HSC English Standard – The Craft of Writing Study Guide

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HSC English Standard – The Craft of Writing Study Guide

Introduction

Module C, or The Craft of Writing, refers to the unit of study that has been prescribed by NESA to the English Standard and Advanced courses. Broadly speaking, the role of the student is to develop and refine their writing skills, whether that be creative, discursive, persuasive or otherwise. This is achieved by studying a wide array of texts and appreciating what makes the text culturally significant, unique and relevant. Every student should ensure that they are aware of the specific elements that should be included in their response that the rubric covers.

In this study guide, we will deconstruct the key aspects of the The Craft of Writing rubric and how they should be engaged with in a response. Then, we will look at what to expect when sitting Paper 2, as well as a general guide to writing responses for this module.

Prescribed texts

Your school will assign you TWO of the following prescribed texts to study. These short texts have been selected by NESA because they, in more ways than one, exemplify the complex ways in which language can be manipulated to tell an engaging story or explore interesting ideas. By studying and implementing these techniques, students can therefore gain a better understanding of how to improve their own writing.

In consideration of this, it may be helpful to ask yourself exactly why and how your prescribed texts relate to this module.

Prose fiction

  • The Pedestrian (1951) by Ray Bradbury
  • Report on the Shadow Industry (1974) by Peter Carey
  • Home (2011) by Catherine Cole
  • Crouch End (1980) by Stephen King
  • Dreamers (2017) by Melissa Lucashenko

Nonfiction

  • Dear Mrs Dunkley (2006) by Helen Gamer
  • The Sporting Spirit (1945) by George Orwell
  • A Comparison (1962) by Sylvia Plath
  • What He Said There (2017) by Sarah Vowell

Speeches

  • First speech to the House of Representatives as Member for Barton (2016) by Linda Burney
  • How to Live Before You Die (2005) by Steve Jobs
  • Funeral Service of The Unknown Australian Soldier (1993) by Paul Keating
  • The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination (2008) by J.K. Rowling

Poetry

  • Popcorn (2013) by Carol Chan
  • Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923) by Robert Frost
  • An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow (1969) by Les Murray
  • The Surfer (2016) by Judith Wright

Performance poetry

  • May your pen grace the page (2011) by Luka Lesson

Initial considerations

No matter which text you are assigned as your prescribed text, it must be analysed in terms of the The Craft of Writing rubric. Some initial considerations you should deliberate before writing a response in order to consolidate your understanding of the texts and the module include:

  • Your personal writing style and how it can be expanded
  • The composer’s purpose in creating the text – is it to provide commentary on social and political issues, spark a certain emotion in responders, challenge cultural beliefs and stereotypes, create art for art’s sake or a culmination of all of the above?
  • The literary significance of the texts (awards, accolades, critical and commercial reception) – what do the broader responses to text mean? Why does society regard the text as being important or notable? What makes a text ‘enduring’ and ‘quality?’
  • How form, structure, genre and style deeply influence the ways in which messages, themes and ideas are depicted by the composer and interpreted by the responder
  • The ways in which the composer has presented something new and therefore pushed boundaries of what art can be

Deconstructing the rubric

As with any module, we must first look to the The Craft of Writing rubric to understand what it really is that we are asked to do. In fact, every potential HSC examination question can come only from this rubric—though at times it could be less obvious and masked by synonymous language—so it is imperative that we study the links between your text and the major points in the The Craft of Writing rubric. The rubric is as follows:

‘In this module, students strengthen and extend their knowledge, skills and confidence as writers. They write for a range of authentic audiences and purposes to convey ideas with power and increasing precision.

Students appreciate, examine and analyse at least two challenging short prescribed texts as well as texts from their own wide reading, as models and stimulus for the development of their own ideas and written expression. They examine how writers of complex texts use language creatively and imaginatively for a range of purposes, to describe the world around them, evoke emotion, shape a perspective or to share a vision.

Through the study of texts drawn from enduring, quality texts of the past as well as from recognised contemporary works, students appreciate, analyse and assess the importance and power of language. Through a considered appraisal of, and imaginative engagement with these texts, students reflect on the complex and recursive process of writing to further develop their ability to apply their knowledge of textual forms and features in their own sustained and cohesive compositions.

