After spending hours writing (or trying to write and tearing your hair out) your draft of your Module C writing piece it’s easy to believe that once you’ve got your draft completed that all the work is now done.
The reality is that if you’re aiming for a Band 6, it’s unlikely you’re going to hit the required level of sophistication on your first draft or potentially even by your 2nd or 3rd!
The key to taking that draft you’ve written and turning it into a Band 6 quality writing piece is to develop the skill of critiquing your own writing – whether you’re writing imaginatively, discursively, persuasively, informatively or reflectively.
Why critique your own writing?
Critiquing your own writing first and foremost is fast. It can take time to your writing marked by a teacher or tutor so critiquing your work enables you to develop feedback fast and identify how to improve your writing.
Additionally, critiquing your own work is a brilliant way to develop your skills.
Think about it – if you can critique your own work, it means you’re developing an understanding of what good and bad writing is and what the HSC markers are looking for. And this means you’re going to be able to write better!
Getting your draft marked by a teacher or tutor is still recommended (although we’d recommend starting with self-critiquing) as they can provide expert feedback from a pair of fresh eyes on how you could enhance your writing.
Critiquing your writing begins with your use of language
Language is incredible.
If you really think about it, everything that we see in cinema, say to our friends and write when we fall in love all comes down to language and how words, when strung together in a particular form, can create meaning.
Read the following little snippet from Gary Provost aloud:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
Pretty damned awesome, right? It’s all through the control of language.
Language control is the difference between good writing and bad writing!
Though your ideas may be worthy of a Nobel Prize for Literature, if your language control is poor, then your brilliance will be wasted.
Take Twilight, for example. We’re not saying it’s a wonderful book (hint: it’s not), but it would have been marginally more bearable if it didn’t include sentences like…
“He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.”
“He was both dazzling and dazzled.”
Why is this an example of bad writing?
In these two quotations, Stephanie Meyer is a little too generous with how many adjectives she includes in the sentences, detracting from focusing upon an idea.
George Orwell of the Animal Farm fame has as his second rule of writing, ‘Never use a long word where a short one will do.’
In fact, when Faulkner criticised Hemingway of his perceived limited vocabulary, Hemingway threw back some major shade to him and said ‘Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?’
Although Twilight will go down in history, it won’t be for literary excellence but as one of the worst books ever written. The text selected as prescribed texts for the HSC are exemplar, and that is why they have been chosen for you to study.
Test #1: Read your story aloud
Just like we had you read the snippet from Gary Provost above out loud, pick up your creative writing piece right now and read it out aloud.
Reading out your work aloud is a easy yet powerful way to identify any parts of your work that need to be enhanced.
As you’re reading your work, ask yourself:
- Does this sound boring?
- Does it build suspense when I want it to?
- Does it build a sense of pace and action when I want it to?
- Does it slow down and mirror the feelings of my characters when I want it to?
- Do I stumble over any words or phrases?
Once you’ve identified the answers (and specific places) to the above questions, you’ve developed a list of parts of your work you can enhance.
Rinse and repeat!
Test #2: Show, don’t tell
It’s a principle that every single teacher will tell you. What exactly does it mean? As writers, we want the reader to experience what is occurring, and we want to do this through senses, actions, thoughts and feelings rather than merely reporting what is occurring.
For example, compare the following two sentences:
1. Nicole was cold.
2. Nicole shivered. Her feet were numb inside her sodden boots.
In one, we know that Nicole was… cold. And that’s it. Although we know Nicole is cold, we don’t know anything else. Was she shivering? Was she wet? What kind of weather was she going through? What was she feeling? What was she thinking?
These are all questions we can ask ourselves based on the second example.
We have allowed the reader to experience what Nicole is going through, without necessarily stating the obvious.
Read your work out aloud again. As you do, circle, highlight or underline any places where you have told the reader something, but haven’t shown them as well.
Use this is as your hit list for the parts of your writing piece you need to go over and enhance.
Rinse and repeat.
Test #3: Keep it short and simple
In keeping George Orwell’s second rule of writing, read over your draft writing piece.
Circle, highlight or underline:
- Any word that you’ve used that is long and could be replaced with a simpler, clearer word
- Any phrase where you have used (like Stephanie Meyer from Twilight) 2 or more adjectives to describe something
Once you’ve done this, go back and replace the long words with simpler alternatives and remove some over generous adjectives.
Rinse and repeat.
Test #4: Less is more
As said, less is more.
Let’s take a look at the snippet below.
“What happened?” Chris asked quietly as he stalked Marcus closely from the locker room with the beads of sweat plummeting from his forehead. He held the soccer ball under his arm tightly enough so that it would not slip away.
“Nothing.” Marcus’ voice was low and hushed as he began to think wildly in his imagination about his conversation with the aesthetically pleasing Michael. The air was cold as he stepped out of the dull, grey, boring locker room into the equally as dull grey and boring world around him. Another bloke was pumping iron to his right whilst five of the eleven treadmills were taken.
If we’re being quite brutal, all that’s happening is that Chris is walking out from the locker room when he asks Marcus what happened. Marcus then replies ‘nothing’. However, there is a lot of unnecessary material around this. Do we really need to know about how Chris is holding the soccer ball, or how many people are on the treadmills? We keep it only if it is relevant. If it’s not, it can go.
Writing is a brutal process. Whilst practicing your creative writing, ask yourself whether your piece could go without that sentence. If it can, get rid of it.
If you took a red pen to the paragraph above, this is what would be left.
“What happened?” Chris ask quietly as he stalked Marcus from the locker room.
“Nothing.” Marcus replied. His mind was still focused upon his earlier conversation with Michael.
Now it’s your turn.
Read your story out aloud. As you do, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this sentence and the information contained within critical for my story?
- Does this sentence provide key information that is necessary to establish setting, narrative or develop my character?
As you go through, take a red pen to your work and cut anything that isn’t critical for your story.
Rinse and repeat!
Looking for extra help with HSC English Module C: The Craft of Writing?
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Elizabeth Goh isn’t a fan of writing about herself in third person, even if she loves writing. Elizabeth decided she didn’t get enough English, History or Legal Studies at Abbotsleigh School for her own HSC in 2010 so she came back to help others survive it with Art of Smart Education.