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analysing a story


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Writing a controlled assessment (CA) or exam essay based on a story can seem difficult not only because stories are often long, but also because the language of story-telling is often so seemingly ordinary and everyday. What is there to say about its form, structure and language? There's plenty! You're about to find out just what examiners look for and the way to a higher grade.


What causes lost marks?

What's needed to gain a high grade?   


  • Most marks are given for the quality of your interpretation. This means that you need to become something of an expert at finding the various layers of meaning that exist within your text - reading 'between the lines'.

  • Meaning can be 'shaped' and 'layers of meaning' created when a writer uses language in literary ways This is language that creates imagery and connotations, thus developing emotion and feelings. Various literary techniques can help a writer achieve this.

    • Never forget what a story is... it began as ideas, thoughts and feelings that a writer felt the need to communicate to a reader, and ended as the text you've just read. Try hard to get right back to those initial ideas, thoughts and feelings and you'll be on your way to a truly great analysis and essay.

    • Class novels are likely to be what is called 'theme driven', rather than 'plot driven'. This means that the story - its characters, settings and action - have been written to persuade as much as entertain. most of all. Writers create stories that absorb and emotionally involve their reader, why? In order to convince the reader to view some aspects of the world in a particular way - the author's way! These message are the story's themes and they are important to look for and discover. Themes involve human values in the real world outside of the story. The story is the writer's means of persuading the reader to consider these ideas in a particular way - the writer's way!

    • Literary language often relies on the use of literary devices. These work to involve the reader and deepen the engagement with the text. Some important and common literary devices are non-literal description (such as metaphor, simile and personification), dialogue and, a very important one: irony. Poetry uses concentrated literary language as you can imagine, but prose writers of fiction (and sometimes non-fiction) also rely on its use.

    • Below is a brief extract from a story by Charles Dickens that uses fairly obvious examples of literary language to create effects on the reader, most especially to create imagery that will help the reader imagine the scene in a particular way. Much more importantly, however, Dickens' choices of literary language help give the reader a clue as to his own attitude towards what he is describing. This is an important way in which an author can develop the themes of their writing.

    • The words in red are all uses of literary language. Can you work out just how these words and phrases are working on the reader - perhaps you can label the method used, too? Finally, what effect might the writer have wanted to achieve and for what purpose?

  • KEY TIP!

    Effect created > method used > purpose intended.

    ALWAYS keep this triplet in mind as, along with P>E>E,
    it is one of the most important techniques you need when analysing and writing you exam essay or CA.

    Effect > method > purpose: the key to an effective analysis of language whether your text is a story, a poem, a play or even a piece of non-fiction or media writing!
    • Try to develop insights into why Dickens might have written the passage using such language, i.e. what might his purpose might have been? When you do this, you are interpreting the text. The two key questions to ask of a test are how and why. These must always take centre stage in all of your essay writing for they are at the core of what interpretation is about.


It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, arid vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.

from Hard Times by Charles Dickens


    • To recognise the existence of layers of meaning, you need to be more than usually attentive to the words on the page and to the effects these create in the mind. This means being reflective and insightful.

    • To become aware of the levels of meaning at important points in a story you will need to ask yourself the questions what, how and why concerning aspects of the story such as:

      • narration - these are the effects created by the author's chosen narrative voice (this is the 'voice' that tells the story).

      • characters - characters are created and presented in ways that manipulate the reader's reaction toward them. How characters are described; when and where they appear; how they speak (through the literary device of dialogue); and how they act and interact are all important things to examine and consider.

      • setting (i.e. the time, place and situation in which the story unfolds). This can add to the story in surprisingly important and subtle ways. It is always worthy of your close attention. Setting creates a sense of place that can add to believability and realism. Importantly, setting is also frequently used to help create a particular mood or atmosphere, one that should help the reader engage more closely - and often emotionally - with the story.

      • structure, i.e. the ordering of events. This is a very important tool for the author as it both develops the plot and creates the important effects of tension and suspense.

