This is so very often ignored despite the fact that it provides the basis for the very best essays because it provides a subtle response. Andsubtlety always receives the highest marks!
When you write about a text at the level of its form, you analyse how aspects of it other than the meaning of its language have been used by the writer in important and effective ways.
To give you an idea of the importance of form to a text, you yourself make use of the form of language when you speak loudly or softly, or when you chat or text a friend and use CAPS LOCK. Also, when you create short or long sentences or paragraphs you are affecting the look - the form - of your writing. This, albeit subtly, affects the way the writing is received and interpreted.
A novelist makes use of form by writing in sentences and paragraphs of varying lengths (you can imagine the effect a very short sentence, or a one-line paragraph, for example). The use of dialogue (spoken words shown inside speech marks) is also an effective use of form, as is the use of underlining, bold or italics - or, in non-fiction texts, the inclusion of bullet points or sections.
Poets are acutely aware of and very creative with the use of form.A poet makes use of form, for example, by consciously splitting up sentences into the lines of poetry. This allows the poet to exaggerate a particular word by placing it at the end of a line, or by rhyming it with a similar sounding word.
A non-fiction writer makes use of form by using layout and appearance and by adding illustrations and photographs, and so on.
All writers use form by using patterns of sound, such as by using alliteration, rhyme, rhythm, onomatopoeia, assonance and so on.
A playwright, of course, uses form very differently. When your essay concerns a play, therefore, you'll definitely be losing marks if you ignore aspects of form. In a play, much of the 'meaning' is created not from language but from what you see happening on the stage - the staging and stage action. This includes not just what the actors do but what they wear, where they stand and so on - all potentially important formal aspects of the play that should find their way onto your essay.
Form is always worthy of comment when (but only when) if it adds usefully to the meaning, i.e. the content of a text.
Words have both form and content. Content is the meaning they contain. These two aspects are like two sides of the same coin. There are several ways that writers are able to make use of the content of language that are creative, interesting to readers and effective in engaging their attention:
Every word and phrase has a literal meaning. This is its basic dictionary meaning. It's sometimes called a word's denotation.
E.g. 'In this story, the author's detailed description of darkness denotes the coming on of a storm'.
Figurative Meaning E.g. 'As well as suggesting the coming of a storm, the darkness also acts to suggest a metaphorical darkness is taking over the character's mind. In this way the darkness seems to be symbolising a kind of evil'.
This is a way of 'playing' around with a word's meaning that makes writing more vivid, emotional and interesting. Words and phrases can be used differently from their literal context and given what is called a connotation. Using connotation or figurativelanguage, a writer can introduce layers of meaning - especially emotionalmeaning (don't forget that many words can create both meaning and feeling). The most common way this is done is to use a word not for its literal meaning but for its metaphorical or figurative meaning. Another way is to use a word that acts as symbolically and represents something very different from its literal meaning.
E.g. 'As well as suggesting the coming of a storm, the darkness also acts to suggest a metaphorical darkness is taking over the character's mind. In this way the darkness seems to be symbolising a kind of evil'.
Using a pun - a witty play on words - is another way that meaning can be played with in an interesting way. Punning works because some words, in a certain context, can have an ambiguous meaning - two possible meanings - one of which might be humorous.
Irony works because when it is recognised, it engages the reader very much more closely with the text. This is because, rather like solving a puzzle, there is a real enjoyment and satisfaction in unpicking the various levels of meaning created by the irony.
Creating an 'ironic tone of voice' in writing is much harder than in speech because the original sound of voice and facial expression or body language of the speaker are absent. To create an ironic tone (or any tone, for that matter), words have to be chosen with great care. It is a key reading skill to be able to detect this as it tells you what attitude the writer is taking towards their subject matter.
An example of irony occurs in an old story by O. Henry called 'The Gift of the Magi'. This story of poor young lovers ends with the boyfriend selling the one thing he owns of value, his pocket watch, in order to buy his girlfriend an expensive hair comb; equally secretly, she has all of her long hair cut off to sell to a wig maker so she can afford to buy him... a chain for his watch.
