Suspense Writing Explained

This Resource is for students from Years 7-10 studying English and need to develop some creative skills in writing stories.  Suspense writing is one option you should consider to help you get A+ for English.

Writing 101: How to Create Suspense in 5 Exciting Steps

What makes a story a page-turner, exciting from the first page?

A truly suspenseful book, short story, novella or other literary work is much like a theatrical performance.  Just as a well-written and superbly acted drama keeps the audience on the edge of their seats until the curtain call, a suspense filled thriller should captivate the reader until the final word.

When you think about the last story you read that seemed to grab you by the throat and not let go, what exactly made it gripping?

Horror film - Wikipedia

Did you feel the excitement from the first page?  Were the characters captivating?  Was it the heart pounding events that took place?  More than likely it was all of these things combined that made the story exciting.

I always judge a book by how late I stay up to find out what happens next.  If I’m still wide awake at two in the morning, that’s a fantastic book.  So, how do you keep your readers up to the wee hours of the morning?  You have to get them hooked.

What Makes Us Keep Reading a Good Book?

  1. definitely the characters count for me, if I don’t like them then I don’t care what happens to them in the book
  2. the book proposes questions that need to be answered with a hook that doesn’t let go
  3. basically a mystery that drives me to find out the ending
  4.  emotional intensity between being scared out of my wits to heart-broken

To make a suspenseful piece of work you need to use many techniques from playwriting

If you think of the most famous playwright, William Shakespeare, he understood the necessity to build up to a suspenseful climax by feeding his audience tidbits of information during the first and second acts of his plays.  He would then finish his dramatic theatric piece by using the most emotionally-intense scene with the climax in the third act.

Making Your Characters Real

In any great play, there are characters with whom the audience can relate.  Whether they are lovable or loathsome, viewers find some speck of familiarity or general humanity within them.  This keeps the audience actively engaged. When you are writing your short story or novel, if your readers don’t like the people who populate the book, then they will not care less what happens to them.

So there is one really important point, you must give the readers a character that is fleshed-out and real so the readers can care about them

By making the readers care, you give them a reason to go on with the story and to find out what happens to this person you have created.  The wanting to know keeps them reading.

The Setting Must Make Sense

Just as your characters must be realistic in your story’s world, so must your setting seem to make sense.  Your readers must be able to see the universe through the narrator’s eyes, smell the odours, and hear the sounds.  Without solid descriptions, your readers cannot become entangled enough in your work to truly enjoy the roller coaster of suspense.  Take nothing for granted, tell your readers the setting and don’t assume that the reader understands your fictional world as well as you do.

The Plot Must Be Logical Not Impossible to Follow

It is difficult to build suspense if your plot is impossible to follow.  Like a stage play, your plot must have some kind of logic to it.  If it doesn’t, your readers might be too distracted by the complicated plotline to become involved in the suspense.  It is more critical to tell the most important steps your characters have taken rather than describing every movement.  Nothing spoils suspense for a reader like having to flip the pages of the book wondering, “Did I miss something?”

Build up to a Suspenseful Climax within your Fiction

Don’t spring a suspenseful moment on the reader without some kind of foreshadowing.  It is a good idea not to start your work with an emtionally-intense scene.  As in a drama, work your way up to a suspenseful peak.  If you just keep hitting your readers with suspenseful moments without any context, you will only leave your audience perplexed, rather than engaged in the suspense.

Can you think of the last book you read that deeply affected you?

Emotionally charged books by Monica McInerney affect me.  Many times I have shed a few tears along with the characters and laughed with them too.  What was it that caused this effect?  I know for me, it was the characters, their believability.  However, it is really a combination of many things – characters, timing, plot and believability.  A good idea is to re-read a book or story that had a strong effect on you.  See if you can figure out how the author accomplished this.  Pay attention to the different techniques the author used.

The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody

The Gathering (Carmody novel) - Wikipedia

So many different techniques go into a suspenseful book.  One of the most suspenseful and horribly graphic books I have read that affected me was The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody.  I had to teach an excerpt from this book to a Year 10 Class.  The section we were reading was very descriptive, horrific in its nature, intense and suspense filled.  It affected me so much that I had to put the book down and walk away from it for a while to gather my thoughts before I could write up my lesson plan for class.  If you have read The Gathering, then you will know the part I am referring to: chapter 26, pages 212-215  where Nathanial’s dog is burnt alive.

Carmody’s language techniques captivated and terrorised all at the same time

What I realised is that Isobelle Carmody crafted such a brilliant novel with clever use of language forms, features and structure that I was spellbound, captivated and terrorised all at the same time.  The suspense is created by development of the mood from normal to foreboding and fear.  The build up of terror is emphasised by Nathanial’s frantic attempts to get free from the boys holding him.  Buddha is so evil he has poured petrol on Nathanial’s dog Tod.  When the match is lit we know something horrible is about to happen.  Is there some hope that Tod will survive?  The end result is emotionally and physically shocking.  Carmody achieved what she set out to do.

All Resources created by Online Tutoring using Zoom for Years 11 and 12 VCE Mainstream English Students in the Victorian Curriculum

‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell is an Allegory

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What is an Allegory?

An Allegory is a narrative that can be read on more than one level. Allegories are generally understood as rhetorical, and as a form of rhetoric, are designed to persuade their audience.  George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an example of this rhetorical device; as an allegory it extends its representation over the course of the entire novel.

