There are many reasons why a writer would write in a certain style, whether to evoke fear when writing a horror novel (Stephen King) or to stir up feelings of love and affection (Mills and Boon). The same is the case for the Reading Section of Paper 1:
- Describingsomething – an experience or a place in an autobiography
- Making a casefor or against – in a debate
- Entertainingthe reader – a comic article
- Informingthe reader – about something
Questions on Paper 1 are usually centred on What the writer is saying, How it is said (style), Why it is said and How you respond.
It is important to note that styles can also overlap, e.g. when a writer wants to debate in a comical way.
The style of description is all about bringing images to mind. Consider this extract from John Grisham’s ‘The Street Lawyer’:
The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me, but I didn’t see him at first. I smelled him though – the pungent odour of smoke and cheap wine and life on the street without soap. We were alone as we moved upward, and when I finally glanced over I saw the boots, black and dirty and much too large. A frayed and tattered trench coat fell to his knees. Under it, layers of foul clothing bunched around his midsection, so that he appeared stocky, almost fat. But it wasn’t from being well fed; in the wintertime in DC, the street people wear everything they own, or so it seems.
He was black and aging – his beard and hair were half-grey and hadn’t been washed or cut in years. He looked straight ahead through thick sunglasses, thoroughly ignoring me, and making me wonder for a second, why, exactly, I was inspecting him.
Notice how John Grisham gives you so many clear details that you can visualise the character he is describing. He starts with his feet and recounts him to his eyes and hair.
Grisham describes the man using most of the five senses; we get an idea of how he looked, smelled, we can hear him walking onto the elevator and ‘ignoring’ the speaker, we can also imagine the feel of his ‘frayed and tattered trench coat’. Look also at the adjectives used: ‘pungent/dirty/black/foul/stocky/fat/aging’.
Similes and Metaphors
Writers use these to aid them in their descriptions. Look at Charles Dickens account of Coketown:
It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but, as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. 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.
Can you see how the comparisons with a ‘painted face of a savage’ and ‘serpents of smoke’ help to describe the pollution of the town and the strange atmosphere?
Repetition is used to emphasise the dull, boring life of the town – ‘it was a town’.
Appeal to the Senses
Another descriptive technique is to appeal to the senses. William Trevor’s account of his home town Skibbereen does just that:
My world at that time was not extensive. There was memory, as far back as it would go, and the modest reality of Skibbereen, which afterwards became memory also. A mile and a half it was, the journey to school, past Driscoll’s sweetshop and Murphy’s Medical Hall, and Power’s drapery, where you could buy oilcloth as well as dresses. Pots of geraniums nestled among chops and ribs in butchers’ windows. A sunburnt poster advertised the arrival of Duffy’s Circus a year ago. Horses trudged slowly, carts laden with a single churn for the creamery. On fair-days, farmers stood stoically by their animals, hoping for the best; there was a smell of whiskey and sawdust and stout.
Details of sights and smells help to make the town more vivid. A slow-moving town is suggested by words such as ‘nestled’ and ‘trudged’. The author then makes the town more real for the reader by the mention of real names, ‘Driscoll’s’.
Debating/Arguing/Making a Case
Persuasion is important in this style. You are writing to an audience to try and make them think the way you think – imagine a salesman trying to sell you a vacuum that you do not need! This style of writing can sometimes be called ‘discursive’.
The trend towards co-education has gathered pace this century as women have fought for equal rights and opportunities. The vast majority of schools in England are now mixed and it has long been thought correct to say that co-education is right for everyone.
But what about the fact that, in our academic league-tables for schools, the greater number of schools at the top are single-sex schools? Is there, after all, something to be said for teaching teenage boys and girls separately? I believe there is. Scientific studies are gradually revealing different ways of learning, some more suited to one gender than the other. Boys in mixed classes frequently take more of the teacher’s time and attention. Some teenagers have difficulty being assertive in mixed company. Certain subjects are too often seen as male or female preserves, and peer pressure hinders free choice of those subjects most suitable for different individuals.
Concentration can lapse because of the desire to show off in front of the opposite sex. The different rates at which boys and girls achieve maturity can lead to problems in working harmoniously together.
You may notice that the writer mentions the opposite point of view – that mixed schools are right for everyone – first. She does not ignore it. This is effective, as it suggests a reasonable, balanced attitude to the topic.
