Structure (Gothic)

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.

This is a typical question for P1 Q3 Structure:


And these are the skill descriptors you need to meet:


You must comment on effective structural features an author has made.

Remember you will analyse a larger extract, with several structural features. The ones I’ve used below are a single paragraph. At the end I’ve listed structural features to look out for.

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

Baffled I stood and waited, straining to listen through the mist. What I heard next chilled and horrified me, even though I could neither understand nor account for it. The noise of the pony and trap grew fainter and then stopped abruptly and away on the marsh was a curious draining, sucking, churning sound, which went on, together with the shrill neighing and whinnying of a horse in panic, and then I heard another cry, a shout, a terrified sobbing – it was hard to decipher – but with horror I realised that it came from a child. I stood absolutely helpless in the mist that clouded me and everything from my sight, almost weeping in an agony of fear and frustration, and I knew that I was hearing, beyond any doubt, the appalling last noises of a pony and trap, carrying a child in it, as well as whatever adult – presumably Keckwick – was driving and was even now struggling desperately. It had somehow lost the causeway path and fallen into the marshes and was being dragged under by the quicksand and the pull of the incoming tide.

Structural techniques/features:

  • focus begins on the character listening in the darkness
  • clause order of first two sentences – consider Hill’s initial emphasis, question why?
  • then the third very complex sentence full of compounds, clauses and punctuation talking in 1st person. Could represent the character’s disorientation.
  • semantic field/pattern of language associated with hysteria and confusion
  • then the final sentence full of terrifying emotive language

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet, and I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, but forgotten.  ‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand!  The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in–let me in!’  ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself.  ‘Catherine Linton,’it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of _Linton_?

Structural techniques/features:

  • extract focuses on the character’s thoughts and what they appear to be seeing
  • a series of complex sentences with several breaks (semi-colons) could represent how the character feels in the nightmare
  • the dialogue in the middle of the text, disorientates the reader
  • Use of exclamation marks to convey emotion character feels


Catherine’s heart beat quick, but her courage did not fail her. With a cheek flushed by hope, and an eye straining with curiosity, her fingers grasped the handle of a drawer and drew it forth. It was entirely empty. With less alarm and greater eagerness she seized a second, a third, a fourth; each was equally empty. Not one was left unsearched, and in not one was anything found. Well read in the art of concealing a treasure, the possibility of false linings to the drawers did not escape her, and she felt round each with anxious acuteness in vain. The place in the middle alone remained now unexplored; and though she had “never from the first had the smallest idea of finding anything in any part of the cabinet, and was not in the least disappointed at her ill success thus far, it would be foolish not to examine it thoroughly while she was about it.”

Structural techniques/features:

  • language such as quick, greater eagerness, heightens the pace of the extract for the reader
  • nearly all sentences are complex with main part of clause first, building the tension in the scene
  • Focus is all on Catherine and her search in the room
  • all in 3rd person as if we’re watching her.

The Castle Of Otranto –  H Walpole

The lower part of the castle was hollowed into several intricate cloisters, and it was not easy for one under so much anxiety to find the door that opened into the cavern.  An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except now and then some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed, and which, grating on the rusty hinges, were re-echoed through that long labyrinth of darkness.  Every murmur struck her with new terror; yet more she dreaded to hear the wrathful voice of Manfred urging his domestics to pursue her.

Structural techniques/features:

  • the focus is on the underneath of the Castle (the setting)
  • language such as anxiety will make the journey tense for reader
  • language such as cavern, lower part, Castle, will create a dark, enclosed setting building the fear felt
  • first is a very long, complex sentence full of punctuation, followed by a second complex sentence. both are descriptive and highlight a frightening journey

The Monk – M. G. Lewis

I hesitated not to obey her: but unwilling to leave the Baroness a victim to the vengeance of the Robbers, I raised her in my arms still sleeping, and hastened after Marguerite.  The Horses of the Banditti were fastened near the door:  My Conductress sprang upon one of them. I followed her example, placed the Baroness before me, and spurred on my Horse.  Our only hope was to reach Strasbourg, which was much nearer than the perfidious Claude had assured me.  Marguerite was well acquainted with the road, and galloped on before me.  We were obliged to pass by the Barn, where the Robbers were slaughtering our Domestics. The door was open:  We distinguished the shrieks of the dying and imprecations of the Murderers!  What I felt at that moment language is unable to describe!

Structural techniques/features:

  • focuses on an escape, switches from character to the robbers to add excitement and tension to the scene
  • written in 1st person POV
  • last two sentences end with an exclamation mark
  • verbs such as hastened, sprang and spurred, add to the pace of the scene for the reader
  • emotive language such as slaughtering, dying and murderers will add fear at the end of the scene


The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Dorian Gray glanced at the picture, and suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him, as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas, whispered into his ear by those grinning lips.  The mad passions of a hunted animal stirred within him, and he loathed the man who was seated at the table, more than in his whole life he had ever loathed anything.  He glanced wildly around.  Something glimmered on the top of the painted chest that faced him.  His eye fell on it.  He knew what it was.  It was a knife that he had brought up, some days before, to cut a piece of cord, and had forgotten to take away with him.  He moved slowly towards it, passing Hallward as he did so.  As soon as he got behind him, he seized it and turned round.  Hallward stirred in his chair as if he was going to rise.  He rushed at him and dug the knife into the great vein that is behind the ear, crushing the man’s head down on the table and stabbing again and again.

Structural techniques/features:

  • The focus is on Dorian Gray
  • language such as adverb ‘suddenly’ are shocking because it was unexpected.
  • In the middle, Wilde uses simple sentences to build the tension and callousness Gray murders his friend
  • Then switches to longer more descriptive sentences similar to Gray’s movements ‘slowly towards’
  • then the final sentence focuses on the murder and the frenzied attack


This question assesses how the writer has structured a text.  Look for

  1. a new paragraph – a shift in perspective, character, setting.
  2. look at the beginning/end of the extract.
  3. look for a topic change.
  4. look for exclamation marks they indicate excitement/anger or sense of urgency.
  5. look for short sentences, suggest faster pace, the building of tension.
  6. look for verbs that mirror actions eg run may suggest pace picks up!
  7. look for comparisons (simile/metaphor) that add to the pace of action.
  8. look for complex sentences that mirror the characters/setting mood/action.
  9. look for clause order, which is at the start, main or subordinate clause.
  10. look for patterns in words that suggest ongoing action.
  11. look for adjectives/adverbs that add to meaning in an extract eg a train moved angrily.
  12. look for descriptive writing/dialogue in an extract.
  13. what is a reader drawn to see/think or feel?
  14. are certain elements foregrounded? If so why?
  15. look for conjunctions connecting events.


Thank you for reading.

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