      • all of the above work sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously, to develop the story's themes.

      • much more on all of the above later!

    • It's important also to realise that interpretation is never about stating facts. An interpretation is, by its very nature, an opinion or point of view. You can't ask the author about their intentions so you have to develop insights into what they might have been, and these can only be based on evidence from the text and, sometimes, details of the author's context.

    • This is why examiners are not keen when students merely trot out what are often rather obviously the opinions of others - those, perhaps, of a teacher or taken from a study guide, for example. What examiners like to see are individual ideas - your own ideas, based on insights that are supported with a reference to the text in question.

    • That said, it can be far easier to uncover the deeper layers of meaning within a story if you work through parts of the story with a friend. Hearing and discussing others' viewpoints almost always leads to a deeper understanding of the text developing.

    • Because interpretations are insightful opinions, they are not fixed. This means that different readers might well develop different interpretations. This is why an interpretation needs to be supported by giving a reference to whatever it was in the text that caused it to arise - usually in the form of a quotation. This is covered later but for more on this, see also the Englishbiz guide to essay writing (click here).

  • As well as interpreting, do not be shy of evaluating how successful or otherwise you believe the author has been. You might consider this in the light of the story's likely effects on different kinds of reader, for example, a modern reader and the text's original readers.  

  • Below is a short extract from towards the end of John Steinbeck's story, 'Of Mice and Men'. This has been interpreted, point by point - don't worry if you do not know this story as the same technique can be applied to any text. It has been included not to make you think that you ought to be able to do exactly the same, and definitely not to show how an essay might be written, but just to show how interpretation works and how deeply it can go if 'pushed'! It shows how much useful information can be gained from even a very short extract. So... the deeper the level of your interpretation, the fewer points you'll need to make to complete your essay or exam answer! And that can't be bad!

  • The most successful essay writers explore and develop only a few carefully chosen points; but they do so, as you will see below, in depth.

  • "And Lennie said softly to the puppy, 'Why do you got to get killed? You ain’t so little as mice. I didn’t bounce you hard.'"

    Notice the choice of language with the word 'softly', which is spoken by the third-person narrator. Notice, to, that it is included alongside several other words seemingly purposely chosen for their 'soft' sound (caused by soft consonants and long vowel sounds). The effect is to create a gentle tone in the narrator's voice, a tone that the reader will warm too and which, as a consequence, is highly persuasive. One interpretation of this is to suggest that, at this point in the story, Steinbeck wants the reader to develop sympathy with the character of Lennie. Steinbeck seems to want the reader to recognise that Lennie is not - despite the violent act he has just carried out and the one still to come - an evil man.

    The use of the narrative voice to create this feeling in the reader is interesting and shows that the narrator is not objective but is slanted towards certain of the characters. It also shows how important a writer's choice of narrator can be.

    Next, notice the quality of the dialogue Steinbeck gives Lennie to use: 'Why do you got to get killed'. This is written in a style surely intended to alert the reader to the fact that Lennie has a simple mind, one completely unable to use adult language properly and thus, we can infer, unable to use mature reasoning. This helps to increase our understanding of Lennie and his actions and increase our sympathy for his (as well as George's) plight.

    When Lennie says, 'You ain't so little as mice', the reader is reminded that George was perhaps wrong to trust Lennie with a puppy, as he surely should have known only too well what might occur as had previously happened to each of the mice Lennie had petted.

    In giving Lennie the statement, 'I didn't bounce you hard' Steinbeck is using the literary device of irony. This is because we know that Lennie did precisely the opposite, and with such tragic results. The irony works also at the level of alerting the reader the Lennie's total inability to control his own actions. He is only able to react instinctively, like an animal, rather than with human reflection and consideration. This might also make the close reader think back to other violent characters, such as Curley. Unlike Lennie, he has an educated adult brain and yet is still shown as unable to control his instinctive animal-like behaviour at times. This surely hints at one of the themes of the story, of animals vs. humans or instinct vs. control.

