Structure is a difficult thing to analyse, especially in ten minutes with an unseen extract. Poor Year 11 – this isn’t going to be easy. BUT I am trying to embed it by applying structure to film trailers and their current knowledge so that they can apply it to writing.
Today we looked at Kafka’s Metamorphosis and used FIND SCRIPTS to begin our analysis.
First we refreshed our memory of each method and how they could be effective in writing.
Flashbacks (analepsis) – sense of nostalgia, can be used to slow pace down, can be used to explain thought process behind a character’s actions, could be a recent or old flashback, may be used to express regret/guilt/loss
Flash-forwards (prolepsis) – misses out key information so could be used to confuse reader or create enigma, by not following entire life of character we may not feel as close to them, the jump forward might be used to emphasise the contrast between youth and age, could flash-forward to real or imagined situation.
Introductions and openings – May be slow or fast depending on events, may not reveal everything to create enigma, might introduce character/setting or an important motif to be used later, could contain the main event of the story and be followed by explanation and resolution or might be used to explore the build up to a key event. We discussed the ways in which a writer might choose to organise the structure of their story differently according to the effect they want to create. Do they want immediate shock followed by discovery? Do they want to build up tension and suspense before shock?
Narrative perspective can be more difficult. We spoke about perspective being the way in which people sees things differently and how this affects the way they speak or write about it.I handed out pieces of paper with the same phrase on it: She is a lovely, friendly woman who often helps people.
Students were told that they must read their statement in light of their perspective but the rest of the class didn’t know what the perspective was. The different perspectives were:
She is a criminal mastermind and used her money to support the murder of her enemies.
She is your enemy and has caused you and your family a great deal of trouble.
She is your grandma.
The students managed to change their tone according to the perspective they were given. This led us into discussing how our thoughts on someone or something will change the way that it is presented. If a fight happens then some people have different interpretations on the event according to where they are stood, who they are friends with and even if they were there at all. I mentioned The Great Gatsby (any excuse!) and the way in which the presentation of Gatsby is coloured through the narrator Nick who admires him, rather than if the narrator had been someone like Tom who despises him.
Development of story – Links in to opening and introductions but also has plenty of overlap with other techniques like shifts in focus. Development might be a change in character, new information, recurring images, a physical movement or exploration and so on.
Shifts in focus – This is one area which students really excel at. I think this is because films and trailers really help to exemplify how effective shifts in focus can be. One student mentioned Final Destination and a shot just before a woman falls through a window of the glass pane being carried. This focus change from the glass to her indicates something bad may be about to happen. We also discussed how shifts in focus could reflect distraction of character or narrator, speed, movement, foregrounding of something important or a subtle way of making a comment about the events of the story. (Just a quick note: Do not show Final Destination to your students! It is gruesome and unpleasant! There are plenty of other great examples.)
Conclusions and ending – Lots of overlap here. Resolution/no resolution, how it leads onto the rest of the story (if it’s an ending of an extract), if there are any links back to the start.
Repetition, patterns or motifs – We spoke about when we made our Brighton Pier construction and how some people used crows or the repeated use of the colour red to explore this. This can be used as a warning (such as in most horror films or writing) or a reminder (in A Christmas Carol with Scrooge and the chiming bells) or even as a nostalgic device intended to reflect elements of the characters childhood or past actions.
Inside links and sentence types – Short sentences may reflect dramatic moments, determination, defiance, anger, sadness etc. whereas longer, more fragmented sentences may be used to show the mindset of the central protagonist or the speed at which the story is progressing.
Perspective change – big/small/inward/outward – Again we used A Christmas Carol for this as a student mentioned the perspective change when Scrooge moves from flying over the countryside with the Ghost of Christmas Past to being alone in the small school room with Scrooge as a child. This served to highlight the isolation of the character and his insignificance in the wider world. We applied inward/outward to The Metamorphosis when we looked at the way it moves from describing Gregor and his situation to his own internal monologues and worries.
Time and temporal markers – An easy one for them to grasp. Used to show changes in time and perhaps reflect changes in mindset or stages between certain events. Might emphasise how fast or slow something is happening and therefore how quickly decisions are made or just how slow time has passed whilst a character is considering something.
Sequence of events – Again plenty of overlap here and ties in with development of story. Students thought about how an opening might impact on later parts of the story and how events might follow on or precede one another.
Here is the extract we examined followed by some responses:
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.
“What’s happened to me?” he thought. It wasn’t a dream. His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a travelling salesman – and above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer.
