GCSE LITERATURE: HOW TO WRITE EFFECTIVELY ABOUT LANGUAGE

Here’s another one that lots of you are worrying about. AO2 in the AQA English Lit exam will examine you on language, form and structure:

  • the language techniques the writer uses (such as simile, metaphor, alliteration etc.)
  • the way he/she lays the writing out: short and long sentences, paragraph lengths, stanzas (if it’s a poem), or stage directions (if it’s a play)

This AO will expect you to use the right terminology and explain its effect.

What a lot of you are worrying about is how much technical language to use. Now, I don’t blame anyone for this, least of all your teachers, as they have been under a lot of pressure to get you through this new exam and there is much more of an emphasis on language features than there used to be.

The danger of this is obvious. You end up spending so much time naming every part of a sentence that your writing becomes an exercise in feature-spotting, making your essay very difficult to read and not giving you the freedom to do what gets you the big marks: show original ideas through exploring quotes in a lot of depth.

Remember my point from earlier posts: say a lot about a little, rather than a little about a lot.

The key to using technical language is this: only refer to language features if you then say what effect they have on the reader or audience. You are better off only using 1-2 in a paragraph and then digging deep into what they tell you about the subject, character, or theme.

Take this as an example. Let’s say that the question you are being asked on Paper 2 is this:

Compare how poets present attitudes towards war in War Photographer and one other poem.

We can then imagine we are writing about the first stanza:

In his darkroom he is finally alone

with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.

The only light is red and softly glows,

as though this were a church and he

a priest preparing to intone a Mass.

Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

What we want to do is pick out a few key techniques. They are quite obvious here. However, rather than simply naming them we are going to really explore the effect they have.

The opening to our response might be something like this:

In the first stanza, Duffy presents us with a man in his darkroom alone after coming back from a war zone. The adverb ‘finally’ suggests that this is something he has been looking forward to, as if he has needed to escape the horror he has seen by retreating to his safe space. However, this safety is contrasted by the ‘spools of suffering’: the sibilance here drawing our attention to what he looking at and emphasising the harshness of what he is seeing. There is juxtaposition between this ‘suffering’ and the fact it is laid out in ‘ordered rows’, the adjective ‘ordered’ contrasting sharply with the chaos the man has been witnessing, making it seem even more terrible.

You can see that I am taking short quotes and saying a lot about them, looking at how different elements of the stanza work against one another (this is juxtaposition, or the effect created by contrast) and only naming language features if I am going to say something about them.

Try this when you practise and I think you’ll find your writing flowing more freely than if you have a long list of features and try to tick all of them off in every paragraph.

Do check out my revision guide on English Language: only 99p!

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