GCSE LITERATURE: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FORM AND STRUCTURE?

As you know (because you’re probably dreaming about assessment objectives right now – don’t worry, it won’t last forever), AO2 will examine you on how well you understand language, form and structure.

When it comes to be tested on form and structure, what our friendly examiner is looking for is how well you understand the rules/ingredients of each of the four forms you are writing about. These forms are:

  1. Non-Fiction prose (articles, biographies and so on)
  2. Fiction prose (novels, novellas and short stories)
  3. Drama
  4. Poetry (free verse, ballad, haiku, sonnet and so on)

You thought forms were more complex than that? Nope, that’s it. In Literature GCSE you are examined on numbers 2-4. In English Language GCSE it’s numbers 1&2.

As you can see, each of the above can be broken into slightly more specific forms: the ingredients of the sonnet are different to the Haiku, even though both are poetic forms.

It’s actually quite easy to remember how to tick the form boxes in your exam.  Here’s a handy cheat sheet to memorise. If you use this language in the exam you’ll gain valuable extra marks.

  Fiction Prose Drama Poetry
The writer is called… The writer or novelist The playwright or dramatist The poet
Larger sections are called… Chapters Acts Sections or Parts (in longer poems)
These are broken into… Paragraphs Scenes Stanzas
We are called… The reader The audience The reader

Whilst this may seem trivial, it isn’t. If you refer to ‘the reader’ when exploring a play, you are not showing the examiner that you understand the form you are analysing. Whilst you could refer to ‘the writer’ when analysing a poem, it is far better to say ‘poet’.

And the worst sin of all? Referring to stanzas as paragraphs. That’s almost as bad as referring to them as verses. Verses are in songs and nursery rhymes. Use the right terms!

STRUCTURE FOLLOWS FORM

What the above is telling us is that structural elements follow the form the writer uses. For example, a playwright will use stage directions to indicate to the actor how to present a line. When we read these we can gain a sense of the intentions of the character. However, their traditional purpose was not for the reader, but for the actor.

Having said that, more modern playwrights such as Tennessee Williams recognise that people like to read plays as well as watch them, so he brings in quite long stage directions that no actor could portray completely.

Whether meant for actor or reader, stage directions are important, so make sure you refer to them where necessary when writing about the play, and refer to them as stage directions so you show you understand the form you are writing in.

When it comes to poems, the structural elements are vital, and play as important a role as the language itself. When you’re analysing a poem, look for things like run-on lines/enjambment, stanza breaks, line length, and the use of punctuation. They will often either add to the ideas being explored by the language, or work in contrast to them.

Meter/rhythm and rhyme are also structural elements that are dominantly seen in poetry. We do see them in drama and prose too: just think about some of Shakespeare’s soliloquys, which are beautiful poems in their own right. Make sure you write about them as such: the rhythm of Shakespeare’s language is some of the most perfect ever written.

In novels, structural elements are generally less important, but at the sentence level can be very useful to focus on. Long sentences are often used to describe, and short sentences to build tension/drama.

Paragraph breaks can often be used to switch the reader’s attention from one part of a scene to another, or from one scene to another entirely. Examine carefully where the writer wants you to look. It’s a bit like watching a movie: the director uses camerawork and editing to move you around a scene and along a storyline.

TO SUMMARISE

  • There are four forms in writing. Make sure you know which you are analysing and use the right terms.
  • Within each broader form there are more specific forms, such as novel, short story, sonnet, haiku and so on.
  • Structure follows form: understand how the writer uses structure to add power to their writing.
  • There are some structural elements that are common across all forms, but some are more important in one form than in others. An example would be meter in poetry.

CHECK OUT MY GUIDE TO ENGLISH LANGUAGE GCSE ON KINDLE.

 

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