Why watching ‘The Prestige’ is important…

In Section Two: Narrative writing, I have indicated that in order to understanding the idea of chronological sequencing, you do need to watch ‘The Prestige’, most students do not; so this year, I am forcing my hand due to the apparent disregard for the importance thereof and am presenting the following:

Only once you have actually watched the movie will you ever understand ”The fight” and why it is paramount to the poster as above and ‘The Prestige’. Magic is mere illusion, but science…well, watch the movie and figure it out. Do be sure to consider the very smart screen play writer who in a split frame bamboozled 80% of the audience watching this film – due to the very clever sequencing of this film…

There will a question related to this movie and it has to do with chronological sequencing…it does,of course, also has to do with Edison versus Tesla, who i am sure 90% of you are oblivious to…Personally for me its Tesla all the way…you figure out why…

Overcoming writer’s block…

I am going to use Amy’s question to me today on mail as a quick double fold lesson:

First lesson: Please use the blog to post questions: if you are thinking it – chances are others are also thinking it. There are no such things as silly questions (for me) in English ever. I want to know everything.

Amy’s question was as follows, which is in effect  leads to the second lesson:

Hi Bronwyn,

I’m working on the narrative.
I just have a question, as I suddenly have writer’s block 😦
How can I incorporate the quote into my ‘story’?  I can quite easily write with the photo in mind, and try creating a story around that, but the quote throws me a bit!
And advice or suggestions that can maybe help or steer me in a direction?
I’ve decided to write in a WW1 situation! 🙂


 On a Skype lesson today with another Aimee, (who is only following the blog) – we discussed this very statement as per Amy T’s mail. Although I wanted to see whether you (plural – all of you) could actually interpret what is required – I will none-the-less assist:

At AS level, we step up a level – in fact we don’t step – we take a massive leap, if you mistime your footing you plunge to your death. Of course, I mean this metaphorically, but my point is thus: Cambridge expects that you can ‘’see’’ and interpret the clues within a writing question. So, if you look at the quote and the picture, what are the clues?

Let’s determine what we know from the requirement, without a picture or quote:

You know: this is a Narrative Style – this is a Narrative writing piece. Now, what do you remember with regard narrative, very basically? A) Plot b) character c) setting d) narrative viewpoint

So, whereto from here?

Take a closer look at a-d; which points are central to the picture and quote?

a)character/s and b) narrative viewpoint

Ahhh, so I can see character in the pic and Wilde speaks of a man (singular or plural it makes no difference) which  means you MUST under all circumstances make characters central to the story

Now you ask yourself: Do I remember what to incorporate as aspects of characterisation:

1) Physical characteristics (cool, I have a pic for that)

2) Actions and behaviours (I need to think about that and use my imagination as the picture is static) and

3) Thoughts – characters think – they have internal thoughts (which create a tone and tell me more about the characters mind) and perhaps some utterances to or from a second or third character to gain further insight into the characters

So, now I know: this is a character narrative and NOT a setting piece (a setting piece would involve descriptive writing and that is not what is required here – Thus, lesson two – always determine – Character versus Setting narrative – it will make the difference between an A symbol and writing off style which equals: ungraded.

The second aspect that can be considered is narrative perspective or viewpoint – are you are going to write as though you are the main character – first person ‘’I’’ narrative – or third person – ‘’he/she’’ narrative?It makes no difference for the sake of this piece. If it were me, however, I’d probably stick to Wilde’s use of you (plural) and write from third person, to create congruency between quote and picture.

Next consideration: what is the common denominator or similarity between picture and quote?

For me two things: 1) mask – used literally and metaphorically and 2) truth (it can be anything that you perceive as congruent) but these two are quite obvious

I now have:

A character or characters; from a narrative perspective within a story; based on masks and truth.