    In terms of structure, this passage is important as it works to foreshadow the violent and tragic events soon to follow when Lennie becomes confused and angry with Curley's wife.



The 'avoid at all costs' list...


Don't Do It!

1. Don't retell the events of the story.

  • As your teacher or examiner already knows exactly what happens in the story you're writing about, they'll deduct marks if you choose to waste valuable writing time re-telling them such details!

    • Below is an example of the kind of 'retelling of events' that you need to avoid. It uses an example from John Steinbeck's story 'Of Mice and Men' - if you don't know this story, don't worry, you'll get the idea:
      'In Chapter One, when Lennie asks George for some ketchup to put on his beans, George gets angry and explodes at Lennie. He tells him how his life would be so much better if Lennie wasn't there for him to have to bother about.'


    • You know by now that what is needed is analysis, interpretation and discussion. How might the above example of re-telling be written so that it gains marks?

      'When Lennie asks George for ketchup to put on his beans, Steinbeck is creating a chance to let the reader understand the severe strains of this strange relationship and how difficult it is for George to remain as Lennie's friend and protector.'

  • The highest marks are given to students who are careful to avoid waffle by writing only about those aspects of the story that are relevant to the essay or exam question.

2. Fictional characters and events aren't real - so avoid writing about them as if they are.

  • It's important when discussing literature to analyse and discuss the characters and events of fiction from a 'critical distance'.

  • This means separating yourself emotionally from the story and analysing it coolly and objectively.

    • It's important to write in a style that shows you recognise that characters are imaginary constructions designed with a purpose in mind. Here is an example of writing about characters and events as if they were real (again using 'Of Mice and Men'). This approach loses marks.
      'I feel sorry for George. He's stuck with Lennie just because Lennie can't look after himself. This is a terrible shame for George because he's such a nice guy and it means that he isn't able to carry on with a normal life.'

    • How might this be written in a more critical and objective manner? This approach gains marks.
      'Despite the burden Lennie causes George in this story, Steinbeck has created the two characters to help the reader understand better just how uncaring this 1930's society is and to show what true friendship really means.'


3. Answer the question, the whole question and nothing but the question!

  • You would be shocked if you knew each year just how many students write answers that seem to have little bearing on the essay or exam question they are answering. Don't be one of them. Read the question or essay title with care and reflect on it in depth before you begin to write.

  • Make a rough plan - a kind of structure for your answer. This might be a structure based on a series of quotations you've uncovered from the text that will help answer the essay question.

  • Stay on track by using this trick: start each body paragraph with a sentence that, in some obvious way, is helping to develop the answer to the essay question. Bear in mind that anything else risks being waffle and could easily lose marks.


Now for some detail!

Teachers and examiners look for examples in your work of the following and award marks according to how well you have tackled the three areas:




Marks are awarded when you show you have understood the deeper levels of meaning in the story.

You also need to show how the writer has used language and literary devices effectively.

Finally, you need to discuss how the sequence of events in the story works effectively.


How to analyse a story and discuss what you find

All of the stories you will read during your course will be based on what is called narrative. An understanding of this will, therefore, provide you with the tools to write a top class essay or exam answer.



It is because stories are told as narratives that they are engaging, absorbing and believable. No-one quite knows why it is but we seem to have an inbuilt psychological need to have events (whether real or imaginary) told to us using the form and structure of narrative. It's such a powerful means of telling about events. We all hear and use narratives each and every day, even if we never pick up a book to read!

The reason narrative is so successful and popular as a means of telling stories is connected with the fact that it works by building a sense of anticipation, suspense and tension. This creates an enjoyable sense of wanting to know what will happen next. That's why when you read a really good book or hear a juicy story from a friend, you're sometimes held spellbound.