During the pre-writing stage, students generate and explore ideas through discussion and speculations. Throughout the stages of drafting and revising, students experiment with a range of language forms and features for example imagery, rhetoric, voice, characterisation, point of view, dialogue and tone. Students consider purpose and audience to carefully shape meaning. During the editing stages students apply the conventions of syntax, spelling, punctuation and grammar appropriately and effectively for publication.

Students have opportunities to work independently and collaboratively to reflect, refine and strengthen their own skills in producing crafted, imaginative, discursive, persuasive and informative texts.

Note: Students may revisit prescribed texts from other modules to enhance their experiences of quality writing.’

Let’s look at some example questions you could receive in the HSC examination and what aspect of the rubric it most closely reflects (remember, some questions can be a combination of different elements of the rubric!). Then, we will deconstruct what the statement actually means and, most importantly, how you can apply it to your response.

Extending your knowledge, skills and confidence in writing

  • Potential question: Compose a persuasive, discursive or creative response that is influenced by ONE of your prescribed texts. Then, write a reflection that justifies your creative decisions and explains what you have learnt as a writer from studying your text.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘In this module, students strengthen and extend their knowledge, skills and confidence as writers. They write for a range of authentic audiences and purposes to convey ideas with power and increasing precision.’

No good writer is born a good writer. Some may have more natural talent than others, but it is ultimately our ability to learn from others and apply those skills to our own work that we become better at what we do. Whether that be analysing the empowering rhetoric of Steve Jobs’ TED Talk or understanding what makes Robert Frost’s poem so captivating despite its simplicity, taking inspiration from established composers and their unique writing styles can hugely improve our own work. This is the main goal of this module – to teach students how to be better writers.

Another aspect to this rubric statement is not only how we can become better writers, but how we develop confidence knowing that what we are writing is good. This confidence allows us to be able to share our work with others, receive constructive criticism and use these criticisms to further improve ourselves. This may be difficult for many and is certainly not a straightforward process. However, by becoming open to new ideas without feeling personally criticised, we learn to work through our weaknesses and, eventually, become more confident in our writing.

Lastly, this rubric statement focuses on the students’ ability to convey ideas with ‘power’ and ‘precision’. Markers expect you to be able to carefully control what you write and ensure that you don’t go off on unnecessary tangents. This is extremely important, as you want to express as many complex thoughts as you can within the given time limit. In other words, every word you write must count. They each have to add something new to your essay, discursive piece or creative story. By drawing inspiration from how other

The purposes of complex texts

  • Potential question: Based on ONE stylistic feature of your prescribed texts, compose an imaginative response that aims to evoke a strong emotion from the reader by sharing a unique perspective.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘They examine how writers of complex texts use language creatively and imaginatively for a range of purposes, to describe the world around them, evoke emotion, shape a perspective or to share a vision.’

Firstly, let’s deconstruct what the term, ‘complex’, means. After all, isn’t art subjective? What is considered ‘complex’ or a ‘good’ text differs from person to person. While this statement certainly has some merit to it, there are some texts that are undeniably well-composed and engaging, even if it doesn’t suit everyone’s personal style. One of the reasons for this is the fact that these texts aim to achieve – and do so successfully – various purposes. The rubric gives the examples of describing the world around us, evoking certain emotions, shaping perspectives and sharing a vision. However, there are a large variety of purposes that each text can have. For example:

  • Creating art for art’s sake – experimenting with form, language and ideas
  • Amusing and entertaining audiences
  • Channelling the composer’s pain into something creative
  • Communicating new ideas and possibilities to others
  • Continuing a cultural ritual
    • For example, telling Dreamtime stories and passing them through generations is an important part of Indigenous Australian culture
  • Educating others on a particular subject

While there are certainly more reasons that art is made, this list gives you an idea as to why most people feel compelled to create texts of their own. Your text will likely aim to achieve a combination of these purposes. Your job is to analyse exactly how the composers do this. That is, exactly which techniques and language features do they use to convey new perspectives, or evoke anger in readers? How do they manipulate genre to experiment with new ideas or retell a classic story in a new way? Once you have a good understanding of the methods of the composer, you then have to be able to take inspiration from these methods and try to apply them to your own writing.