How is this Story Allegorical?

As an allegorical tale about the dangers of tyranny, Animal Farm uses the story of Napoleon, Snowball and Boxer as a form of rhetoric.  In this novel Orwell is using the story of Manor Farm’s animal rebellion to caution people against the encroachment of tyranny.

‘Animal Farm’ Characters as an Allegory of the Russian Revolution

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Critics often consider Animal Farm to be an allegory of the Russian Revolution matching in great details the story’s characters to historical persons.  For example, linking the power struggle between Napoleon and Snowball to the historical feuding between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky for control of the Soviet Union.  Old Major represents Karl Marx who dies before realising his dream.  Other comparisons include Moses as the Russian Orthodox Church, Boxer and Clover as workers, the sheep as the general public, Squealer as Stalin’s government news agency, the dogs as Stalin’s military police and Farmer Jones as Czar Nicholas II.  The farm’s neighbours, Pilkington and Frederick are said to represent Great Britain and Germany.  While Mollie suggests the old Russian aristocracy, which resists change.

What did George Orwell Believe Animal Farm Represented & Message of Author?

George Orwell wrote in the first edition of Animal Farm in 1945 that his novel: ‘… is the history of a revolution that went wrong and of the excellent excuses that were forthcoming at every step for the perversion of the original doctrine’.

While the animals in the story originally create an equal society, the pigs in charge, namely Napoleon, use their power to oppress the other animals, especially through propaganda and fear.

Orwell ‘s main message in Animal Farm is that power corrupts, even when idealism is at play.

George Orwell uses Satire to expose what he saw as the Myth of Soviet Socialism

In a Satire, the writer attacks a serious issue by presenting it in a ridiculous light or otherwise poking fun at it.  Orwell uses satire in his novel Animal Farm to expose what he saw as the myth of Soviet socialism.  Thus, the novel tells a story that people of all ages can understand, but it also tells us a second story – that of the real-life Revolution.

Background to the Russian Revolution

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Many of the events of Manor Farm in Orwell’s Animal Farm are closely linked to political events in Russia during the first half of the 20th century. In the early 1900’s, Russia’s Czar Nicholas II faced an increasingly discontented populace.  Freed from feudal serfdom in 1861, many Russian peasants were struggling to survive under an oppressive government.  By 1917, amidst the tremendous suffering of World War I, a revolution began.  In two major battles, the Czar’s government was overthrown and replaced by the Bolshevik leadership of Vladmir Lenin.  When Lenin died in 1924, his former colleagues Leon Trotsky, hero of the early Revolution, and Joseph Stalin, head of the Communist Party, struggled for power.  Stalin won the battle, and he deported Trotsky into permanent exile.

Once in power, Stalin began, with despotic urgency and exalted nationalism, to move the Soviet Union into the modern industrial age.  His government seized land in order to create collective farms.  Stalin’s Five Year Plan was an attempt to modernize Soviet industry.  To counter resistance (many peasants refused to give up their land), Stalin used vicious military tactics.  Rigged trials led to executions of an estimated 20 million government officials and ordinary citizens.  The government controlled the flow and content of information to the people, and all but outlawed churches.

‘Animal Farm’ is the Story of an Animal Revolution

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The animal residents of Manor Farm, spurred on by the dream of the pig, Old Major decide they will change their “miserable, laborious, and short” lives.  They overthrow Mr Jones, their master, and take over the management of the farm.  Rather than living under the heel of their human master, the animals of Manor Farm decide they will take control of the products of their labour, working for the good of the farm and other animals, rather than for the good of humans.

Tyranny by any other Name

George Orwell’s Animal Farm and his other novel 1984, are often cited as works that are designed to show the weaknesses of Communism.  These works took aim at the Soviet Union, however Orwell’s larger target was tyranny, in whatever form it appeared.  He was as much concerned with the repression of rights and the injustice of the economic system in his own England as he was about Stalinist Russia.

George Orwell’s 1945 novel Animal Farm is an allegorical indictment of tyranny which utilises the historical events and players of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent rise of Stalin as a cautionary tale of how power corrupts.

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‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee : A Brief Synopsis

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a Worthy Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1961

Author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, in local coutrhouse while visting her home town.

Novelist Harper Lee

It does not matter how many times I teach To Kill a Mockingbird to Years 7-10 English students, I find a deeper understanding of Harper Lee’s beautiful novel each time I read it.  What’s not to love about this amazing novel?

It’s a story about a man wrongly accused of rape and a lawyer who confronts racial prejudice to defend him in a small Alabama town riddled with the poverty and racial tensions of the American South in 1935.  Yet when you look deeper it also chronicles the journey of its characters to do what is right, no matter what humiliation or consequences plagued them.

The Moral Courage in To Kill a Mockingbird

American actor Gregory Peck, as Atticus Finch, stands in a courtroom in a scene from director Robert Mulligan's film, 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' 1962....

By observing her father, Scout gradually discovers that moral courage is both more complicated and more difficult to enact than the physical courage most familiar and understandable to children.  To Kill a Mockingbird reveals the heroic nature of acting with moral courage when adhering to social mores would be far less dangerous.  At a time in the South when it was outrageous and practically unthinkable for a white person to look at the world from a minority’s perspective, Harper Lee has Atticus explain to Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”.  For Atticus Finch, climbing into someone’s skin and walking around in it represents true courage.  This would have to be my all time favourite quote.