'Through the hot, cloudless days in the back of New South Wales, there is always something beside the sun watching you from the sky. Over the line of the hills, or above the long stretches of plains, a black dot swings round and round; and its circles rise slowly or fall slowly, or simply remain at the same height, swinging in endless indolent curves, while the eyes watch the miles of earth below, and the six- or maybe nine-foot wingspan remains motionless in the air...'

from 'The Wedge-tailed Eagle' by Geoffrey Dutton


The Form and Structure of Narrative

When you write about a story, you are being asked to analyse and discuss why and how the writer has put to use the various forms and structures of narrative. So let's look at the basics of narrative.

In a typical narrative, fictional or otherwise, the story concerns a series of events, and often leading to a climax of events, that cause some kind of change in the life of a single main character - technically termed, the protagonist.

It is the conflict that creates what is called the complication of the story. This initial complication is developed by the author into the story's rising action. This moves the story towards its climax, a point almost at the end of the story when problems for the protagonist reach a peak. This quickly leads to a satisfying ending, and a sense of closure, called the resolution. The final 'drawing together' of any loose ends is called the story's dénouement.



The next time you tell a friend about an event in your life, you will find yourself using the typical conventions of narrative to construct and order the details of the story in order to make it more compelling for your listener. You will find yourself creating a character who is a kind of 'hero' while another will be the 'villain'; the events of the story will be linked by a kind of 'cause and effect' relationship; the events will be told from a single viewpoint (although you might 'invent' other apparent viewpoints by telling what others 'say' - by using dialogue); and, finally, you will use a linked 'beginning-middle-end' structure (but you - as the narrator - will decide on when the beginning begins... and so on).

An important question can be asked about using narrative to relate events in the world because narrative acts to simplify real world events dramatically. Reality can never be as simple as narrative makes it. The real-life stories on the TV News are related to their audience as narratives and seem entirely believable. But narrative is a highly simplified and opinionated way of accounting for what has to be the truly complex lives and events of people in this world of ours. And yet some qualities it has creates the sense that it is true or at least potentially true. Just how does narrative make its characters and events seem so believable - and compelling?


Genre is the 'type' or 'kind' of something - we have a habit of grouping things in the world into similar things, and these can be called 'genres'. Genre and narrative are closely linked both ideas seem to be 'hard wired' into our brains. When we hear or read a narrative that is in a certain genre, we have quite firm expectations of the narrative concerning what kind of setting to expect, what kind of characters and what kind of events, whether it be an action-adventure story, a romance or whatever. In this way, genre partly determines what we expect to happen and who and what seems 'natural' and believable. Click here for more on this important concept.


Belief and trust are what a writer needs for a story to 'work' on its reader - and because we tend to trust narratives, it is far too easy to forget they are merely fiction and write as if a story and its imaginary characters are real people. When writing about a story do not fall into this trap. See the story for what it truly is - a literary device that has been chosen because it creates a compelling tale most often used to promote a particular way of seeing the world - the author's themes.

So... always try to stand back from (that is, 'distance yourself') the story as this will more easily enable your analysis of it to be objective. You can do this best by showing that you recognise each of the characters and events in the story as being entirely fictional creations of their author. It is best if you choose to view all characters, their relationships and the events as purely a vehicle or means used by the author to create a compelling and convincing story - often no more than a highly compelling but persuasive form of writing that helps us see life the way the author wants us to see it.

Some modern writers have tried to change the traditional narrative form and structure in various ways. Some create a 'partial narrative' in which the reader is left to 'fill in' the parts not told some create a 'broken narrative' that uses 'flashbacks', 'flash-forwards' some use multiple viewpoints and many now leave the hero as less heroic, and the villain as less villainous. Despite these attempts to break with traditional narrative forms and structures, the basic concepts are similar. Narrative is proving to be a very enduring thing!






An author works hard to develop a basic storyline into what is called a plot. Various plot 'devices' are used to create tension and to make the reader want to guess what will happen next; at it's best this keeps us wanting to turn the page to find out - we are made to feel that we just can't put the book down.