The enduring power and importance of language

  • Potential question: Compose a discursive piece that discusses the power of language in creating enduring stories that are relevant to both the past and the present. In your response, refer to at least ONE of your prescribed texts.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘Through the study of texts drawn from enduring, quality texts of the past as well as from recognised contemporary works, students appreciate, analyse and assess the importance and power of language.’

As mentioned previously, the various elements of a text – its purposes, style, form, themes and contribution to society – make it memorable and culturally significant. As a result, we can argue that these texts have an enduring power. That is, despite the fact that some of the prescribed texts were written over half a century ago, they still hold relevance to us as a contemporary audience. Perhaps, some of the themes mentioned are universal and therefore can apply to every person, no matter their race, gender, religion, era or nationality. It could also be that the composer was a pioneer in how they experimented with form, inspiring others to do the same. It may be a combination of these things. Regardless, your job is to question (and answer) exactly why this the text has enduring relevance to not only us, but different audiences from different ages and societies.

Then, we must make this link between the enduring power of a text and the power of language. In other words, by examining exactly how a text has such a profound cultural impact, we begin to realise what books and movies and poems and speeches can actually do. They are the way in which we communicate with others, whether that be to raise awareness about a particular issue or inspire confidence in the community. In your responses, you must clearly explain to the marker exactly what the impact of the text is, and how this shows that language can influence an entire society in some way or another.

Textual form and language features

  • Potential question: Discuss the significance of textual forms and features in ONE of your prescribed texts. In your response, explore how studying this text has developed your ability to create sustained, cohesive compositions.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘Through a considered appraisal of, and imaginative engagement with these texts, students reflect on the complex and recursive process of writing to further develop their ability to apply their knowledge of textual forms and features in their own sustained and cohesive compositions.’

As mentioned before, the form of a text – that is, features of the text that relate to its structure, style, genre or techniques – is an extremely important feature that should not be dismissed. After all, a really interesting, clever story idea would not matter if the author does not know how to tell the story in an engaging way. Discussing form in an answer is certainly ideal, but not essential unless the question specifically asks for it. Even still, it should always be considered whilst undertaking a study of the texts and explored whenever possible. The following are examples, but certainly not a complete or even extensive list, of common features or tropes that can be found in familiar text types:

Prose

  • Nature of language used
    • Is it sparse, eloquent and flowery, colloquial or meant to reflect a certain dialect/accent? Why would the author choose to write the voice way?
  • Linear/non-linear structure
    • Flashbacks

 

Poetry

  • Symbolism
  • Structuring of the stanzas
  • Persona
  • Musicality
    • Remember that poetry is meant to be heard, and not simply read. There is careful section made by poets as to the actual sounds of the words or phrasing they adopt as to aurally accentuate certain features
    • Especially important for performance poetry

 

Persuasive texts

  • Rhetorical questioning
    • Similar to theatre, live speeches are often given in the immediate presence of an audience, meaning good speeches must be able to directly engage with the responder
  • Anecdotes
  • Assertive tone

 

Genre

  • Romance
  • Tragedy
  • Black humour
  • Absurdism
  • Dystopian fiction
  • Historical monograph

Contextual movements

  • Modernism
  • Feminist
  • Regency era

It is not enough to simply state these aspects of the text’s form. Depending on the texts you are studying, analyse its genre and context and understand how every sequence of the work is a deliberate choice made to contribute to these features (or, perhaps, challenge or pioneer them). Think of the form, structural features and nature of language as deliberate choices made in order to most effectively tell the story they needed to tell in the text – they aid composers in exploring universal themes as a medium through which they can communicate with the responder.

The pre-writing stage

  • Potential question: Rewrite one of the key scenes from ONE of your prescribed texts from the perspective of a different character. Then, write a reflection that details your drafting, experimenting and editing processes.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘During the pre-writing stage, students generate and explore ideas through discussion and speculations. Throughout the stages of drafting and revising, students experiment with a range of language forms and features …’

One thing that you will learn from this module is the fact that writing is a process. Words do not simply flow from a person’s brain to their pen without any effort. In fact, the most celebrated authors and composers you know definitely had to go through an extremely drawn-out cycle of drafting, editing, receiving feedback from others until they feel satisfied with their work. This module aims to teach you to embrace the pre-writing stage, which includes discussing your ideas with other peers and teachers, writing out a first draft (which will most likely be imperfect) and accepting and incorporating others’ criticisms into a second, reworked draft. Every time you go through this cycle of writing, you will become a better writer as you identify your weak areas and correct them.

