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Ultimate Guide to Literary Techniques in HSC English

This article will guide you through the use and analysis of literary techniques!

English Team Katriel Tan and Marko Beocanin

HSC English is a compulsory subject in NSW, which means that you will definitely have some queries surrounding it! This article will guide you through the use and analysis of literary techniques, which is a crucial skill to master so as to elevate the quality of your writing.

We will split it into two sections: how to enrich your essays with analysis of literary techniques, and how to actually employ such techniques in your own writing (which is required in HSC Module C).

What are Literary Techniques and why are They Useful?

Literary techniques are devices used by writers to convey a message that goes beyond simply just the words themselves. By analysing these techniques, we can understand in greater depth what the author is trying to tell us.

As students analysing the works of others, understanding literary techniques and what the different devices achieve adds great depth to your argument. You can use these literary techniques as evidence in your responses - they act as proof for what you believe the meaning of a given text is. Beyond this, as composers yourselves in Module C, using literary devices strengthens the meaning of your piece, and demonstrates to your marker that you have a complex understanding of English.

Some literary techniques are present in your writing whether you are aware of it or not - for example, the structure or tone of a piece can always be analysed. Other devices are more deliberate (such as metaphors or similes), and so you need to consciously write these into your pieces.

How to Analyse Literary Techniques in a Response

In all of your responses for Common Module (including short answers), Module A and Module B, you need to analyse literary techniques from your provided texts. In order to do so effectively, you should follow the QTE approach - quote, technique and effect.

Before analysing your quote, you should situate, or contextualise, where in the text your quote is from. This adds extra depth to your response, and proves to your marker that you have a well rounded understanding of your text as a whole. For example, something as simple as: “Vivian escapes from reality in the hospital for a moment, conjuring a screen to teach Donne’s poem If Poysonous Mineralls to the audience” (example from Donne x W;t, Module A).

After providing your quote (Q), you then need to identify the technique (T) present in the quote. You should set this out clearly in your response, so it is evident which part of the quote you are drawing your marker’s attention to. For example: ‘Hughes establishes Plath’s transformation into a volatile femme-fatale in ‘high velocity bullet […] gold jacketed, solid-silver, nickel tipped.’ The bullet metaphors in these lines…’

Finally, and most importantly, you must explain what the actual effect (E) of your technique is - it is not enough to identify that there is a device present, as it doesn’t contribute to your argument. Different techniques have different effects on the audience - for example, alliteration influences the audience in a manner distinct from a pathetic fallacy. Much in the same way, the same technique in various forms has different effects as well; a metaphor about the sun conveys a different meaning than a metaphor referring to the moon. Look through the examples below to see how to employ Quote → Technique → Effect in your answers.

Analysis examples

MODULE A: Keats x Campion

Scene: Fanny lies on her bed whilst sunlight and a breeze drift through the window and curtains. (00:51:18)

Technique: Symbolism, mise en scene, lighting

Effect: The bright lighting of the scene indicates a pure, heavenly feeling. The wind blowing through the linen curtains symbolises how, despite being limited to the domestic sphere, Fanny can still connect to the natural world. The see-through curtains further reduce the barrier between Fanny and nature.

Example essay sentence: Campion depicts Fanny lying on her bed as a breeze drifts through the window and blows on her, the sunshine bathing her in light. Despite being limited to the domestic sphere due to her status as a woman in the 19th century, the wind blowing through the window symbolises how Fanny can still connect to the natural world. The mise en scene of the see-through, linen curtains further reduces the barrier between her and nature, whilst the bright lighting of the scene imbues it with a sense of purity and transcendence.

Read Project Academy’s study guide for Keats x Campion!

MODULE B - King Henry IV, Part I

Quote: ‘To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon, or dive into the bottom of the deep […] and pluck up drowned honour by the locks. - Hotspur, 1.3, 200-203

Technique: Personification, imagery

Effect: Demonstrates Hotspur’s preoccupation with honour and glory, as well as his adherence to traditional notions of chivalry and gallantry towards women.

Example essay sentence:  Declaring his intention to recover conventional standards of honour, Hotspur cries that he will ‘pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon, or dive into the bottom of the deep […] and pluck up drowned honour by the locks.’ Here, the lustrous imagery of ‘bright honour’ demonstrates the allure that honour carries for Hotspur, whilst the personification of honour as a ‘drowned’ woman reinforces his adherence to notions of chivalry and gallantry towards women.