This tension is generated in part by the slow release of detail and the introduction of various character types and conflicts but, most of all, by the narrative device of making all events seem to be connected, leading on one from another. This 'connectedness' means that we have a chance of guessing where the story is leading - and we just love guessing and either being right or being surprised by a 'twist in the tale'. We are also naturally rather nosy and enjoy a quick peek into another person's life - even if it's a fictional life. It can be very enjoyable experiencing the world vicariously - which means 'at one remove', experiencing dangers from the safety of our seat.


These are the two key aspects of narrative - and they form the basis of most exam and essay questions.

Few stories are written simply to entertain - some young children's stories might be, but most stories are, in reality, an entertaining 'vehicle' or means for their author to present a series of persuasive ideas to the reader. These ideas are called the themes of the story; they are the author's views concerning some important aspect - one if the 'big issues' - of life. Many authors choose themes that relate to aspects of their society's prevailing or dominant ideologies.

Writers are peculiarly creative and sensitive individuals; they can be deeply aware of the frictions within society. They use their imaginative genius to weave compelling stories around interesting characters to highlight and help you sympathise with certain ideas and points of view.

If you have read 'Of Mice and Men', for example, by John Steinbeck, however much you enjoyed the story, after you finish the last page and close the cover, many of its ideas will stay with you for a long time, if not for the remainder of your life. These ideas or themes will have been revealed and explored in the story through the actions of its characters. You will have been brought to empathise with and often feel sympathy for the plight of certain characters in a story, and to dislike others. Those with which you sympathise, you will tend to feel strongly about, even identify with. What happens to them will interest you - and it is in this way that many ideas about society can be highlighted and brought to your attention.

So... in 'Of Mice and Men', again, you will find yourself sympathising with some of the working men on the ranch - and you are brought to feel strongly about such issues as sexism, racism, exploitation and violence as well as coming to recognise the importance of friendship and trust.

Understanding the themes an author explores in a story and the way these are made persuasive through its characters and events is crucial to your coursework and exams. A vital part of this is to understand how to close read a story to allow you to analyse its style and structure, as only this will allow you to develop sophisticated insights into its author's themes.


An important decision an author must make before writing a story is who will 'tell' it to the reader. This 'person' supplies the story's narrative voice and is called the story's narrator. There are two main choices: a story can be told either through one of its characters (usually the protagonist - using the first person pronoun, 'I') or by a person outside the story itself (which seems often to be that of the author and which uses the third person pronouns 'he', 'she' or 'they'). Most importantly, it is the narrative voice that creates a particular kind of relationship with the reader that mediates all that the reader can understand about other characters and the events and ideas of the story.

Working out and considering the effects of the author's particular choice of narrative voice adds to your understanding of the characters, the story and the themes. How obvious is this voice? What are its qualities - its effects on you, the reader? Does it seem entirely trustworthy? Is it reliable? Is it educated? Is it biased towards a particular character or way of viewing society? Working out how the narrative voice mediates what you come to know and understand about the characters, events and themes is a key exam and coursework skill - and is highly rewarded as it is classed as a high level skill.

First Person Narrative
The important thing to remember here is the limitations of this choice of narrator: a first person narrator is limited by time and place, by who they are, by what they know and what other characters tell them. But this choice of narrator is able to create a close relationship with the reader - indeed, it is highly possible for the reader to feel as if they are the narrator in this kind of narrative, so close is the relationship that develops.

Third Person Narrative
A third person narrator can 'see' and 'tell' everything about each character, and be anywhere at any time, able to judge and comment upon events and characters at will; however, third person narrators are usually not neutral and are given limited and biased viewpoints by the writer such that the narrative voice leads the reader to support the 'hero' and criticise the 'villain'. A third person narrator is sometimes referred to as an omniscient narrator when the viewpoint is more neutral and 'all-knowing'.



Narratives are told in such a way that they allow the plot to be slowly revealed. This technical device causes the reader to become enjoyably absorbed and involved in the plot as we enjoy guessing and predicting what might happen next. Clearly the sequence of events that develop the plot is an important consideration when you are analysing and discussing a particular story. Again, this is classed as a high level skill and so can attract many marks.