Another aspect to this rubric statement is the idea that students should ‘experiment with a range of language forms and features.’ While we each have our own, unique writing styles, one of the best ways that we can improve is to take inspiration from others – in this case, the prescribed texts. This may be as simple as trying out a new technique that you may never have used, such as personification, rhetorical questioning or black humour. It can be a bigger change, such as altering your story’s structure such that you can incorporate the use of flashback scenes. Regardless, you should be treating Module C as a way for you to experiment with new ideas and new ways of writing that you have encountered in your prescribed texts.

Writing a The Craft of Writing response

What to expect from Paper 2

Now that you have familiarised yourself with precisely what NESA is asking of you in this module, you should begin to understand what you should expect from Paper 2. The following is a summary of key points you should know long before going in to the exam:

  • Paper 2 consists of three sections
    • Section I – Module A response
    • Section II – Module B response
    • Section III – Module C response
  • It will be 2 hours of writing time, with an additional 5 minutes reading time (you will not be able to mark your page in any way during this time)
    • This means you should be devoting approximately 40 minutes to each section. While you don’t have to evenly divide time between the three modules, we recommend that you stick to this guideline as much as possible
  • All parts are out of 20 marks each
  • You must only write in blue or black pen

Being a guide to Module C, this study guide will focus on Section III. This section is not as straightforward as the other modules in that you may be given a variety of questions and question types. You may be expected to write in a variety of forms, such as a full essay with an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion, a discursive text, a creative response or any other type of persuasive form. Regardless, all questions will draw from any aspect of the The Craft of Writing rubric (including specifying form!), though it may sometimes include quotes and extracts or rewrite statements from the rubric in a different way. You must come prepared having studied your prescribed texts in great depth. After all, Module C essentially evaluates your ability to link your study of these texts to the development of your writing skills.

Constructing an essay

In any English essay, the following structure should generally be followed.

  • Introduction: 6 sentences maximum, approximately 150 words
    • General statement about the module (e.g. ‘Literature has the ability to make its mark on the world in more ways than one.’)
    • Thesis statement that defines key terms of the question and makes a judgement on the question asked
    • Introduction of texts
      • Title, composer, date of publication and form
    • Conclude using an evaluative adverb to demonstrate how you will develop a thoughtful response
  • 3 – 4 body paragraphs: 200 – 300 words
    • Topic sentence: explicitly reference language from the question, restate your thesis in terms of your theme
    • Context/elaborate sentence(s): emphasise more specifically what you mean by the topic sentence, especially in terms of what happens in the text. Two sentences maximum
    • Analysis: using evidence to support your topic and elaboration sentences—there must be a direct link or progression of logic made between the analysis and the argument. Deconstruct at least two quotes, but ensure that you are focused on quality over quantity
    • Concluding sentence: use an evaluative adverb such as purposefully, cleverly, insightfully (e.g. Significantly, this text projects the necessity of … ) in order to assess the question and your argument as a whole
  • Conclusion
    • Re-address main ideas/topic sentences of body paragraphs
    • Make an overall judgement about the texts in terms of the question
    • Optional: finish with an insightful afterthought about the role of texts in our cultural experience

Of course, this is only a general guide to writing a sound essay. As frustrating as it can be to hear, there is simply no single scaffold you can follow to impress a marker, as each module will have different requirements, every student’s writing style will differ, and markers will have different tastes.

The most important advice to keep in mind when writing an essay is to have a strong thesis. Learn to define the question in your own terms—this is what your thesis is, not simply a restatement of the question. By defining the key phrases in the introduction, you can manipulate any given question so that it fits your plan/ideas about the text. If you state this thesis at throughout your body paragraphs (not simply the topic and concluding sentences), your essay will have a strong argument and persuade the marker that you are confident in your case. It is similarly important to ensure that your arguments always come back to The Craft of Writing. That is, you should be able to clearly explain how your quotes or ideas are relevant to the themes in your prescribed text.

