Excerpt from Chapter
How to identify effects in a piece of writing and how to describe them
in an exam.
done! Hopefully you've now have a clearer idea of how tense,
point of view, dialogue, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia and
punctuation are all used by writers to create to meaning in
language. If you add this to what you learned in the first chapter
about character, setting, tone, atmosphere, and so on,
you'll realise you've assembled a very comprehensive understanding
of the sorts of tools writers have at their disposal in order to
create their effects.
time to put this understanding into practice by looking at a piece of
writing from the Anthology and seeing if we can identify some of these
effects. We'll also learn how to write about them in the exam.
|Exam note: In
addition to responding to the Short Answer questions which we
covered in Chapter 2, and which are very straightforward, there
are a couple of other times in the exam when you will be presented
with a piece of writing and will be asked to show you can 'read
with engagement and insight' and to 'develop and sustain
interpretation'. What this boils down to is being able to describe
how writers create their effects while showing you respond
personally to the piece of writing and we'll discuss how to do
There is a technique to answering questions about how writers achieve
their effects, and it isn't difficult. To show you what to do, let's
look at a passage from the Anthology which is from the short story,
'The Necklace' by Guy de Maupassant. De Maupassant's story is an
account of a very selfish woman who feels that she should have led a
life of leisure and comfort but who, because she had to marry a
relatively poor man who she considers to be socially beneath her,
finds herself living the life of a fairly ordinary house wife. If
you've got 15 minutes to spare, you might like to read the whole story
now. If not, you can just read the passage which is reprinted below.
|Key fact: when
referring to authors, always use their surname. So you would
describe The Necklace as 'De Maupassant's story' not 'Guy's
From The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant.
She was in a
perpetual state of dissatisfaction, because she felt that
luxuries and soft living were her natural birthright. The
furnished flat in which she had to live, its squalid wallpapers,
its shabby chairs, its hideous curtains and upholstery, were a
constant source of torment to her. These things, which another
woman with a background similar to her own might not have even
noticed, she found unendurable and degrading. The sight of the
girl who did the humble domestic chores filled her with hopeless
longings and idle dreams. She conjured up a vision of hushed
entrance halls, hung with oriental fabrics and lit by bronze
sconces, of tall footmen in knee-breeches dozing in deep
armchairs in the drowsy warmth of a great stove. She dwelt in
imagination on vast salons adorned with antique silks, on
elegant tables littered with priceless knick-knacks, on perfumed
boudoirs where she would sit in the late afternoons, chatting
with intimate friends - men well known and sought after, such as
every woman wants to have dancing attendance on her.
wall bracket for candles; Salon: a large room; Boudoir: bedroom.
Imagine you are asked the following question in an exam:
How does the writer convey the woman's dissatisfaction with her
home? You should comment on his use of language and say how his
writing affects you.
Now, keeping in mind what you have already learned in Chapters 1 and 3
(you can always refer back to them if you want ) make some notes here
about how the writer creates his effects. Remember to write about how
the author's writing affects you.
How did you get on? Compare your answers with what I have written. You
might have noticed some things I didn't, by the way, which is fine.
| ✻ I noticed
that the author says that the woman doesn't like her own home
and calls her surroundings 'squalid', ‘shabby' and 'hideous'.
✻ I noticed that he contrasted this with the way she would like
✻ I noticed that he used onomatopoeia and alliteration to
describe the way she would like to live (hushed entrance halls,
hung with oriental fabrics).
✻ I noticed he describes her as being very unsatisfied.
✻ I noticed that he used some sensory language when he described
the house she would like to live in.
✻ I noticed he used long sentences with clauses separated by
commas which created an effect of leisurely living.
✻ I noticed that she wants to live a life of luxury in her ideal
home and that the author pictures her as doing very little
except lolling around enjoying herself.
✻ I noticed his diction featured words which she herself might
use such as 'unendurable and degrading' which brought the woman
All of these bullet points are relevant, but while they might earn you
a mark or two in the exam, they wouldn't earn you full marks, because
in this part of the exam you have to not only
these effects in the passage but you have to provide
PROOF of what you have
observed and EXPLAIN
how this proof illustrates your point. This might sound a bit
complicated and long-winded, but an example should show that it's not
too difficult. Let's use as an example my third point about
onomatopoeia and alliteration. This is what I wrote.
that the author used onomatopoeia and alliteration to describe
the way the woman would like to live (hushed entrance halls,
hung with oriental fabrics).
However as I've just said, the technique with answering exam questions
|1 Make your
2 Provide proof of your
3 Explain how the proof
illustrates your point.
So have a look at my revised answer and see how it meets exam
requirements (I've put the various components of the answer in colour
so you can see exactly what I have done):
Maupassant uses onomatopoeia and alliteration to describe the
luxurious surroundings that the woman would like to inhabit.
He describes her
imagining 'hushed entrance halls, hung with oriental fabrics'.