The content of a text is never available immediately (except in a single word, maybe: STOP!). Meaning needs to be built up throughout a text in ways that are often important to the overall effect on the listener or reader. This is the structure of the text.
Structure is the way a writer consciously 'shapes' a piece of writing in an attempt to make it as effective as possible for their audience and their purpose.
It is important to comment on the structure of a text, e.g. 'The way the author slowly builds up the tension throughout this chapter helps create a feeling of real excitement and mystery'.
Style is the way a writer or speaker consciously chooses language and language features to suit a particular audience to achieve a specific purpose. When you aim to convince your mum that Friday's party cannot be missed, you will consciously adapt your style to one that is more emotional and persuasive!
Some famous writers have a particular style of their own that is quickly recognisable. John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens and William Wordsworth are three such writers - here, a writer's individual style is sometimes referred to as the writer's 'voice'.
Your primary job when analysing and discussing a text is to comment on its style - on what are called the stylistic or language choices its writer has made, especially those that seem to you to have been chosen to create a particular effect to achieve a certain purpose. So... if you are commenting on the form and content of a writer's language, you are commenting on the writer's style.
There are many key writing techniques required to achieve the best grades.
The video and text below look at some of the best technigues to help you achieve top marks
What are these techniques?
- Remain focused on the question
- Clear conclusion
- Organisation/ paragraphing
Good essay practice should include:-
- Make sure you write a brief plan for your answer. In your plan you should identify very clearly around six distinct points you intend to make and the specific parts of the text that you intend to examine in some detail.
- Spend about 5 or 10 minutes planning as this will help you make sure you have chosen the right question (because then you know you have lots of material to cover).
- This should be brief; you could include what your main view is and what other ideas you have.
- Don't list the poems or ideas you are going to include in the rest of your essay as you will be repeating yourself.
- Don't begin with ‘In this essay I am going to ...' and then list ideas.
- Try to begin by addressing the question straight away.
- Make sure you use them as it makes your writing clearer for you and the examiner.
- When writing your essay you should devote one or two paragraphs to each idea from your plan. Try to make smooth links between paragraphs.
- When you make a point - you must give evidence to prove it. When you make a point, refer to the text and give an example to back up what you say. The best way to do this is to use a quotation from the text.
- Remember to include quotations, but not too many and don't make them too long. A good quotation can be a line or two long or just a few words from a line.
- Do not copy out whole long sections from texts as this is wasting time.
- Don't retell the plot of the story. The important thing is to be selective in the way you use the text. Only refer to those parts of the book/poem that help you to answer the question.
Answer the question
- It sounds obvious, but it's so easy to forget the question and write the essay you did in the mock. When you have finished a paragraph read it through and ask yourself. "Am I still answering the question?" If you think you are not then you need to change it, so that you are still focussed.
- At the end, try to draw all the strands of your various points together. This should be the part of your essay that answers the question most directly and forcefully. Keep checking the question.
- Keep it formal. Try to avoid making it chatty, so avoid using abbreviations e.g. ‘don't', ‘won't' and do not call writers by their surnames so for William Golding you should call him Golding rather than William, which is too informal.
- Remember you do not have to agree with other people's points of view about literature. If your ideas are original or different, so long as you develop them clearly, use evidence intelligently and argue persuasively, your point of view will be respected. We want literature to touch you personally and it will often affect different people in different ways. Be creative.
- There is no one correct answer to questions on English Literature, just well explored and explained ones.
CHECKLIST AFTER WRITING YOUR ESSAY
- Written a plan and stuck to it?
- Written in clear paragraphs?
- Produced evidence to prove all your points?
- Used quotations from your chosen text(s)?
- Answered the question?
Generally speaking to get good marks you have to do the following:
To get an A* you need to be insightful, sensitive, convincing and evaluative.
For an A you need to be analytical and exploratory.
For a B you need to sustain your answer linking details to what the writer is trying to say and thoughtfully consider the meanings of the texts.
For a C you need to structure your answer to the question, use details effectively to back up your ideas and make some appropriate comment on the meaning of the texts.
For a D you need to answer the question and explain your ideas with some supporting quotations from the text.