still and sinister atmosphere created in the dormitory by this repetition makes Sophie appear exposed and alone. This is further compounded by the simile ‘like a silver blade slicing through the room on to her face’ which adds an element of danger to the otherwise pretty description. The violence of the ‘blade’ which is ‘slicing’ at once makes Sophie appear vulnerable.

The reader, then, is intrigued by the unusual silence and anxious for Sophie as we anticipate that something is about to happen which might put Sophie in peril.

Home Learning – 9XH Assessment Preparation

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Please complete the following by Wednesday 4th November.

Revise the following for your assessment after Half Term:

Inference:

When you read, the writer often leaves gaps that you need to fill yourself. This is called making inferences. You use the clues and information you are given and read between the lines to work out what the characters are feeling and what is happening in the story.

Language

When we look at language, we are thinking about the words the writer has chosen and working out how they effect the reader and the story itself. We are looking for ways the writer has manipulated language to influence the reader. Some ways writers use language:

  • Interesting vocabulary
  • Metaphors
  • Similes
  • Personification
  • Pathetic Fallacy

If a simile or metaphor has been used, think about why the comparison has been chosen. How does it add to the description or our understanding? If personification has been used, how does this affect the atmosphere?

Structure

When we talk about structure, we are talking about how a piece of writing has been put together. It could refer to:

  • How the writer reveals information to the reader – what do they hold back? What do they reveal?
  • Narrative voice – whose perspective is it written from and why?
  • The order of events compared to the order in which they are told
  • Foreshadowing
  • Paragraph structures – short paragraphs
  • What is happening at the start and end of a sentence / paragraph / section / chapter / book?
  • Sentence lengths