Tuesday November 20

Today we’re working on our synthesis papers and reader’s journals for your final meeting.

What should you be focusing on for your next set of reader’s journals?

The Power of Language

Language is powerful because it can affect us in a variety of ways:

Intellectually, by conveying ideas/impressions/suggestions to the reader. Imaginatively, by conveying sensory impressions to the reader, especially visual and auditory effects. Emotionally, by creating feelings within the reader, e.g. excitement, fear, pity, anger, suspense. Aesthetically, by appealing to the reader’s sense of what is beautiful in the language. Physically, this is much more difficult to achieve, but a text that takes the reader on a terrifying roller-coaster of events filled with horror and gore might create such physical manifestations such as goose bumps, or, in extreme cases, even nausea; particular words or phrases may help to generate the moments of high intensity which make this possible.

When analyzing an author’s use of language, you want to avoid writing things that are vague (i.e., “It creates interest.” or “It helps create an image in the reader’s mind.” or “It helps the writing flow.”). Instead, be very specific about the effect that it creates for the reader. Here is an example of a student analysis of language. Notice how the student states her point, illustrates with an example, and then elaborates.

The author begins by making a direct address to the reader (“you”), instantly involving the reader in what is about to be written. The phrase “if you dare” would certainly create suspense by suggesting that this could well be an exciting and thrilling read. The ellipsis after this challenge has the effect of further drawing the reader in. The author has also written the passage in the present tense, thus bringing the reader even closer to the event by creating the illusion of immediacy.

At the beginning of the next paragraph, the phrase “late at night” definitely helps to set the scene and establish an eerie atmosphere because it intimates danger, as does the heavily punctuated reference to being “alone”. The frequent mention of the main character’s preoccupation with his / her book also adds tautness to the writing as the reader has already been strongly encouraged to believe that this character should really be much more vigilant.

The author then further ratchets up the tension, and the reader’s emotional engagement with the writing, by use of the simile “the isolation which completely surrounds you and which clings to you like a second skin”. It encourages the reader to imagine how vulnerable the main character is by the fact that he/she is all alone and far removed from any possible source of help. Furthermore, the reference to “a second skin” may well conjure up in the reader’s imagination a fleeting impression of nakedness, thus further increasing the sense of this character’s vulnerability.

The metaphor “darkness devours” is further satisfying in both an imaginative and intellectual sense because it suggests that the night itself is also a nocturnal predator. Because the darkness is depicted as being so pervasive, it implies that there is danger everywhere and adds even more menace to the writing.

In this final chunk, your focus should be on the author’s use of language. You may wish to review this list of literary devices.  As you focus on language in this activity, consider the following quotation:

One important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. . . . it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.

-Francine Prose