Better Words! P1 Q5

Help, tips and assistance for students. This blog is part of a range specifically for students and can be found, along with others, under Student GCSE Blogs.

For AQA you are tested on AO5 Content and Organisation and your ability to…

Communicate clearly, effectively and imaginatively, selecting and adapting tone, style and register for different forms, purposes and audiences. Organise information and ideas, using structural and grammatical features to support coherence and cohesion of texts.

I will try to do this in a clear order, using high-quality examples to help you. How do you create a truly suspenseful description through word choice and order?

Word choice

You are going to enter a creative writing competition.

Your entry will be judged by a panel of people of your own age.  Either:

  • Write a description suggested by this picture: (picture of a dark gloomy room – see below)
  • Or: Write the opening part of a story about an empty room at night.

(24 marks for content and organisation and 16 marks for technical accuracy) [40 marks]

To help I’ll use this image:


Read the following:

The room was filled with paintings, some old and others new. The lighting made the room creepy and made the paintings look scary. They were just portraits of people. He looked at each one of them, the clothes they were wearing. It was odd that some of these portraits were wearing modern clothes. He didn’t know what to think of them when his eyes fell on a particular painting which sent shivers down his spine.

I’d mark that at a high band 2 (around 12/24 if a whole piece was written at this standard) it displays ‘some’ attempt to match audience and purpose for content and organisation. How would you improve the above? Remember you want yours to stand out. Consider your possible choices:

Consider two possible choices:

  1. A stream of moonlight – makes it seem like an endless flow
  2. A shot of light – suggests a sudden light

Number (1) creates the atmosphere I want, it leads perfectly to the verb ‘glide’ – again an effortless sort of floating movement. Once you change your vocabulary choices and have a firm idea of what you are trying to convey, it’s much easier to connect your sentences under one idea: the paintings.

A stream of moonlight glides across the vast room finally resting on the paintings; suspended on the wall for eternity.  Endless smiles locked in a moment years before, but their eyes now stare impassively from their lofty brush strokes. Darkness hides secrets they can no longer tell.  The heavy wooden door slams shut sending dust up into the centre, dancing silently like tiny souls trying to escape.

I’d mark this at a band 4 (approx 20/24 if a whole piece was written at this standard). I’ve used a semantic field connected with time: ‘finally’, ‘eternity’, ‘years’, ‘no longer’ and ‘endless’. There’s also a link to light and truth: ‘moonlight’, ‘darkness’ & ‘hides secrets’ and one of being imprisoned through ‘locked’ and ‘escape’.

Each of your choices has to mean something, and more importantly, has to work ‘in context’. Also, I find a descriptive piece easier than the opening of a story. When students pick the second option they stop writing descriptively and just re-tell a series of events.

Read this extract from The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Consider her choices and how much she dedicates to describing the wind!

During the night the wind rose. As I had lain reading I had become aware of the stronger gusts that blew every so often against the casements. But when I awoke abruptly in the early hours it had increased greatly in force. The house felt like a ship at sea, battered by the gale that came roaring across the open marsh. Windows were rattling everywhere and there was the sound of moaning down all the chimneys of the house and whistling through every nook and cranny.

Let’s look at each of her choices in detail here.

Thanks for reading.

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