The repetition of the
soft 'h' sound creates a sense of the peacefulness that she thinks
would then surround her.
Do you get the idea? I have revised
each of the short answers I provided above so that they are written in
the style of POINT,
EXPLANATION that examiners
like to see. You don't have to write your answers exactly like this,
and I have included a few extra points for good measure, but hopefully
you will get the idea.
The writer uses
adjectives to create a vivid impression of the woman's flat and
show the effect it has on her.
He uses words such as
'squalid', 'shabby' and 'hideous' to describe the furnishings.
These strong adjectives
make me think of tatty, rather dilapidated surroundings, and
enforce the sense of squalor. The fact that these are words that
the woman might use vivifies the effect the surroundings have on
✻ He uses onomatopoeia
and alliteration in phrases
such as 'hushed entrance
The word 'hushed', which is a
word you might to describe silence in a church or a palace, makes
me think of the peacefulness and leisure the woman aspires to.
✻ He conveys her
dissatisfaction by describing her as being
in a 'perpetual state of
makes me think that the surroundings were a constant source of
irritation to her and strengthens what he goes on to describe in
✻He makes her
dissatisfaction seem very real
by using different vocabulary to contrast the flat she actually
lives in with the home she would like to have.
The furnishings in her actual flat are described as being 'squalid
and shabby' whereas the imaginary residence is described by means
of a series of very descriptive phrases 'hung with oriental
fabrics and lit with bronze sconces' and 'vast salons adorned with
antique silks'. The
contrast between these sorts of words heightens the sense of the
✻ He uses sensory
language to evoke a vivid impression of the house she would like
to have, and the imaginary home seem more vivid than the reality
she actually inhabits.
For example, phrases
such as 'drowsy warmth
of a great stove', 'perfumed boudoirs' and 'elegant tables
littered with priceless knick-knacks'
appeal to my senses of
touch, smell and sight, and I can almost share the woman's vision.
✻ He uses alliteration
to emphasise the leisurely surroundings she would like to inhabit.
The repetition of 'd' in
the sentence 'tall footmen in knee-breeches dozing in deep
armchairs in the drowsy warmth of a great stove'
evokes a sense of
peaceful repose.The repetition of 'd' is almost like the ticking
of a clock, further adding to the sense of relaxation and leisure.
Don't worry if you didn't come
up with all of these. You would never have time to write all this in
an exam, and nor would I, but notice the way I phrased the answers.
Bear in mind, too, that I am a middle-aged woman with lots of writing
experience and you wouldn't be expected to write professionally in the
exam. But can you see that I
made a point,
then gave a quotation from
the text to illustrate it,
and then went on to explain
why I had chosen it? And did
you notice, too, that I phrased each point slightly differently?
Well done! It's nearly time for you to try it for yourself, but first
of all I just want to make one other point, which is that an answer to
this question should be provided not as a series of bullet points, as
I have done, but as a paragraph or two of continuous prose. So what
follows is some of the above points presented as a paragraph of prose.
The examiner wouldn't expect you to be able to cover every point to
get full marks, and I haven't done so in this paragraph. But hopefully
what follows will give you some idea of what to write.
shows the woman's dissatisfaction in a variety of ways, but
mainly by contrasting her actual surroundings with those of the
house she would like to live in. He uses strong adjectives such
as 'squalid', 'shabby' and 'hideous' to describe the furnishings
in her flat, which makes me think that they are very
dilapidated, but then uses luxurious and richly descriptive
language to describe her imaginary home, such as 'hung with
oriental fabrics and lit with bronze sconces' and 'vast salons
adorned with antique silks' which make me imagine the grand
setting she would like to live in. The author also uses sensory
language to describe her imaginary home, which makes it seem
more real and desirable than her squalid flat. He uses phrases
such as 'drowsy warmth of a great stove', 'perfumed boudoirs'
and 'elegant tables littered with priceless knick-knacks' which
appeal to my senses and make me share the woman's vision. The
use of commas in these long sentences such as, 'she dwelt in
imagination on vast salons...' adds to the sense of luxury and
leisure. Alliteration and onomatopoeia in phrases such as
'hushed entrance halls' also contribute to the sense of peace
and leisurely living that this woman would clearly prefer to
So as you can see, answering exam questions is largely a question of
technique. The techniques aren't difficult but if you use them you are
guaranteed to get higher marks.
Read the question carefully and make sure you are doing what you
are being asked. It's probably stating the obvious, but you don't
get any marks if you misread the question.
Well done! Now it's time for you to try an answer on your own. This
time I'd like you to read the last story in the Anthology, A Hero, by
R.K.Narayan. When you have read the story have a look at the passage
which is printed below and try to answer the question. You can look
back over Chapters 1 and 3 to remind you about what you are looking
for and how to phrase your answers, and of course you can always email
or phone me if you get stuck.