Focus on the Trial of Tom Robinson with Atticus Finch as the Lawyer

To Kill A Mockingbird

The novel focuses on the Finch family over the course of two years, lawyer and father Atticus Finch; his ten-year-old son, Jem; and his six-year-old daughter, Scout (whose real name is Jean Louise).  Scout serves as the narrator of the book.  Her narration is based on her memories of the events leading up to, during, and after her father’s defence of a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell.  Through Scout’s inexperienced eyes (she is only eight at the conclusion of the novel), the reader encounters a world where people are judged by their race, inherited ideas of right and wrong dominate, and justice does not always prevail.  However, by observing Atticus Finch’s responses to the threats and gibes of the anti-Tom Robinson faction and his sensitive treatment towards Tom Robinson and his family and friends, the reader, again through Scout’s eyes, discovers what it means to behave morally.  In fact, do the right thing in the face of tremendous social pressure.

 What I Love About To Kill a Mockingbird is the Other Side to Scout

To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird also chronicles the journey of a girl who challenges gender stereotypes in her determination to remain a tomboy.  Harper Lee clearly explores Scout’s unconventional female characteristics.  Aunt Alexandra tells Scout Finch to act like a lady and wear a dress so she can “be a ray of sunshine in [her] father’s lonely life.”  Scout does not respond positively: she retorts that she can “be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well”.

In fact, Scout does not respond positively to anything feminine, preferring reading instead of sewing, playing outside instead of inside, and the nickname “Scout” to the girlish “Jean Louise.”

On the other hand, the culture that Harper Lee depicts does not respond positively to Scout’s tomboyish inclinations.  Scout lives in Maycomb, Alabama, a rural Southern town, during the Great Depression.  In this setting, society dictates strict gender stereotypes, and people rarely cross the barrier between masculinity and femininity.  Maycomb is a place where “[l]adies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum”. Scout, however, refuses to be a “soft teacake.”

Through her actions, Scout demonstrates a flexible view of gender.  Scout is not born with an innate predisposition to be a tomboy; rather her behaviours define her as a tomboy.  As she consistently repeats unconventional behaviours, she presents her own conception of what gender means.  Harper Lee depicts gender as a standard that alters according to each individual.

Gender Bending During WWII

The twentieth century brought a shift in attitudes towards tomboys.  During the years in which Harper Lee grew up and wrote her novel, America advocated the home as a woman’s domain.  During WWII views changed as women entered the workforce assuming positions previously considered to be masculine.  Michelle Ann Abate in Tomboys: A Literary and Cultural History. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2008 (p.146) refers to Rosie the Riveter as an icon of “tomboyish toughness”.  However, society’s high regard for gender-bending females was temporary, when the war ended, women once again returned to their homes (Abate p.150).

To Kill a Mockingbird also Reflects this Ambivalence Concerning Gender-bending Females

The novel contains characters who both support and disapprove of Scout’s tomboyism.  For instance, Aunt Alexandra wants Scout to wear a dress, while Atticus allows her to wear overalls.  Moreover, other characters paradoxically condemn feminine mannerisms while simultaneously expecting them.  Scout’s brother Jem, for instance, frequently teases her for being a girl, but he also commands, “It’s time you started bein’ a girl and acting right!”.

Scout Stays Resolute

Even though she endures these conflicting principles, Scout stays resolute.  For example, when Jem criticizes her “girlish” fear of the Radley house, she shows masculine bravery and joins him in sneaking into the Radley yard.  On the other hand, when he suggests she “take up sewin’ or something,” Scout replies, “Hell no”.  Reflecting the twentieth-century’s hesitation over the changing roles of women, Jem has shifting expectations for Scout as a female.  Scout, however, remains steadfastly opposed to conventional femininity.

What’s not to love about this amazing book?  I can’t think of anything.

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‘Maestro’ by Peter Goldsworthy A Brief Synopsis of the Importance of ‘Place’ in the Narrative

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Place is integral to an understanding of the characters in Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy.

In some ways, the cities of Darwin, Adelaide and Vienna parallel the growth of the characters.  In other respects, the character’s attitudes towards the cities reveal their motivations and, in the case of Keller, the mystery of his past.  Darwin and Adelaide exemplify the most obvious and literal examples of the polarity of North and South.

“Up North” Darwin in the 1960’s – a Wild Frontier Town

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“Up North” in the 1960’s traditionally represented the outpost of civilisation in Australia, with Darwin as its wild frontier town.  In pre-Cyclone Tracy Darwin, there were few opportunities for public entertainment or cultural events.  The town’s residents had a reputation for heavy drinking, fast driving and little regard for fine music or the arts.  In 1967 few homes had air conditioning so that Darwin’s wet heat had to be alleviated with iced drinks, ceiling fans and evening sea breezes through louvred windows.  Initially John Crabbe described Darwin’s inhabitants as “wife-beaters, fugitives from justice, alcoholics and maintenance dodgers” (p.17).  Darwin was “the terminus … A town populated by men who had run as far as they could flee” (p.17).