More about structure...

The following table shows graphically how writers often structure their stories in a way that they know a reader will feel is most satisfying and which will allow the plot to be developed slowly and most convincingly:









'Conflict and rising action'



In the opening, the reader needs to be 'exposed' to sufficient information and detail to allow the story to 'work'; they also need to be 'hooked' into the imagined 'story-world'. This is the role of the opening section, the 'exposition'. It gives answers to key questions: who (the protagonist) , where, when and in what (cultural) situation (all part of the 'setting'): all narrated in an interesting lively way.  An intriguing 'plot hook' is given early, 'hooking' the reader into the storyworld. A suitable mood helps, often given through careful description of setting; this helps the reader 'feel' a sense of 'being in the fictional story-world'. A story can begin in media res - in the middle of the action - but this forces the need for some kind of flashback device. In the exposition, the sense that the main character's life is in 'equilibrium' is suggested - a balance about to be disturbed by the 'conflict'!


The protagonist meets a problem - his or her life is disturbed in some way the action is built up to a climax the protagonist deals with the conflict. The reader will be brought to sympathise with the protagonist during the conflict and to feel anger at the role of the antagonist.


The conflict resolves in a way that will seem satisfying; the story ends and the life of the protagonist enters a new 'equilibrium'. He or she has changed, becoming wiser having dealt with life's problems.




Characterisation is the term for the creation of characters. To discuss aspects of characterisation, you'll need to consider how the author helps you to believe in and either empathise with (i.e. 'understand') or distrust the story's characters.

Some characters can be called rounded. These are those who are of most importance to the story. Other, lesser, characters can seem flat in comparison, and might be more simplistically drawn to be a stock character - a kind of fictional stereotype (see below for more).

Look for ways in which you have been brought to an emotional 'relationship' with certain characters, either for or against them. You will find yourself, likely, empathising, even sympathising at times, with the protagonist, engaging with what they are involved in and the way they are thinking. Why do you think it is that readers always identify with the 'good guy' and never the 'bad guy'? Look closely at your story and see how this literary trick was achieved.



The reader's relationship with a character is often helped to develop by what characters are given to say and how they say it. The technical term for speech in a story is dialogue and it can be very effective at drawing a reader into a story and making the characters seem very believable.

It's important to realise that successful dialogue is never natural - even if it seems that way. Everyday real conversation is very 'loose' and, if put straight into a story, very b-o-r-i-n-g. Like description, dialogue is always tightly focused and dramatic; it adds only what is essential to the story and characterisation.



Look out for the ways description has been used to create an effective mood or atmosphere (especially tension), and how this supports the action or characterisation.



Although it is usually far quicker to do so, writers will often try to avoid simply 'telling' a reader about things; instead, they prefer to 'show' the reader what something or someone is like. For example, instead of telling you a character is, say, 'evil', an effective writer would rather 'show' the character acting in an evil way, or describing features that seem evil. This is far more convincing ploy. 'Showing' acts by involving the reader and engaging them in an emotional or 'sensory' way with the story's details: seeing, hearing, touching, almost sometimes tasting what is described.

  • A good writer will always show what is important and tell what is not.

Read how John Steinbeck mixes 'showing' with 'telling' in this brief extract from the opening of 'Of Mice and Men'

'Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves. The shade climbed up the hills towards to top. On the sand-banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little grey, sculptured stones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves...'



Setting refers to the time, place and situation in which the author sets the characters and action. Sometimes, the term 'landscape' is used to refer specifically to place the description of place. Importantly, setting is almost always important to the story in terms of its mood, atmosphere, characterisation or themes.



The term mental landscape is the name of a commonly used literary device. When an author creates a 'mental landscape', he or she describes a setting in a way that not only creates a sense of place but also works to suggest the mood of the scene or the characters within it. Ghost stories rely heavily on the use of mental landscapes, for example, when a fearful and foreboding setting is described, we know that what the author wants us to recognise also is the fear in the minds of the characters. This technique can also be called pathetic fallacy.