Truth is an ambiguity – you can create a metaphorical truth of or for a character – or you can create a literal truth. To create a word pattern or word bank for the  characters and the idea of truth within the confines of a mask would help:

The words I associate with truth are:

Exposed, Lie, fallacy, secret, allusive, elusive, pure, victim, innocent etc – if I look at this thought pattern – I could well create a suspense/ thriller piece – well why not? Go for it…and it fits in with the picture…

You see writers block is very easily quelled by a basic process, 1) what style is it –  Narrative 2) Focus: Characters and viewpoint 3) what is similar 4) what is my pattern of events and thus the words that i will use based on that which is similar…

So Amy, WW1 is perfect – let me feel the characters unfold the suspense based on their actions, behaviours, thoughts and physical attributes…

Powerful images of a war Poet….this was trench warfare time…


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest(3) began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots(4)
Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind.
Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .
Dim, through the misty panes(10) and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,(11) choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud(12)
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.(15)

Wilfred Owen
8 October 1917 – March, 1918

Notes on Dulce et Decorum Est

1.  DULCE ET DECORUM EST – the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean “It is sweet and right.” The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.

2.  Flares – rockets which were sent up to burn with a brilliant glare to light up men and other targets in the area between the front lines (See illustration, page 118 of Out in the Dark.)

3.  Distant rest – a camp away from the front line where exhausted soldiers might rest for a few days, or longer

4.  Hoots – the noise made by the shells rushing through the air

5.  Outstripped – outpaced, the soldiers have struggled beyond the reach of these shells which are now falling behind them as they struggle away from the scene of battle

6.  Five-Nines – 5.9 calibre explosive shells

7.  Gas! –  poison gas. From the symptoms it would appear to be chlorine or phosgene gas. The filling of the lungs with fluid had the same effects as when a person drowned

8.  Helmets –  the early name for gas masks

9.  Lime – a white chalky substance which can burn live tissue

10.  Panes – the glass in the eyepieces of the gas masks

11.  Guttering – Owen probably meant flickering out like a candle or gurgling like water draining down a gutter, referring to the sounds in the throat of the choking man, or it might be a sound partly like stuttering and partly like gurgling

12.  Cud – normally the regurgitated grass that cows chew usually green and bubbling. Here a similar looking material was issuing from the soldier’s mouth

13.  High zest – idealistic enthusiasm, keenly believing in the rightness of the idea

14.  ardent – keen

15.  Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – see note 1 above.

These notes are taken from the book, Out in the Dark, Poetry of the First World War, where other war poems that need special explanations are similarly annotated. The ideal book for students getting to grips with the poetry of the First World War.

Punctuation rules – the essence to nuances in meaning

Punctuation is the essence to the creating nuances in meaning. Punctuation creates clarity. Punctuation eradicates ambiguities. Effective punctuation is the secret to good writing (besides a vast vocabulary)

Lynne Truss concludes her marvellous (and amusing) book “Eats, Shoots And Leaves” as follows:

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and allusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable

There is only one reason to use punctuation correctly – but it is a vitally important reason: to make oneself be understood with clarity. In speech, we have a variety of devices for clarifying our meaning: stress, intonation, rhythm, pauses, and hand or body movements. In text, we have only the words and the punctuation and poor punctuation enables the same words to have different or unclear meanings.

There are clear rules for the use of punctuation marks and they are not difficult to learn and to apply. Start here…

How to use the full stop

There are only two uses of the full stop:

  • to mark the end of a sentence expressing a statement (if you are unsure whether the words constitute a sentence, look for a verb which is an essential component of a sentence) Example: This is a sentence with the verb ‘is’.
  • to signify an acronym – [N.A.T.O. for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (although increasingly it is acceptable and even preferable not to use full stops in such cases)]

Note: A common mistake is to use a comma where a full stop should be used, as in the linking of statements or sentences.

How to use the question mark

There are only two uses of the question mark:

  • at the end of a direct question Example: Do you understand this rule?
  • to show that something is uncertain (when it should be inside round brackets or parentheses) Example: He was born in 1886(?) and died in 1942.

Note: A question mark should not be used at the end of an indirect question in which the speaker’s exact words are not repeated.

How to use the exclamation mark

There is only one use of the exclamation mark:

  • after an exclamation of surprise, shock or dismay, which is generally a short sentence or phrase expressing very strong feeling (especially one beginning with ‘What’ or ‘How’) Example: What a wonderful surprise!

Note: Exclamation marks should be used sparingly and usually not at all in formal writing.