Goldsworthy Portrays Life in Darwin as a Rhythm of Dramatic Contrasts

Life in Darwin is portrayed as a rhythm of dramatic contrasts between day and night, and the Wet and Dry seasons.  Thunder is “the sound of February, of deepest, darkest Wet” (p.4).  The Wet exaggerates nature in every way.  The hard-drinking customers at The Swan where “it was always Wet season” (p.17), provide the background rhythm to Paul’s lessons with Keller and their wrangles over the choices of compositions for his lessons and practice.  The change of season to the Dry marks an important point in the characters’ moods.  Everyone’s mood is lightened and refreshed at the beginning of “seven months of clear, enamel-blue days” (p.28), when meals are taken outside in “a nightly cooling ritual” (p.30).  Throughout the novel, Goldsworthy uses the imagery of night and day, Wet and Dry, sunshine and darkness to symbolise or illustrate his characters’ states of mind.

Darwin confronts the Crabbes with Physical and Mental Challenges

The Crabbes’ move to Darwin, a career promotion for John, confronts all three family members with both physical and mental challenges.  To Paul, Darwin is a tropical paradise; to his parents it is, initially too hot, humid and uncivilised.  John Crabbe declares Darwin is “A city of booze, blow, and blasphemy” (p.9) but Paul loves Darwin from the moment he steps off the plane from Adelaide: “I loved the town of booze and blow at first sight.  And above all its smell: those hot, steamy perfumes that wrapped about me as we stepped off the plane, in the darkness, in the smallest hours of a January night.  Moist, compost air.  Sweet-and-sour air …” (p.9).

Goldsworthy Describes Darwin in Lush Descriptive Passages

Goldsworthy devotes considerable attention to crafting lushly descriptive passages which evoke Darwin’s exotic quality, its multicultural population and the strong emotions of sexuality.  Paul delights in the dense foliage of their garden, at the “unnatural greenness” of leaves, and marvels at the brilliance of parrots, butterflies, huge insects and grubs: “Everything grew larger than life in the steamy hothouse of Darwin, and the people were no exception.  Exotic, hothouse blooms” (p.11).

Darwin for Eduard Keller was an Exile

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For Herr Eduard Keller, the maestro, Darwin was an exile, a self-imposed punishment stemming from his perceived responsibility for the deaths of his wife and child.  Darwin is the maestro’s decision to live as far as possible, both literally and metaphorically from his cultured European background.  Paul vividly remembers his first encounter with the maestro.  He was fascinated by Keller: “I’d seen nothing like him before.  He was short: migrant-height, European height…The hair above that flaming face was white, sparse, downy.  On his red nose he had placed … a pince-nez… Above all, I remember the hands: those dainty, faintly ridiculous hands” (p.5).  Despite Darwin’s oppressive heat, Keller is dressed in a white linen suit, crisp and freshly laundered.  As Paul pushed his way through the drinkers in The Swan each Tuesday for his piano lesson, he found it “easy to place Keller among these fugitives” running away from things they chose not to remember.

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Construction of Meaning and Author’s Agenda in ‘Ransom’ by David Malouf

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This Resource is for students studying ‘Ransom’ as a single text in the Victorian VCE Curriculum OR for Year 12 students studying the comparative texts of ‘Ransom’ with ‘The Queen’.  The resource will be useful for both studies.

Construction of Meaning and Structure of Texts

When reading texts to construct meaning, readers increase their understanding by recognising the craftsmanship of the writing and the choices the author made to portray the topic in a certain way.

Genre of ‘Ransom’

Narrative fiction.  A novel that uses the final section, Book 24 of Homer’s The Iliad an epic poem, to tell the tale of Hector’s slaughter and Priam’s subsequent visit to Achilles to plead for his son’s body.

Malouf takes some of the generic features from the classical epic and re-makes them in a less formal novel.  The character of Somax is Malouf’s own creation.

Historical Context

The story of Achilles, Hector and Priam and Troy date back to 70 BC.  The novel Ransom is set during the Trojan War but begins after Agamemnon called on Achilles to surrender Briseis to him and Achilles refused, withdrawing his Myrmidon forces from the latest battle against Troy and creating an open intended insult.

Malouf begins his narrative of Ransom with the brooding Achilles pondering his options after revoking his support for the Greek cause and insulting Agamemnon.

What Malouf does is he re-works Homer’s epic of the Trojan War with its heroes and brings to life another side of both Achilles and Priam that requires them to face emotions and overcome dilemmas by acting in more honourable ways.  The narrative allows the characters to liberate themselves from a crisis of personal values and a loss of self-esteem, something quite different from the view of human action in The Iliad.

Structure & Narrative Perspective

The 5 chapters of Ransom focus on different perspectives of key characters set in separate settings associated with each character.

The Introduction of the conflict told through Achilles’ thoughts in part 1 leads to the complication in part II of Priam deciding to ransom Hector’s body.  Priam’s journey with Somax to Achilles’ camp further the action of Priam’s quest and adds a contrasting pastoral interlude in part III.

The meeting of Achilles and Priam in part IV is a dramatic climax.  A short conclusion in part V describes Priam’s journey back to Troy as the truce begins.  The closing focus on Somax as an aged storyteller offers a miniature epilogue to the action and is a lighter more comic ending.

The narrative is told in the present tense through a third-person voice, which does change to first-person or third-person limited perspective to reveal the thoughts and feelings of a particular character.  The shifts in narrative voice allow the text to convey each character’s thoughts and reflections on events, characters and settings round them.

Language Style & Shifts in Narrative

Malouf’s language style, sentence construction and vocabulary choices often reflect the action or atmosphere of the narrative paying close attention to the character’s thoughts, actions and the features of the world in which they find themselves.  For example the description of Hector’s dead body trailing behind Achilles’ chariot spans most of page 26.