The small word ‘but’ introduces her own opposing opinion. A rhetorical question (the answer to the question is implied in the question itself) is used to great effect: ‘if single-sex schools perform better, might it be that they are better?’
She states her case clearly. In answer to the question ‘Is there, after all, something to be said for teaching teenage boys and girls separately?’, she says, ‘I believe that there is.’
She supports her argument with several pieces of evidence.
Even though you probably know what humour is from ‘Class-Clowns’ – there are certain techniques that humorous writers use.
When we arrived, my grandmother would scuttle off to pull something fresh-baked out of the oven. This was always something unusual. My grandmother was the only person I ever knew – possibly the only person who ever lived – who actually made things from the recipes on the backs of food packets. These dishes always had names like ‘Rice Krispies n Banana Chunks Upside-Down Cake’ or ‘Del Monte Lima Bean an Pretzels Party Snacks’. Generally they consisted of suspiciously large amounts of the manufacturer’s own products, usually in combinations you wouldn’t think of except perhaps in an especially severe famine. The one thing to be said for these dishes was that they were novel. When my grandmother offered you a steaming slab of cake or wedge of pie it might contain almost anything – Niblets sweet corn, chocolate chips, Spam, diced carrots, peanut butter.
Exaggeration is use by the author throughout – ‘possibly the only person who ever lived / her cakes could contain almost anything’. This technique gives the reader a funny oversized view of life.
The ridiculous and unexpected is employed (much like stand-up comics) – look at the phrase ‘scuttle off’, usually associated with small insects. And even look at the absurd names of the cakes that she made.
Comic misunderstanding is another technique that is used by Humorous Writers, think of any TV comedy (Friends or Father Ted) – a lot of the humour arises from some sort of a misunderstanding.
The following is an extract informing readers about Levi jeans:
When Strauss ran out of canvas, he wrote to his two brothers to send more. He received instead a tough, brown cotton cloth made in Nimes, France called serge de Nimes and swiftly shortened to ‘denim’ (the word ‘jeans’ derives from ‘Genes’, the French word for Genoa, where a similar cloth was produced). Almost from the first, Strauss had his cloth dyed the distinctive indigo that gave blue jeans their name, but it was not until the 1870s that he added the copper rivets which have long since become a company trademark.
Notice how you are informed of a number of facts about Levi Strauss (origin, colour, etc). But also notice that the facts are not just flung on the page, rather they are in a narrative form (like telling a story).
By moving chronologically (in order of events), the information is clearly presented.
The words "a tattered coat upon a stick" suggest a scarecrow. The coat is worn out, and it will become more tattered as it hangs in a field in all kinds of weather. The coat is hanging on a stick because it is tattered, and it is tattered because it is flapping on a stick in the wind. If a man is old enough and feeble enough his appearance will actually be rather frightening, because he is the living image of what everyone who sees him is destined to become if he or she manages to live as long. He is of no use to society anymore. He is just taking up space. It really doesn't matter what country he is leaving. Any country is no country for old men. The only interest others can have in him is wondering when he will die. Old people are often poor and wear clothing that is worn out and even patched. Or else they have become so forgetful that they are unaware of what they look like. Their clothes are usually long out of fashion, but they either don't realize this or else don't care. Hanging on a stick also suggests the emaciated look that some old people acquire from the illnesses and physical wasting that accompany old age.
When Yeats writes, "...unless / Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress," he is suggesting that the soul has no accompaniment for its singing but the clapping of its own hands. This is a sign of the poverty that often accompanies old age.
By "sailing to Byzantium," Yeats means escaping from reality into the world of art. In his case this would mean escaping into the creation of lyric poetry. Many poets have used their work to escape their spiritual suffering. John Keats is a good example. He was haunted by the fear of death, and he often uses his painful emotions as the subject matter for his poems. Yeats would like to forget about himself completely and to become metamorphized into a work of art. This is made more apparent when he writes:
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall...
He is saying the exact opposite of what most people would see in Byzantine mosaics. They would see the gold mosaics representing the sages standing in a holy fire, whereas Yeats sees them as real, living saints standing in a real holy fire which just happens resembles a gold mosaic. This is the transformation Yeats would like to achieve for himself through his imagination and his art. The only escape from the pains and fears of old age is into the world of art.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing...
He actually believes he can escape from nature and from death by transforming himself into a beautiful work of art. In a sense, he has succeeded, because he died long ago but has left the best part of himself behind in his transcendent poetry.