How to use the comma

The comma is used very frequently and used incorrectly almost as frequently. There are, in fact, four distinct uses of the comma:

  • A listing comma is used as a kind of substitute for the word ‘and’ or sometimes for the word ‘or’ in a list when three or more words, phrases or even complete sentences are joined by the word ‘and’ or ‘or’. Example: The colours in the Union Jack flag are red, white and blue.
  • A joining comma is only slightly different from a listing comma and is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence, when it must be used by one of the connecting words ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘nor’, ‘but’, ‘while’, ‘so’ and ‘yet’. Example: I could tell you the truth, but I will not.
  • The gapping comma is used to show that one or more words have been left out when the missing words would simply repeat the words already used in the same sentence. Example: Some English writers use punctuation correctly; others, not.
  • The bracketing comma always comes as a pair and is used to mark off a weak interruption of a sentence – that is, an interruption which does not disturb the smooth flow of the sentence and could be removed and still leave the sentence complete and making good sense. Example: This web site, I would suggest, contains much useful information and advice.

Note 1: One bracketing comma will suffice if the weak interruption comes at the beginning or the end of the sentence. Example: Although often wet, Britain has lots of sunshine. as opposed to Britain, although often wet, has lots of sunshine.

Note 2: The main purpose of punctuation is to aid understanding; a subsidiary purpose is to aid flow. Use joining commas and pairing commas where this aids understanding and/or flow. As a general rule the longer the sentence or the more complex the sentence, the greater the need for commas.

Note 3: When in doubt over where to use a comma, try reading the sentence out loud and, generally speaking, commas should be used where you pause for clarification or breath.

Note 4: There is some controversy over use of something called the serial or Oxford comma which is the last comma in this example: The colours in the Union Jack flag are red, white, and blue. Generally the serial comma is not used in Britain where it is regarded as unnecessary, but it is commonly used in the United States where it is thought helpful. My preference is to use a listing comma before ‘and’ or ‘or’ only when it is necessary to make the meaning clear.

How to use the colon

The colon has two uses:

  • to indicate that what follows it is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes it (the rule being that the more general statement is followed by a more specific one) Example: There is one challenge above all others: the alleviation of poverty.
  • to introduce a list Example: There are four nations in the United Kindom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.]

Note: A colon is never preceded by a white space, but it is always followed by a white space and it is never followed by a hyphen or a dash.

How to use the semicolon

The semicolon has two similar major uses:

  • to join two complete sentences into a single written sentence when the two sentences are too closely related to be separately by a full stop and there is no connecting word which would require a comma such as ‘and’ or ‘but’ Example: It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
  • to join two complete sentences into a single written sentence where the second sentence begins with a conjunctive adverb such as ‘however’, ‘nevertheless’, ‘accordingly’, ‘consequently’, or ‘instead’ Example: I wanted to make my speech short; however, there was so much to cover.

Note: In these uses, the semicolon is stronger than a comma but less final than a full stop.

There is a minor use of the semicolon:

  • to separate items in a list when one or more of those items contains a comma Example: The speakers included: Tony Blair, the Prime Minister; Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education & Skills.

How to use the apostrophe

The apostrophe is the most misused punctuation mark in the English language by far, but this should not be the case since there are only two major uses of the apostrophe:

  • to indicate a contraction which is a form of word in which one or more letters are omitted Example: it’s instead of it is or aren’t instead of are not
  • to indicate possession Example: Roger’s web site

Note 1: The first use of the apostrophe should usually be avoided in formal writing.

Note 2: The second use of the apostrophe involves placing the apostrophe at the end of the word when the word is plural and ends in’s’. Example:  workers’ rights.

Note 3: There are three very, very common misuses of the apostrophe.

  • The most frequent misuse is in writing plural forms, especially in signs and notices, but it is totally wrong to write pizza’s or CD’s or even in English English 1990’s (this is the usage in American English).
  • The second misuse, which is almost as common, is it’s instead of its to indicate possession Example: It’s wrong to hit its head.
  • The final misuse involves confusion between ‘who’s’ which is an abbreviation of ‘who is’ [the man who’s coming to visit] and ‘whose’ which shows possession Example: the man whose house is over there.

How to use the hyphen

There are two main uses of the hyphen:

  • in writing compound words that would be ambiguous, hard to read or excessively long Example: no-smoking sign and black-cab driver
  • to indicate that a long word has been broken off at the end of a line (however, this should be avoided if possible)

A minor use of the hyphen is:

  • to avoid what is called letter collision {de-ice or shell-like]

How to use the dash

The dash has only one major use:

  • to use in pairs to separate a strong interruption from the rest of the sentence (a strong interruption, as opposed to a weak interruption, is one which forcefully disrupts the flow of the sentence and, as such, it usually contains a verb rather simply being a phrase) Example: All nations desire economic growth – some even achieve it – but it is easier said than done.