Descriptions are at other times precise, realistic, economical and evoking character’s moods.  For example Somax’s pikelets explain a simple world that Priam is discovering a fresh way of appreciating the small experiences he can enjoy that were absent from his formalised life of a king on page 118.

At some times he chooses more evocative complex words that carry connotations that enrich the narrative as when Achilles feels the notes of the lyre and this emits a dreamlike quality.

Malouf often uses word patterns of imagery like he does in his poetry, such as the way water, earth, air and fire are connected with different characters in Ransom.  He connects bodies and minds in these terms.  His words share feelings in the reader so that the reader can experience a specific theme in the novel.  Water is an element that moves in waves but is also described as ‘shifting’ and ‘insubstantial’ on page 4.

Shifts in the narrative point of view give characters an individual presence in the reader’s mind.  By changing the narrative focus Malouf gives value to diverse views.

Tragedy & Comedy

While the novel is predominantly tragic, Malouf invites the reader to consider comic moments in part III when Priam and Somax travel together and meeting Hermes on their journey to the mildly ridiculous description of Somax’s affection for his mule.  These occasions of humour present the reader with brief but vital moments of reprieve amid the violence and brutality inherent in the narrative.

Tragedy is evident in the human loss and failure in a world where characters face harsh consequences for their actions.  Nothing about Achilles ritual rage and the speed of his chariot carrying its macabre cargo are positive.  The reader gains a sense of tragedy and horror as Achilles turns into almost a mad man mistreating Hector’s body over and over again for 12 days.

Imagery & Senses

Malouf uses sensory imagery to encourage readers to envisage and imagine the events and changing moods within the narrative.  For example he utilises appeals to the senses of sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing to engage the reader in Priam’s childhood experiences as Padarces.

Voices are combined with images of the sea combining vision and sound at the beginning of Ransom “The sea has many voices” (p.3).

The elements of water, air, earth and fire show the vital connection between humans and the natural world helping to define how characters think and feel.

Animal imagery is used to present Achilles as wild, barbaric and merciless.  As a warrior he is imbued with ‘an animal quality he shares with the wolves …” (p.35).

Concept of the Journey

The concept of the journey in the text allows the characters to experience a range of settings, including places they “never till now even considered” (p.192).

Malouf describes the journey into the landscape brutalised by war that Priam has never seen.  Across the Scamander River Priam and Somax see a landscape which is “one of utter devastation” (p.155).

Unfamiliar settings are also described when Achilles goes to the laundry tent in the Achaean camp to see Hector’s dead body being washed by women.  These are elements that are strangely alien yet familiar to him as he thinks of his mother (p.192).


Taking a chance, choosing action = Priam acts in an unexpected way to achieve a positive goal when he decides to follow chance rather than passive customs.  The novel invites us to ask questions about our own beliefs if we should believe in fate or chance.

Pity and compassion = Priam pleads with Achilles to release Hector’s body.  He appeals to humanity and in doing so raises the question of what is means to be human.  The novel questions the values of basic respect for each other and showing compassion.

Gender roles and power = The novel is set in a world where political power belonged to men and the role of warriors fighting each other was a key aspect of men’s identity.  The role of women is limited and the influence is second to men.  Yet Malouf does explore the feminine side of his characters when he talks about the ritual actions of local women in the story and Somax’s daughter in law and granddaughter.  Achilles softer side is more to do with his mother the sea goddess Thetis that allows him to embody a duel self.

Storytelling = The nature of stories is an important theme in the novel.  Malouf blends the relationship between stories, history and myths which is how he was able to give fresh life to ‘crevices’ found in Homer’s ancient tale.

Family / father & son / friendships = Affection for family and friends is a central value in the novel.  Love for family is at the centre of both Priam and Achilles actions and values.  When Priam asks Achilles for Hector’s body he appeals to Achilles to remember his love for his son Neoptolemus and Peleus’ love for him.  Close male friendships like Achilles and Patroclus and father-son loyalties are important in Ransom.

The Author’s Purpose and Agenda

The reasons why authors write are called the Author’s Purpose or Agenda.  Depending on the purpose, authors may choose all different sorts of writing formats, genres and vernacular [language].  There are 3 main categories of author’s purpose:

  1. To Persuade = the author’s goal is to convince the reader to agree with them
  2. To Inform = the author’s goal is to enlighten the reader about real world topics and provide facts on those topics
  3. To Entertain = authors write to entertain with a goal of telling a story.

Malouf is interested in the “untold tale”

In reinterpreting Homer’s Greek classic, the Illiad, Malouf alerts readers to the fact that he is more interested in the “untold tale” found in the margins.  Malouf says of Ransom in his afterword that “its primary interest is in storytelling itself” and the reason that stories are told and often changed.  In this case, the change becomes of paramount importance in Ransom as King Priam dares to re-imagine his role by stepping outside convention and inventing a different path.  In this retelling, or retold story, Malouf foregrounds the central act of ransom and refashions a novel for our times.

This focus on storytelling is evident from the opening line of the novel, when he has his narrator observe that “The sea has many voices” (p.3).  Just as Achilles needs to listen carefully to discern the voice of his mother amongst the many voices of the sea, so the reader needs to attend carefully to the different voices in Ransom.  Malouf gives voice to Achilles and Priam, well known from Homer’s Iliad, but he also gives voice to Somax, the simple carter, his own invention, as he appropriates a section of Homer’s tale for his own purposes.