Read our study guide for King Henry IV!

COMMON MODULE - Nineteen Eighty-Four

Quote: ‘He became simply a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed,’ (Part 3, Chapter 2)
Technique: Synecdoche (Synecdoche refers to a literary device in which a part of something is substituted for the whole)

Effect: Demonstrates the dehumanisation of Winston, and how he is losing control of himself as a whole due to the manipulation and torture of the Party

Example essay sentence: As Winston confesses to wrongdoings and crimes he hasn’t even committed due to the Party’s torture in the Ministry of Love, Orwell describes him as becoming ‘simply a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed.’ The use of synecdoche demonstrates the dehumanisation of Winston as he is reduced to simply parts of himself as a whole, underscoring how he is losing autonomy and his identity due to the all-consuming power of the Party.

Module C: The Craft of Writing

Module C varies slightly from the other HSC modules in that it focuses on craft, not content. It employs a similar concept to that of the Year 11 Common Module ‘Reading to Write’, as you are required to draw on the ways in which your prescribed texts have been crafted to create your own pieces of writing. There is a focus on the way language is used to express a certain idea. In the HSC examination, you will be required to write either an imaginative, discursive, persuasive or informative response. You may also be required to write a reflective piece. More information regarding what is required for Module C can be found on the NESA website.

Below we have compiled a list of techniques that are common to each text type that you will study, as well as an example of its use in a prescribed text and how you could emulate it in your own writing. Note that this is not a complete list of literary techniques, and also that there is often overlap between each text type. You should aim to use a blend of both literary techniques and stylistic, or structural techniques (for example, the lengths of your paragraphs and the flow of your piece).

Module C Prescribed Texts

In your HSC year, your school will select prescribed texts from the Module C list to examine in class. Whilst you will not be writing essays on these texts the way you would in the other modules, you must analyse the way these texts employ literary and stylistic devices. When it comes to writing your own compositions for Module C, you will be aiming to replicate, or mirror the ideas and language choices of your prescribed texts. Below are some examples of literary techniques in the Module C prescribed texts.

Nam Le - Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice

The wind was full of acid. In the slow float of light I looked away, down at the river. On the brink of freezing, it gleamed in large, bulging blisters. The water, where it still moved, was black and braided.

Here the pathetic fallacy and objective correlative of the acidic wind and black water emphasises Le’s vexation and the deep anger he feels towards his father. The symbol of water nods to how the relationship between Le and his father is changing, alluding to Le’s impending comprehension of his father’s perspective.

Geraldine Brooks - A Home in Fiction

A few years ago, on a crisp autumn day in Cambridge Massachusetts, I attended a lecture entitled ‘Singularities in Algebraic Plane Curves’.

Brooks employs an anecdote to begin her speech, creating a conversational bond with the audience, which later allows her to delve into more complex notions and ideas about literature.

Noel Pearson - Eulogy for Gough Whitlam

There was no political or media uproar against Bjelke-Petersen’s law. There was no public condemnation of the state’s manoeuvre. There was no redress anywhere in the democratic forums or procedures of the state or the nation.

Pearson bluntly delivers three truncated sentences here, accentuating the stark disappointment felt at Australia’s lack of backlash against discriminatory laws.

Module C Reflections

Overall, your reflections in Module C should summarise and justify your response. When you write your creatives, discursives, persuasives and informatives, you should be consistently using literary techniques throughout that you can refer back to in your reflections. In your reflection, you should justify the techniques that you’ve used, and analyse your own work much in the same way you would analyse your prescribed texts in the other modules. For example: ‘My piece was written in a fragmented structure with short paragraphs to mirror the protagonist’s splintered thoughts and fractured state of mind.’

Secondly, your reflections should draw links between your text and the prescribed Module C text you study at school. When studying these texts, you should note down some of the main literary techniques used by these composers and then mirror them in your own pieces. This demonstrates to your marker not only that you understand the way language has been crafted to create meaning in the prescribed texts, but that you can recreate it in your own way. For example: The choices I made regarding form and structure are similar to those made by Nam Le in his piece ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’. Le’s non-linear structure and extensive use of flashbacks allow the responder to empathise with him by understanding his past – something I aimed to achieve in my own creative process.

We hope this article has been useful in providing you with more information about literary techniques for HSC English, as well as given you some ideas and inspiration with our examples. If this interested you, and you’re looking to learn some more or have any other questions, we’d love for you to say hello or join one of our English classes.

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