Note: Only one dash is used if the strong interruption comes at the beginning or the end of the sentence. Example: We earnestly desire peace for all nations of the world – and we will work hard for it.

There are several minor uses of the dash:

  • to add emphasis or drama [He said that he would go – and he did.]
  • to indicate a range of numbers [900-1000]
  • to link two connected words [the Sydney-Melbourne train]

How to use quotation marks

There is only one use of quotation marks (or quotes, speech marks, or inverted commas, as they are often called):

  • to enclose a direct quotation [Hamlet’s most famous speech begins: “To be or not to be”.]

Note 1: Strictly speaking, the only punctuation marks that should go inside the quotation marks are those that are part of the quotation itself. Example: He screamed out “Help me!” and so I went to his aid.

Note 2: International practice varies on whether quotation marks should be double or single (I use double) but, when one has a quotation within a quotation, one uses the other type of quotation marks (in my case, single) Example: He told me: “Your use of the phrase ‘in this day and age’ is hackneyed”.

Note 3: There is a version of quotation marks known informally as scare quotes and these are used when the writer wishes to signify that the quoted word or words are odd or inappropriate or the writer wishes to express irony or even sarcasm. Example: Daniel was assured that he would be ‘safe’ in the lion’s den.

Note 4: One final use of quotation marks is when one is talking about a word or phrase when one normally uses single quotation marks. Example: Someone I know overuses the word ‘actually’.

How to use brackets

There is one major use of brackets (or round brackets, as they are often called, or parentheses.

  • to use in pairs to set off a strong or weak interruption, as with a pair of dashes or a pair of bracketed commas Example: I knew she loved me (I was not wrong) which is why I proposed.

Note: Round brackets are normally used instead of dashes or bracketed commas where the interruption is something of an aside from, or a supplement to, the main sentence.

There is a minor use of brackets:

  • to enclose an acronym after the acronym has been spelt out [European Union (EU)]

How to use square brackets

There are two uses of square brackets (which, confusingly, Americans call simply brackets):

  • to set off an interruption within a direct quotation Example: Churchill said of the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few [the Royal Air Force pilots]”.
  • to set off material which is extraneous to the main text, such as the examples of the usage of punctuation in this essay or comments in a draft document which are not intended to be in the final version

How to use the ellipsis

The ellipsis (…), sometimes called the suspension or omission marks, has three uses:

  • to show that some material has been omitted from a direct quotation Example: One of Churchill’s most famous speeches declaimed: “We shall fight them on the beaches … We shall never surrender”.
  • to indicate suspense Example: The winner is …
  • to show that a sentence has been left unfinished because it has simply trailed off Example: Watch this space …

Note: Technically there should be three dots in an ellipsis, but it is acceptable to have two at the beginning of a piece and four at the end.

Ramblings from the underground….

Hi everyone,

I thought I should off load some secrets about English…

We can’t all be good at everything…so, before you all develop writers block and some such, do take cognisance that English, like Maths, has sections that you are brilliant at and some that you feel climbing Everest would be more satisfying.

After erm, many many years of English, I have still not mastered the fine art of storytelling (Yes, to use the technical term – narrative); I love listening to others stories and gathering pieced-together-evidence of their lives, but often struggle piecing it together myself with the same compassion and empathy with which it is related. I have contemplated that I lack empathy, but that is a blog for another time! My point is story telling (narrative) is my weakness in terms of English – it is my writers block! It is one of the writing techniques that I actually have to work at, it does not come naturally. It is not a talent, so to speak, that I am introspectively aware of or attuned with. So I have compensated my skills and with supreme ease direct them almost always at Descriptive writing, which is my strength – my talent, so to speak, there is an ease with which I can develop the quickest story using a minimal amount of words, my ability to relate metaphor is highly developed and I can easily manipulate vocabulary to suit the patterns and images I would like to create. Yes, this is why I love Poetry, this is why I love Oscar Wilde, this why I love Brian Patten and Adrian Henri and DH Lawrence and AS Byatt; and despite that I appreciate Walt Whitman and Dickens, cannot quite comprehend why writers of such talent would document an entire life in a 500 page completed works!