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Poetry Analysis Step by Step

Why Read Poems?

Some people say they don’t like poetry, it’s boring or they don’t understand it.  I think poetry is more like a song, the more you hear it the more you like it.  The words are very similar to poetry; in fact we can break down the verses of songs and see the meaning as poetry.

Poetry doesn’t have to be boring; it can also be funny like limericks.

Start with a Step by Step Analysis

Have a look at this Poetry Analysis Step by Step Flow Chart in PowerPoint to show you the way to read and understand a poem.  Follow it below as well with a full explanation of the Poetry Analysis Step by Step.

Poetry Analysis flow chart

1. Read a poem 2 or 3 times

Each time you read a poem you notice different things

When you read the poem a second time you pick up on ideas and themes that you may have missed the first time you read it.  Also the poet can have ideas hidden just below the surface of the words and as you read it again, the new ideas can jump out.

2. Paraphrase the poem by stanza next to the original text

Writing it in your own words is a good idea to make sense of the poem, so you know what it means in simple terms

Stanza means the verses of the poem just like a song

How the poet organises the stanzas in a poem is often an important aspect of the poem’s structure.  Nothing in a poem is by accident.  Poets choose their words carefully as well as giving careful thought to the form and layout of the poem.  You should ask yourself why the poet has done this or that because there will be a reason and there is an effect for everything in a poem.

3. Answer the 5 W’s

Who? Who is the poet referring to?

What? What is the poem about?

Why? Why is the poet writing about it?

When? When is the poem set, the time period?

Where? Where is the poem, the place the poet is taking about, the setting?

4. Identify the theme, message or topic

What is the poet trying to say? What is the poet’s message in the poem?

What is the point? Is the poet trying to make a specific point in the poem?

5. Identify and Highlight Examples of Literary Techniques


Definition: Simile is when you compare two nouns (persons, places or things) that are unlike, with “like” or “as.” “The water is like the sun.”  “The water is like the sun” is an example of simile because water and the sun have little in common, and yet they’re being compared to one another. The “is” is also part of what makes this stanza an example of simile. “The rain falls like the sun,rising upon the mountains.”


When something is described in terms of something else, ‘her eyes are the stars in the sky’ is a metaphor as one thing her eyes is being described in terms of another thing the stars. Metaphors are comparisons that show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way. Metaphors are a way to describe something. Authors use them to make their writing more interesting or entertaining. Unlike similes that use the words “as” or “like” to make a comparison, metaphors state that something is something else.


Poets use words to create images in your mind.


This is the repetition of a consonant sound in the words.  For example slippery slithering snake is alliteration.


This is where human qualities or emotions are given to non human things.  The wind howled in agony all day.  He gazed at the angry sea.


The overall mood of the poem, the emotions can be sad, optimistic, solemn.

Point of View

From what point of view is the poet writing.

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Poetry of Robert Frost

Robert Frost

Robert Frost

Frosts poetry is a Metaphor for the ways in which we make sense of our lives

The ways in which people develop their imaginative landscapes, their attitudes and values and how they respond to the world around them are influenced by their sense of place.  In analysing texts the landscape may be seen in literal or metaphorical terms.  Places where we have lived and people we have lived with contribute to our outlook on life and how we respond to particular situations.  For some people these memories stay with them throughout life.  The imaginative landscape derives from the diversity of these experiences over the years.  The physical landscape of a person’s life forms a literal and metaphorical yardstick with which to measure the passage of time and the acquisition of personal characteristics.  The physical becomes intertwined with their imaginative landscape.

Robert Frost’s Imaginative Landscape

Encompasses both the beauty and dark side of the land and of human nature.  While his love of the natural world is evident, inspiring him as a poet and a person, he does not romanticize it, rather he imbues it with strong moral tones, reflecting in his love of rural America.

As well as describing the physical world, Frost is also preoccupied with how the human figures are placed in the landscape and in time.  His characters are aware of where they have come from and their history.  They move in time from the past but also encompass the future.  Frost’s imaginative landscape helps us to construct versions of ourselves by exploring where and who we have come from and who we might become.

‘The Road Not Taken’ Poem by Robert Frost

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The speaker stands in the woods, considering a fork in the road.  Both ways are equally worn and equally overlaid with un-trodden leaves.  The speaker chooses one, telling himself that he will take the other another day.  Yet he knows it is unlikely that he will have the opportunity to do so.  He admits that someday in the future he will recreate the scene with a slight twist, he will claim that he took the less-travelled road.

One of the attractions of this poem is its archetypal dilemma, one that we instantly recognise because each of us encounters it numberable times, both literally and figuratively.  Paths in the woods and forks in the roads are ancient and deep-seated metaphors for life, its crises and decisions.  Identical forks, in particular, symbolise for us the nexus of free will and fate.  We are free to choose, but we do not really know beforehand what we are choosing between.  Our route is, thus, determined by an accretion of choice and chance, and it is impossible to separate the two.

The Fourth Stanza Holds the Key to the Poem with 2 Tricky Words

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference”.

Those who interpret this poem as suggesting non-conformity take the word “difference” to be a positive difference.  There is nothing in the poem that suggests that this difference signals a positive outcome.  The speaker could not offer such information, because he has not lived the “difference” yet.