Discursive texts

Creative response

Creative writing is a skill that is difficult to learn, mostly because of the fact that good stories do not take one form. For example, a saga set in space that deals with questions of morality and justice is not inherently better than a simple story that takes course over an average businessman’s lunch break. Instead, good writing is judged on the overall effectiveness and cohesiveness of a story rather than its specific parts. That is to say, there is no ‘formula’ or scaffold in which you can follow in writing a story as there might be when writing an essay. Each writer will inevitably have different writing styles, quirks and nuances – it is up to you to capitalise on and focus on your strengths, whilst still working on improving your weaknesses, to create an effective piece of writing.

Regardless of the fact that all short stories are extremely different in their plot, style and themes, there are some features that will assist you in writing a more effective story. Firstly, one of the most important characteristics of any good story is having a convincing purpose. That is, though you may not think essay writing and creative writing are the same in any way, both forms actually have a thesis/argument that you are attempting to prove that you are trying to prove to the reader. A short story is, in essence, an essay in action. Your very first step in writing a story is choosing a purpose – in other words, the moral of your story.

Secondly, every engaging story must have a sense of development in either the world or the characters. Without this change, there is no story to be told. A character or a society must have had their values or perspectives on the world challenged, an obstacle to overcome or an event that confronts their fears, beliefs, etc. Your character/world should never be the same from start to finish.

Above all, make sure that you are following the stimulus given instead of simply rewriting a memorised story. Think of what the stimulus inspires in you, as well as how it might be relevant to your prescribed text.

Personal reflections

Alongside writing a persuasive, discursive or creative piece, it is very possible that you will be asked to additionally write a personal reflection. That is, you will be required to justify your creative decisions and explain how these decisions were influenced by your prescribed texts. When writing in this form, you must remember that it is not the same thing as an essay – the structure, tone and purpose of personal reflections are completely different.

Firstly, there is no strict introduction-body-conclusion structure that you should follow. You may choose to simply write your response in normal paragraphs. Your paragraphs can be grouped thematically like you would in an essay. You still need quotes, examples and analyses from both your original text and your prescribed text, but you do not have to follow PEEL or any other paragraph structure. Above all, write what feels natural to you.

The tone of the personal reflection should be, obviously, quite personal. You may use first-person pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘my,’ which you should avoid when writing formal essays. The way in which you discuss the text and your work should also be more intimate. Instead of describing what the text is about, you should focus more on how it made you personally think and feel. This style of response can also invite colloquial language! Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

These two aspects tie into the purpose of personal responses. Unlike formal essays, which attempt to present the ‘facts’ about a text in a cold, hard way, reflections should only be used to present how you feel about the prescribed text. You are not just persuading the audience of something (although your response should still serve this purpose!), you are putting forward your own thoughts and perspectives. Hence, your response should reflect this purpose.

Conclusion

The The Craft of Writing module can certainly seem extremely overwhelming at times. There are many aspects of the rubric to familiarise yourself with. It is therefore important to maintain a focused attitude and show to markers your personal ideas and beliefs about the text.

Final tips

  • Avoid writing memorised responses. It is incredibly easy to recognise when a student has done so, and markers are ultimately judging you based on how well you are able to think critically and not simply regurgitate an essay or a creative response. This is especially important to Module C, which many regard as the most unpredictable unit of study – you never know what they may ask of you, so it is best to familiarise yourself with all the text types
  • Write lots and lots of practise responses. You may (and should) begin setting no timer so that you can clearly express your thoughts without timed pressure, but gradually move on to putting yourself under exam conditions so that the actual assessment will feel familiar to you. This, as well as actually writing responses out on paper and not simply on a computer, is going to make a huge difference
  • Themes and rubric statements can and do mix. This is because texts are not produced against such distinct lines or categories. They are only here to provide basic structure to your responses so that you and the marker can better understand the point you are trying to make
  • It is ideal to discuss form in an essay or personal reflection even if the question does not ask for it. Of course, in that case, it would not have to be your primary concern, but even a sentence or two about the structural features or language used in the texts could show the marker that you really understand the relationship between theme and form
  • When writing a creative response, try to limit your story to 2 – 4 characters, with the main plot not exceeding 24 hours. This way, your story is more manageable and therefore more detailed
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