Gregor then turned to look out the window at the dull weather. Drops of rain could be heard hitting the pane, which made him feel quite sad. “How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense”, he thought, but that was something he was unable to do because he was used to sleeping on his right, and in his present state couldn’t get into that position. However hard he threw himself onto his right, he always rolled back to where he was. He must have tried it a hundred times, shut his eyes so that he wouldn’t have to look at the floundering legs, and only stopped when he began to feel a mild, dull pain there that he had never felt before.
“Oh, God”, he thought, “what a strenuous career it is that I’ve chosen! Travelling day in and day out. Doing business like this takes much more effort than doing your own business at home, and on top of that there’s the curse of travelling, worries about making train connections, bad and irregular food, contact with different people all the time so that you can never get to know anyone or become friendly with them. It can all go to Hell!” He felt a slight itch up on his belly; pushed himself slowly up on his back towards the headboard so that he could lift his head better; found where the itch was, and saw that it was covered with lots of little white spots which he didn’t know what to make of; and when he tried to feel the place with one of his legs he drew it quickly back because as soon as he touched it he was overcome by a cold shudder.
He slid back into his former position. “Getting up early all the time”, he thought, “it makes you stupid. You’ve got to get enough sleep. Other travelling salesmen live a life of luxury. For instance, whenever I go back to the guest house during the morning to copy out the contract, these gentlemen are always still sitting there eating their breakfasts. I ought to just try that with my boss; I’d get kicked out on the spot. But who knows, maybe that would be the best thing for me. If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel. He’d fall right off his desk! And it’s a funny sort of business to be sitting up there at your desk, talking down at your subordinates from up there, especially when you have to go right up close because the boss is hard of hearing. Well, there’s still some hope; once I’ve got the money together to pay off my parents’ debt to him – another five or six years I suppose – that’s definitely what I’ll do. That’s when I’ll make the big change. First of all though, I’ve got to get up, my train leaves at five.”
I’ve had to type these out as my scanning didn’t work! These were written in exactly ten minutes in exam conditions. We have a little way to go but I will be using and improving their responses so next lesson they can edit and hopefully hit the top band of the mark scheme. Work to be done on expression and avoiding those typical phrases ‘it paints a picture in the reader’s mind’, ‘it makes the reader want to read on’ or ‘it makes the reader interested’.
In the source as a whole, the writer has structured the text to interest the reader by including inner dialogue to convey the confusion of the central character, Gregor. It is left unclear what has actually happened to Gregor “What’s happened to me?” and so causes the reader to feel just as disorientated. Also, this question asked by Gregor suggests that he is struggling to understand and accept what has happened to him. He doesn’t appear to be panicking and so demonstrates his denial of the situation.
Later on in the source, the writer shifts focus when he describes how the room ‘lay peacefully between its four familiar walls’. This sudden shift presents Gregor as isolated and hopeless as the reader is encouraged to focus on other areas of the room and therefore perhaps consider his predicament as less serious. The shifts in focus delay our understanding as a reader and therefore this creates enigma as the reader wishes to discover what has happened to Gregor and why.
The writer has structured the text to interest us as a reader through the use of perspective change. At the start of the extract only Gregor is described, ‘he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.’ Then it moves on to broaden its view and describes his room, ‘lay peacefully between its four familiar walls’. This suggests that he feels isolated in his room as it emphasises how alone he is. It may also be used to prolong the story and create more suspense for the reader as they don’t know what will happen to Gregor Samsa.
Furthermore the writer uses shifts of focus in the novel to also interest the reader. When describing Gregor’s room the writer adds information in about his job, ‘A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a travelling salesman- and above it…’ This highlights the slow pace of the novel and creates a sense of ambiguity and mystery for the reader. The deliberate break in the sentence makes the reader feel intrigued to know more about his job and therefore read on.
In the extract the writer uses temporal markers at the beginning and end of the text to reflect Gregor’s thought processes to the reader. The extract starts with ‘One morning’ which symbolises Gregor’s thoughts; he has realised it is a morning although he does not know which. The text ends with ‘my train leaves at five’, also a temporal marker except that this one is part of his internal dialogue. This contrast is used to make the reader feel connected to Gregor as most people wake up, realise it’s the morning and think about work. This makes Gregor more relatable and reflects his own thoughts through the temporal markers.
The writer uses perspective changes to create a sense of mystery and ambiguity throughout the text. In the first paragraph , the narrator describes Gregor’s transformation but only what he can see like ‘he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections.’ This creates a sense of enigma as its still unclear exactly what has happened to Gregor and what he is.
If you have any great ways of teaching or improving responses for question 3 then please let me know!