The other word that leads non-discerning readers astray is the word “sigh”.  By taking “difference” to mean a positive difference, they think that the sigh is one of nostalgic relief.  However, a sigh can also mean regret.  There is the “oh, dear” kind of sigh, but also the “what a relief” kind of sigh.  Which one is it?  We do not know.

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If the the sigh is one of relief, then the difference means the speaker is glad he took the road he did.  If the sigh is one of regret, then the difference would not be good, and the speaker would be sighing in regret.  The speaker of the poem does not even know the nature of that sigh because that sigh and his evaluation of the difference his choice will make are still in the future.  It is a truism that any choice we make is going to make “all the difference” in how our future turns out.

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Basic Debating Rules

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Basic Debating Rules: Starting with an Explanation of What is a Debate?

A debate is basically an argument with strict rules of conduct.  It is not a shouting match between two sides with different points of view.

Topic Sides

There are 2 sides in a debate:

  1. The Affirmative agrees with the topic
  2. The Negative disagrees with the topic

The Team Line

Three speakers work together as a team.  The Team Line is the basic statement of “why the topic is true” (for the affirmative team) and “why the topic is false” (for the negative team).  It should be a short sentence, presented by the first speaker of each team and used by the other two speakers to enforce the idea of teamwork.

The Debate Announcer and Time Keeper

  1. The Debate Announcer introduces the topic and the students on each team
  2. The Debate Announcer mentions that each speaker will be timed, the minimum speech is 3 minutes and the Time Keeper will tap on the desk when the 3 minutes has elapsed so the Speaker knows
  3. Each team will have the same allowance for time


Each side has 3 speakers who speak in order:

First Speaker of the Affirmative Side Must

  • define the topic
  • present the Affirmative team’s line
  • outline briefly what each speaker in their team will talk about
  • present the first half of the Affirmative case

First Speaker of the Negative Side Must

  • accept or reject the definition.  If you don’t do this it is assumed that you accept the definition.
  • present the Negative team’s line
  • outline briefly what each of the Negative speakers will say
  • rebut a few of the main points of the First Affirmative Speaker
  • the First Negative Speaker should spend about one quarter of their time rebutting
  • Present the first half of the Negative team’s case

Second Affirmative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Affirmative team’s line
  • rebut the main points presented by the First Negative Speaker
  • the Second Affirmative Speaker should spend about one third of their time rebutting
  • present the second half of the Affirmative team’s case

Second Negative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Negative team’s line
  • rebut some of the main points of the Affirmative’s case
  • the Second Negative Speaker should spend about one third of their time rebutting
  • present the second half of the Negative team’s case

Third Affirmative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Affirmative team’s line
  • rebut all the remaining points of the Negative team’s case
  • the Third Affirmative Speaker should spend about two thirds to three quarters of their time rebutting
  • present a summary of the Affirmative team’s case
  • round off the debate for the Affirmative team

Third Negative Speaker Must

  • reaffirm the Negative team’s line
  • rebut all the remaining points of the Affirmative team’s case
  • the Third Negative Speaker should spend about two thirds to three quarters of their time rebutting
  • present a summary of the Negative team’s case
  • round off the debate for the Negative team
  • neither Third Speaker may introduce any new parts of their team’s cases

Importance of Rebuttal

In debating, each team will present points in favour of their case.  They will also spend some time criticising the arguments presented by the other teamThis is called Rebuttal.

There are a few things to remember about Rebuttal:

  1. Logic – to say that the other side is wrong is not enough.  You have to show why the other side is wrong.  This is best done by taking a main point of the other side’s argument and showing that is does not make sense.  A lof of the thinking for this needs to be done quickly and this is one of the most challenging aspects of debating.
  2. Pick the important points  – try to rebut the most important points of the other side’s case.  You will find that after a while these are easer to spot.  One obvious spot to find them is when the first speaker of the other team outlines briefly what the rest of the team will say.
  3. Play the ball – do not criticise the individual speakers, criticise what they say.

The Manner of how you present your debate is important

The manner is how you present what you say and the best manner style is definitely not to shout and thump the table but to keep calm and present your points with a clear speaking voice.  Here are a few tips that might come in handy with your debating style:

  1. Use Cue Cards – debating is a lively interaction between two teams not just reading a speech off notes.  Use cue cards like a prompt in a play as a reference if you lose your spot or train of thought.
  2. Use Eye Contact – if you look at the audience you will hold their attention.  If you spend the whole time reading from your cue cards or looking at a spot away from the audience, they will lose concentration very quickly.  Keep the audience in your sight and their minds will follow your logic.
  3. Your Voice – you must project your voice so that you can be heard but definitely do not shout.  Use the volume, pitch and speech of your voice to emphasise important points of your speech.  Sometimes a loud burst will grab the audience’s attention while a period of quiet speaking will draw the audience in and make them listen more carefully to what you are saying.
  4. Your Body – Make your body work for you by using hand gestures with confidence.  Move your head and upper body to maintain eye contact with all members of the audience.  Stand straight up, definitely do not slouch over the desk or let the audience know you might be nervous.
  5. Nervous Habits – avoid them like the plague.  Playing with the cue cards, pulling strands of your hair, fiddling with your watch or bouncing up and down on your feet will all distract from what you are saying.  Don’t let any one thing detract from your ability to persuade the audience.
  6. Using Big Words – try to avoid going overboard with big words and confusing people.  If you don’t understand the big words yourself then the chances no one else will understand what you are saying either.  It would be a huge mistake to debate and get stuck on a word that you are not sure what it means but also one that you can’t pronounce.

