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writing to entertain - an A* example

The following piece of writing would achieve an A* if written in response to a GCSE 'Writing to Describe' exam question - but it would be equally good as 'Writing to Entertain'.

Structure, point of view, characterisation, mood, and effective use of dialogue are the key aspects of a narrative a narrative - and it is how well you use these aspects in your own writing that decides your grade. When you write to describe, rather than entertain, your focus is on creating a sense of 'being there' for your reader - a piece of writing that almost seems to etch its sights, sounds and feelings onto your reader's imagination. In writing to describe, therefore, there is unlikely to be dialogue, for example.

As you read this fictional and imaginative account of a visit to the city of Leicester, notice how important the description is to it. Look for how the writer's choice of what is described is never randomly chosen. The writer has worked hard to create and maintain a sense of unity of purpose and coherence by ensuring that each thing described serves an important purpose for the story and helps the reader in some way that is relevant to the message or 'controlling idea' of the story; this is its theme. Which is? Quite simply... the excitement we enjoy feeling when we find ourselves stumbling upon something unusual. Notice how the description relies on the senses - sensory description - sight, sound, smell and so on; also, how it uses vivid and original figurative language.

Notice also how it is the description within the story that acts to create the illusion of showing rather than merely telling the reader of events. Can you see how convincing this is? Try hard to 'show' in your own writing, reserving 'telling' for the less important aspects. 'Showing' is unsurpassed at creating a sense of atmosphere, of being there and it is this that allows your reader to sense a particular mood and become more deeply involved with key parts of the story. Description also helps create an exciting sense of tension and excitement - and all of this helps the writing to be more interesting and compelling.

Perhaps you would never have thought of writing a story like this in response to such a question. Most students wouldn't, it's true. But in your own exam or coursework - dare to be different! - and you will be richly rewarded by your teacher or the examiner who marks your exam paper.

Here is the question and written response:

Describe somewhere so that what you saw or felt at the time is communicated to your reader. You might choose one of the following:

Cities on a Saturday can be such interesting places... full of people, full of cars, full of the hustle and bustle of life. And Leicester is no exception. I was born there so I can speak from personal experience. But something was different last Saturday. There were more people, more cars and much more hustle and bustle than I had ever seen or heard before.

I'd gone into town with my mates that Saturday - as you do! We caught the same No. 149 bus from Oadby - that's a small town south of Leicester. Nothing unusual in that. The journey was as predictable as ever - I'm so used to it. I can't even remember getting on the bus; but I can certainly remember getting off!

By the time we did get off we were all pretty fed up. We were also as hot as the proverbial Sahara and as bothered as a bumble bee trapped in a beer bottle. The usual breezy fifteen minutes' journey had taken us over an hour. We hadn't noticed to start with. You know what it's like when you're chatting about this and that. And 'Big Brother' had been pretty crazy last night, so that had kept us more than a little occupied. Time flies by. But you also probably know what it's like on a hot, packed bus crawling through the kind of traffic that the word 'jam' just doesn't adequately describe - thick porridge more like! Pretty awful once you realise what's happening. And what was happening? Not a lot.

Looking out onto the London Road to see what was going on - that was after wiping away mist as thick as a cotton sheet from the steamed up window - it looked as if someone had said to the whole of Leicestershire, 'Get yourself to Leicester today; there's a million quid going free under the Clock Tower!' The road looked more like the packed car park at an N.E.C. pop concert than a city road; and as for the numbers of people...

Anyway to cut a long story short, we did eventually climb - well tumble - off the bus. We'd have headed straight for our usual glass of cool Coke at Brucciani's but we were more interested to know what was going on. The crowds were incredible. It was as if every nation, every age, everybody was there! The noise hit us next - shouting, screaming, oohing and aahing. Then something else struck me. Was it my imagination, or was it darker than usual? There was something about the quality of the light that made us all stop and look at each other. We didn't have to ask the question, for we knew we all had the same thought in our minds. There was something odd about the sky... You know that feeling you have just before a really bad thunder storm, when the sky turns inky and the air feels oddly cool and fresh? Well the sky had certainly turned inky, but there was no freshness. It was weird.

It was then that we noticed that what we had thought was a grey cloud was moving and swirling a whole lot more quickly than any cloud we had ever seen move before. We suddenly realised that it wasn't a cloud. It was smoke: thick, dark, haunting smoke. There was a fire somewhere - surely a huge fire. And everyone was pushing and shoving to get a closer look at what was going on.

As we managed to push further through the crowd, the air began to feel electric. Ahead, the piercing 'flick', 'flick', 'flick' of blue lights were visible all around and we felt that strange mixture of wanting to see and yet being too frightened to look. And there it was - the new shopping centre. Ablaze. The smoke was like a wall of solid black, and the action unbelievable - fire-fighters, hoses, water jets and a crowd of faces looking on just like they would at a fireworks display, just looking and wondering.

If you saw the news last night, you'll know the rest. Not a lot to tell you, though, if you missed it. Unbelievably, no one was badly hurt and the fire-fighters had it all under control pretty quickly. By the time I got that Coke, I can tell you it was cooler and longer than any Coke I'd had before or I've had since. But we didn't get it from Brucciani's. Their new branch wasn't selling Coke any longer... and no chance of any ice!

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