My point with these ramblings is; as with all else in life, you need to find your niche; your strengths in English, I will spot them soon enough on your behalf– but once I do, I want you to feel comfortable and be at ease with such proclivities… It is important that you don’t disregard any form of writing at the moment, you will be surprised that you may have a story teller hidden within you, that you have a Poet snuggled deeply in the recesses of your mind, that you are an observer; the essential tool for any journalist or the fine art of logical debate may be stuck in your temporal lobe hoping you’ll give it a chance to break free. You must try everything and you must try it to the best of your ability, then and only then will we discover if, like me, you have lopsided leaning (in terms of English) to nurture…and with this awakening comes discipline (be prepared for it as I am relentlessly ruthless once I have spotted it!), the practice, the daily frustrations and euphoria, the times when you wish you just had a piece of paper and a pen…just a paper and pen because words and stories and images and metaphors and immediate observation or superb rhetoric are as elusive as the wind, they come in gales on days at unexpected times. The one lesson I have learnt – always always have a pen and paper, your thoughts in the moment never return as they exist in that moment.

Writing Piece…Narrative Writing

Hi all,

As my work programme is starting to date, and i grow tired and weary of reading the same assignment  and work programme topics, i will give you topics from time to time to write on.

Writing is a discipline and tells me much of your strengths and weaknesses  in terms of the creation of meaning; i get much insight into your skill sets, be these punctuation, grammar, semiotics, ability to use metaphor, originality and so forth and so forth…

To start you off, you can skip section one – Language Commentary and start with section two – Narrative writing – please review the entire section: To give you a quick overview:

Narrative writing tells a story and is structured around:

  1. a plot which involves
  2. character/s,
  3. setting/s,
  4. person or viewpoint.

A good narrative should leave the reader feeling like they have “taken something” from the story,  thus try not to make it cumbersome but capture an experience, theme, idea, perception in a unique way.

Remember too that many people before you have possibly written on a similar topic, it is how you structure it, the words that you use, and so forth that make it original and unique.

So with this in mind: if you look at the sub-title of my blog page – you will note the Oscar Wilde quote:

”Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Using the quote and the picture below write a Narrative piece of between 500 and 900 words in reaction to the quote and picture.

Do remember to title your work and do remember furthermore that this is a NARRATIVE PIECE (not imaginative or descriptive), thus i want to be engrossed in the STORY!

PLEASE NOTE: (The above picture is taken from the following site http://io9.com/5876235/on-one-japanese-island-everyone-always-carries-a-gas-mask   – it makes for an interesting read – so for the smart computer geeks – i know and have read the original text that accompanies the picture – don’t be a copy-cat – it WILL annoy me immensely!)

AS Language and Literature

Hi guys,

Welcome to AS Level English Languuage!

  • First things first: I do expect thoughtful, intelligent imaginative, coherent and original work at all times…if you feel your English is not up to par, please take the time to work on it
  • It is absolutely imperative that you set up a blog for YOURSELF. This blog (the URL) will be submitted to me at least once a week, with a piece of writing of your choice – if you have writers block – let me know….if you can’t think of a topic…let me know….if you hate English and the thought of writing….let me know….if you are brilliant at English…let me know also….In fact the more I know the easier my task of preparing you for Cambridge English
  •  In order to assist as you require it, please can you download Skype, add me as a contact: bronwyn7007
  •  Please note that I RARELY tutor in the afternoon as I find it disruptive to my administration of CL Education, so do try always get hold of me in the morning

What I expect:

  • That you write (a lot)
  • That you write with logic and coherency
  • That you use punctuation effectively and with ease
  • That you know your grammar rules when writing
  • That you create meaning in the context of writing
  • That you think with imagination and creatively
  • That your writing is sincere!
  • That your writing is disciplined!

What else do I expect:

  • That you read
  • That you have a dictionary and actually look up the meaning of words
  • That you are passionate about and for something…without a passion (not necessarily English) you will be dull and dreary and inconsistent….
  • (Of course I would love it if you were as enamoured with Poetry as I was – but, as that is not a prerequisite for this course I don’t expect it in the least!)

I do hope you enjoy the course as much as i very passionately love teaching it!