The Marking Scheme in a Debate

Every adjudicator marks to a standard.  You will get a mark out of 40 for matter, manner and method with a total mark out of a 100.

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Tips on Oral Presentations for English Years 9-12

 JFK Giving Speech

A few tips on writing your speech:

  • Have a CAPTIVATING introduction sentence; use a short, clear and powerful sentence. You can even ask a rhetorical question of your audience to make them think right at the start.
  • RELATE to your audience so that it keeps them interested so they actually WANT to listen.
  • If you are taking on a persona, firstly study and UNDERSTAND your character. (A persona is how you present your speech, ie. in a friendly voice, a business type strictly formal speech or using lots of colloquial phrases).
  • Don’t forget your persuasive techniques. Use repetition and rhetorical questions, emotive language and inclusive language.
  • Remember that you are writing a SPEECH, not an essay. Instill your oral with emotion, varied tone and sentence lengths.

A few tips on your performance:

Memorise your speech

Always remember that practice makes perfect. Practice as much as possible; in front of anyone and everyone including yourself (use a mirror). Keep practicing until you can recite it.

As for cue cards, use dot points. Don’t just copy and paste whole sentences onto cue cards or else you’ll rely on them too much. Not to mention that it’ll be hard finding out where you are in the middle of your speech. Use “trigger words” so that if you forget your next point, you have something there.

Use your Powerpoint presentation to best advantage. Keep the images relevant to your speech. Have the images not too “busy” so that the audience are looking attentively at the screen and forget to listen to your speech. Make sure the presentation is on mouse click to the next slide or timed so you don’t have to fiddle around with the computer, but remember to keep talking.

But most importantly, if you mess up, keep going. Even if you screw up a word or suddenly forget your next point, just take a breath, correct yourself, and keep going. Do not giggle. If your friends make you laugh, don’t look at them.

Control your voice

Do not be monotone. Give it some energy; be pumped but not “I-just-downed-5-cans-of-Red Bull” pumped. Give it as much energy as it is appropriate for your speech. As you transition through various intense emotions such as anger, happiness and shock, your performance should reflect it. This is achieved in both your tone and your body language (moving around, not jumping around as that will distract from what you are trying to say).

Speak as if you believe in your contention – with passion. If you sound confident, then your audience will think, ‘wow, they sure know what they’re talking about’. Remember, confidence is the key.

Don’t rush through your speech and speak at a million kilometers an hour – or even worse; skipping half of your speech because you just want to get the hell out of there. Also, speak so that the teacher can actually hear you. More likely than not, they’ll be sitting somewhere near the back of the room. Don’t be “too quiet” master the art/power of projecting your voice. It actually does make a huge difference.

Be aware of your actions

Don’t just stand like a statue in one spot. Think about real life – do you know anyone that stands completely and utterly still when talking to you? Make sure you look around the room; you’re addressing everyone, not just one person. Don’t stare at your teacher; it freaks them out. You don’t even have to look at a specific place. Start off looking at the back wall… then as you go through the speech, naturally turn from one back corner of the room to the other. Also, try not to look down because it will make you mumble and be hard to understand or hear. Don’t try to look at your cue cards while they’re right up next to your body. Move it out when you need to have a GLANCE at them then go back to the audience.

Always make sure that you face the audience.

Use some natural hand gestures they don’t hurt either!

Take some long, deep breaths before you go on and tell yourself that you can do it!

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How to Effectively Annotate Texts

 Image result for pictures of writing booksWhy Annotate Your Texts in Studying English?

Annotating texts is a powerful step in getting to know your text and optimizing your essay responses. Keep in mind as a reader and annotator 2 important questions:

  1. “What is the author saying?
  2. How are they constructing their meaning/values in their text?”

Listed below are some helpful tips in learning how to annotate:

A Definition: To annotate means to add notes to a text where you provide extra comments or explanations (usually in the margins of the book).

Break up the text by using post flags to distinguish sections or chapters

Some texts are large and sections or chapters are not easy to recognise but a good way to identify the sections is to use post flags to break up the text. This will make scanning the book much easier later when you are searching for a specific passage for an essay.

Think of your text as a colouring book

One way is to use different coloured highlighters for different themes. Think of it as creating a trail for you to follow throughout the book. If you don’t like using highlighters, another simple way is to use coloured post flags to highlight certain pages where you can underline the themes with explanations at the top of the page.

Circle new vocabulary

Look it up and then write their definitions next to the word. Using higher level metalanguage in your essays is going to help to gain better marks.

Write notes in the margins or at the top of pages

Here you can summarise the chapters at the top of the page and then other significant points of a passage as you read through the text.

What are the best items to annotate?

  • Character descriptions & dialogues significant to the plot/character development
  • Historical, cultural, social and natural contexts relevant to understanding the text
  • Structure of the text, narrative voice/viewpoint, implications for the plot & characters
  • Themes, motifs & symbols that are connected to characters & plot and how these represent ideas or concepts that show the author’s values and meaning
  • Literary devices such as metaphors, similes and foreshadowing that show how the author constructs meaning and structure of the text
  • Plot changes, major events and how they affect characters and meaning of the text

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