Craft of Writing – a sensual practice response

As an assessment task for Module C: Craft of Writing, Year 12 wrote a creative piece and critique. This occurred over several weeks, with students submitting a minimum of three drafts. When these tasks were returned, we swapped and read each other’s stories to celebrate the wide range of characters and narratives that were inspired by an image of an alley at night.

A practice question from the ETA Standard Paper 2 seemed perfect when preparing for the HSC Trial exams:

Example A (20 marks)

On a winter’s night, our family stood almost mute, barely speaking, on a dark railway platform. The engine hissed and steam rose from the tracks. I could hear nearby the rumble of trains – guttural and ominous – pulling away from their platforms. The hoots of the locomotives mingled with the urgent sound of the loudspeaker directing passengers.

Travellers scurried past carrying heavy suitcases.

It was 1962. I was seven years old. My parents’ marriage had broken down – it took a long time dying – taking my mother’s health with it. My brother was staying with my father. From the carriage window I could see my father’s face, frozen, rage all gone. As the train pulled out from the sidings, the last thing I saw in the gloom was my brother’s wan little face, watching blankly as his mother and sisters disappeared from view.

As the train gathered speed I pressed my forehead to the window feeling its coolness, willing the train onward, bearing us on to a future where I hoped we – what was left of our family, but especially my mother – might survive. I stared out into the darkening countryside, at the blurry indistinct outlines of towns as they flashed by.

Anne Manne, So This is Life (abridged), Melbourne University Press 2009 (pp. 1-2)

a) The senses are a powerful way of capturing a moment and mood. Using the above extract, analyse how the sense are used in writing to convey mood.

10 marks

b) In at least 200 words, develop this story, and write about the moment of parting from the point of view of the brother, using the senses.

10 marks

We identified language features and discussed the emotions conveyed, including the lexical chain – words that link to, and sustain, the opening of ‘winter’s night’ – and the dominant senses of sight, hearing, and touch.

Students then had 20 minutes (based on the general calculation of two minutes per mark) to write their response. Just before the end of the lesson, I asked students to check for

  • structure: both sentence and paragraph
  • dialogue: present or absent? Check format
  • lexical chain: which words continued the mood
  • figurative language, including interesting verbs

For homework, students were asked to develop their imaginative piece and submit the following lesson. Please enjoy these sample extracts.

I felt the presence of my sisters as I crawled into my father’s car; I could smell my mother’s perfume as though it was only sprayed a moment earlier. I felt something prick into my back as I rested on the seat. I shifted to find my mother’s brooch. Had she left it for me to find? I swore to treasure it until I could be in her arms again, hearing her heartbeat beating with mine.

The bronze bee on the brooch had always reflected the most magical prisms of light in the summer sun. Now it just seemed to stare at me.

And this

The bright tenderness of her hands fell through my outstretched limbs as she entered the machine. She fumbled between the shadows, amongst the entry point, her blonde curls the only telling point of her parentage.

A whisper of smoke scudded beyond the icy city.


* *featured image from pixabay

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