Sunday, 13 May 2018

Exam Hacks: Paper 1 Writing

Last year, before the exams I wrote some ‘hacks’ for students. Short little mini lessons or tips to help them get better at answering the question. They often were stylistic choices rather than big ideas guiding how to answer the question. Be clear, these are not about replacing teaching, but supplementing what students already know.

[1] Don’t use ‘crash’, ‘bang’, ‘boing’ or ‘beep’ unless you want your writing to sound like a four year old’s writing.
Instead extend the onomatopoeia with more detail about the sound.

The mutter of …
The moan of …
The rustle of ….
The hiss of ….

[2] Describe the light, reflections or shadows and you can connect things together in a paragraph. It touches everything.
Shadows pass across the various rows of books.
The reflection in the glass shows a couple sat at the table.
Light blinds the trees to the small creatures collecting underneath them.

[3] Repetition is the one technique you probably want to use more than others.
Repetition can be anything – a word / idea / sentence / adjective / phrase. Repetition is sign that you are being playful with your writing.

The cold mist smothered the cold visitors to the park.

Tears fell, tumbled, spilled down her face.

[4] Give the detail that nobody spotted. Spot something minor, insignificant that nobody will think to spot.

The chewing gum under the table.

The smudge of dirt on the carpet.

The oddly shaped stone on the beach.

[5] Build a world and create a backstory to things. And not just people. Everything has a history.
The chewing gum under the table clung with pure determination. An errant student deposited it when the teacher punished his best friend from chewing. With her back to the board, he secreted away. Over time, the chewing gum found several friend. Each one different. There was a range of colours and flavours sat together.  

[6] Your paragraphs don’t need to have hundreds of techniques in them, but it is best to do one or two of them really well.  
If you want something to be effective, develop and extend it. The sentence with a list, metaphor, simile and personification is throwing everything at the reader, hoping one of them is good. Take one and extend it. Use it to make the reader really feel something. Metaphors, similes and personification do sometimes need explaining and developing.

The trees sighed as the leaves blew in the wind. Its sigh echoed off the other tress. They looked equally glum and gloomy. However, they remained silent. That one, brave tree was the only vocal one in a sea of silence.

[7] Use a one sentence paragraph to shift the focus / tone / mood.
The trees sighed as the leaves blew in the wind. Its sigh echoed off the other tress. They looked equally glum and gloomy. However, they remained silent. That one, brave tree was the only vocal one in a sea of silence.

A secret was hidden.

[8] Avoid starting sentences, if you can help it, with ‘it’, ‘this’, ‘the’ and ‘there’. They are the default way to start a sentence when describing things. They can’t not be used, but be mindful you don’t use them for every sentence.

Cycle through different sets of words at the start of a sentence. Use them to structure a paragraph. [Warning – don’t use it for every paragraph.]

Prepositions: Beneath….  Near …. Under….  By……
Pronouns: You …. He …  She … They ….
Adverbs: Quickly….  Steadily… Slowly…. Surprisingly…
Verbs: Running….  Falling…. Sitting….

[9] Remember your quotations from literature. You have some readymade tools for writing. Feed them into the writing and do not just drop them in as a whole quote.  

In every face and in every eye, I could see the misery of life. Something held them together like some mind forged manacle.
The chewing gum sat as solitary as an oyster, waiting to be picked up.
Like star-crossed lovers, the raindrops fell.

[10] If you decide to go for the story option, remember that the plot is not as important as the setting and the characters. Describe the setting and characters.

In fact, your story should be a description with a story within it. 20% story. 80% setting.  

[11] Build into your writing contrasts, conflicts and changes.
Rather than describe everything, focus on things that will cause contrast, change or conflict to a setting.

The noisy children will contrast with the lazy, sleeping sunbathers on a beach.

A soaking wet dog will cause conflict when it runs about the beach.

Rain will change the mood on the beach.  

Focus on conflicting aspects in the setting and think about them clashing.

[12] Stop before you select a verb. There is always a better verb and make sure you give each verb appropriate thought and time.

The waves smashed the shore.
The waves pummelled the shore.
The waves battered the shore.

 [13] Pairs are underused in writing. Use pairs of adjectives to help you describe things in detail.

The cold and lonely figure stood motionless in the barren and wet field.

Cars spun and twisted in the road as they moved and swerved to avoid the pigeon.

[14] Give the objects and things in the description an interesting personality. Instead of just personifying things, give them a real and identifiable personality trait.  

The waves played their favourite game and chased the sand away from the rocks.

The wind, fed up of being ignored, pushed and shoved at everything and anything it could find.

The gulls rarely lifted their heads. Instead their glum eyes and dour beaks rested on the ground.

[15] Aim for an overall mood to the piece. Be creative with the mood. Avoid obvious ones like happy, relaxing, boredom, fear.
Try things like apathy, confusion, panic, monotony, supportive, jealousy.     

[16] Aim to have a motif across the piece to build connections across the text.
Take the idea of falling. I could repeat that in several things in a description of a supermarket. The skill is to think how I can weave these ideas together. 

Falling prices.
An object falling off a shelf.
A poster that has fallen over.
Coin falling into a hand.
A person falling over with their shopping.
Items falling out of bag. 

Thanks for reading, 


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