Fiction only appears realistic to make it work we have, in fact, to 'suspend disbelief' and we do this willingly. Conventions are a part of the experience of reading a story because we 'suspend disbelief' we are rarely aware they even exist. Here are a few: the events described in a story are not truly realistic because they focus only on what happens to particular characters and only those actions needed to move the plot along are described, all else is ignored 'flashbacks' and 'letters' may be used to help fill in background, and so on. You can see that fiction relies on a willing co-operation between writer and reader.



When you are analysing and writing about a story, it is important that you keep reminding yourself that - however believable and realistic the story may seem - it is purely an imaginative invention of its author.

Stories appear realistic and believable through the author's skilful use of various literary devices. The most important of these is the author's choice to use the most trusted form of storytelling, i.e. narrative.

  • A story's closeness to reality is referred to as its degree of verisimilitude. If a story's truthfulness to life is less than convincing, its author will have failed to create a sufficient degree of verisimilitude.



Unity describes the way a story pursues a single main idea, which is the writer's theme; coherence is the way a story 'holds logically together', with each part existing in a kind of 'cause and effect' relationship with previous and following parts of the story.

Notice how, in any professionally written story, the author includes only those elements (i.e. of plot, dialogue, description, etc.) that are required to develop its overall theme.

All stories have - woven into every aspect of them - their author's 'controlling' or 'dominant' idea (these are the reasons that motivated the author to write it - his or her themes). No part of what an author writes will lead you away from this dominant idea: there are never any loose threads in a well-woven professionally written story at all times you will be aware that what you are being told is important in some way to the story that is slowly and inexorably unfolding.

  • A story that exhibits unity can be said to have a single, or unified purpose - one that takes its reader ever forwards towards an inevitable resolution.

  • The mood, atmosphere, description, setting, dialogue and action will all be working together towards a single end. Are your own stories similar? They certainly should aim to be!







quotations effectively will boost your marks and grade!

Steinbeck's use of description is an important aspect of his style and is obvious even in the opening lines of 'Of Mice and Men' where he paints a paradise like version of nature:

'the Salinas River drops in close to the hill-side bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight...'


If you are writing answers on an extract printed on your exam paper, there are few problems with finding quotations as they are printed there in front of your eyes; however, for texts studied in class, you cannot take the text into the exam so will need to have learned by heart a number of short key quotations.

  • Many students say they struggle to find something useful to write about the language of stories. They say the writer's choices of language seem so 'ordinary', especially in comparison to, say, poetry; and this can seem true because story writing often aims to be naturalistic.

  • Keep in mind, however, that your comments need to cover two aspects: the effects the language of the quotation is intended to have on the reader and the purpose intended by it.

  • Think for a moment - any piece of writing that is effective will contain words and phrases, that is, choices of form or style, or use of structure that in some way adds to the reader's enjoyment or understanding of the story. This is what you need to be explaining.

  • In fictional writing, this might be that the writing of the quotation provides a particularly vivid description that sets a useful mood, or it creates a powerful and authoritative narrative voice, one that can be trusted and which is very persuasive; the language might be ironic or it could be an effective use of dialogue. Look at how this can be done using the above example.

Steinbeck's use of description is clearly a major aspect of his style. In the opening paragraphs to 'Of Mice and Men', he uses description to paint a paradise-like version of nature:

'the Salinas River drops in close to the hill-side bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight...'

Steinbeck uses a form of personification here to help create this feeling of 'paradise'. Verbs such as 'runs' and 'slipped' suggest that the river has some kind of life of its own and this allows the reader to identify more closely with it. Also, each word is chosen to create a warm and inviting tone, for example, 'deep and green' and 'twinkling'; the overall effect of this is to allow the reader to feel that this river is there 'for them' rather than merely just 'being there'. In this way Steinbeck creates a dream-like nature not so different from the dream-like future the two protagonists, Lennie and George, hope for.




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