Showing posts with label criticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label criticism. Show all posts

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Character Definitions and Creative Techniques



An Examination of the role of CHARACTER in literary texts

Superficially ... “A person in a story, someone we can relate to, or identify with ...”

But Note:

Caricature – 2-dimensinal, simple, represents one value, e.g. the angry man, jealousy = related to allegory and satire = distortion for effect of one quality, or exaggeration of certain features; stereotypes

Narrative functions – hero/villain, trickster, false hero, magician, father/son, mother/daughter, outcast, rebel.

In real life people that we come to know well are seldom just functions or caricatures.

Real living people in the media, or celebrities, often have an assumed character or role that might be quite different from how they are in their personal life. In texts, an assumed role is called a persona, in the media we even talk about ‘personalities’ to express the public projection of a role. Perceptions of role or character can also be manipulated e.g. spin doctors and propagandists may want to present a politician with ‘strong leadership qualities and empathy.’

First person – autobiographical, “I”, my story.

Third person – author/omniscient narrator may provide insights into what they are thinking and feeling – free indirect narrative (author comments). “ ‘Yeah,’he muttered, feeling guilty about what he had done.”

You do not have to describe a character in full at the outset – you can build up the sense of a character through the accumulation of details, observed behaviour, speech patterns ...

Historical – based on real people
Realistic – true-to-life, psychological, inner life and physical appearance;
3-dimensional, complex
Fantastic – imaginary – don’t even have to be human.


Development – some are static, others grow and develop from birth through childhood and adolescence to adult life. A Bildungsroman has the development of a central character across his/her life as a central preoccupation. An example of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations or David Copperfield.

Leading or primary characters – occupy key roles and focalise points of view. Often linked to the idea of the hero/heroine.

Supporting / secondary characters – help to illustrate the main theme, or to develop sub-plots.

Note the key role of dialogue to SHOW and REVEAL characters and their relationships

- accent/dialect                           
- lexis
- grammar                                
- colloquialisms, slang, blasphemy, coarse
- polished and elegant, urbaned and civilized
- tone
- monosyllabic or oratorical (speeches)

Conflict and relationships are essential for building character, and for moving the story forward.

The hero’s JOURNEY / progress involves – threats, obstacles, reversals, tricks, irony, metamorphosis, tests, deviations. Many stories have these structural elements.

Too much inconsistency leads to incredulity (disbelief) in the mind of the reader.

Wider Contexts:

characters display causation as a result of factors such as environment/ family/ social class; these aspects allow the development of ideas and themes.

Avoid confusing a character’s voice, or that of the narrator, with the author's. Don't try to guess authorial intentions! This called the inentional fallacy!

Remember that some characters are ironic – perhaps the narrator/author is having a laugh at their expense?

In Gulliver’s Travels, author Jonathan Swift manipulates the voice of Gulliver so that the reader sometimes supports, and at other times opposes Gulliver's point of view.

This means that there is a degree of inconsistency, and perhaps we should refer to Gulliver as a satirical persona, mouthpiece, or rhetorical device, rather than a character in the tradition of the realist novel.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Grammarly perfection tested


Further to my recent post examining the effectiveness of software designed to assist with grammar, punctuation, and style, I wanted to find out whether it was possible to score 100% on the grammarly.com software.

I tried to test www.grammarly.com by using text taken from their own website. That does not work, however, as they recognize their own work and they have already marked it as 'perfection.' They award themselves 100% for their own work. Is that surprising?

Nonetheless, if we select text from www.grammarcheck.net, their text has a variety of errors - according  to www.grammarly.com. Similarly, text taken from the  www.grammarly.com website fares badly when it is tested by www.grammarcheck.net. These results suggest that the software programmes have not managed to create a reliable and universal system that successfully tests and verifies grammar, style and punctuation. Whichever system is used there is a typical 35% reporting of errors in the text submitted. Clearly, they are playing on this margin of error in order to convince us that we are in urgent need of their services.

Apparently it is possible to score 100%. I tried this:

There is a balance between pedantry and charity. The pigs are chattering in the trees. In fact, the birds dislike flying. Parasitic earthworms invented grammar. As a result, punctuation is no longer revolutionary. The trees have stolen the semicolons from the elephants. Biologists never use punctuation. It is unfair to test children under the age of fifty. We published the results of the research in a journal. The red bird snorted and guffawed. Is this a sentence? Is this an answer? Creative writing employs unusual techniques.

"Grammarly found no writing issues in your text. Score: 100 of 100 (good)"

However, the postmodern text generator also fared quite well (if spelling is discounted)


In the works of Tarantino, a predominant concept is the distinction between opening and closing. The primary theme of the works of Tarantino is the role of the reader as writer. However, Sartre uses the term ‘the postdialectic paradigm of reality’ to denote the economy, and eventually the paradigm, of semantic class.
The example of posttextual discourse depicted in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is also evident in Reservoir Dogs. In a sense, the premise of precultural theory suggests that sexuality, perhaps ironically, has intrinsic meaning.If subconstructivist libertarianism holds, we have to choose between posttextual discourse and capitalist feminism. Therefore, Lacan promotes the use of Marxist class to challenge capitalism.
The postdialectic paradigm of reality implies that expression is created by the masses, given that art is equal to reality. It could be said that Baudrillard uses the term ‘subdialectic modern theory’ to denote the role of the participant as artist.

Grammarly found 10 critical writing issues in your text.

Score: 53 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
Plagiarism !
  • Unoriginal text detected
Contextual Spelling Check 7 issues
  • Spelling (7)
  • Ignored words
  • Commonly confused words
Grammar 1 issue
  • Passive voice use (1)
  • Use of articles
  • Use of conjunctions
Punctuation 1 issue
  • Punctuation within a sentence (1)
  • Closing punctuation
  • Formal punctuation
Style and Word Choice
  • Writing style
  • Vocabulary use

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A remarkable instance of long-windedness: sprawling sentences

Essays often fall into two categories: the short and the long. While there is often a virtue in brevity there is more often a vice in prolixity. Writing should avoid repetition and restatement. On the whole, a concise but well thought out response will score higher marks than a sprawling and rambling composition.

More specifically, sentences which are too long, or too complex, often prove to be confusing. On the surface, these kinds of sentence may look impressive, but they often come in for critical censure. In his book, Composition and Punctuation familiarly explained, (1865), Justin Brenan discussed a classic example of the long-winded style of writing.

VERY REMARKABLE INSTANCE OF LONG-WINDEDNESS.

I Thought that I had exhausted this subject. Yes, I believed that I had furnished the most glaring examples, but here is one that eclipses them all, and I give it because you cannot have a better lesson. It is from the History of England (Cabinet Cyclopaedia), by Sir James Mackintosh, and I copy from a critique in the Monthly Review of August, 1830 :—

The king, with angry murmurs, turned aside, and Robert, whose spirit was awakened by this unbrotherly repulse, returned to the duchy to try his fortune, whither Henry pursued him, and after an obstinate conflict at Tinchebrai, on the 27th of September, 1106, in which Robert made the last display of his brilliant qualities as a commander and a soldier, he was completely routed, and sent prisoner to England; where his imprisonment appears first to have been mild, but having yielded to the impulse of nature in attempting to escape from prison, by the command of his unrelenting brother, his eyes were put out, and after passing near thirty years of blindness in several fortresses, he died in 1135, at Cardiff Castle, in Glamorganshire, at the age of eighty, when all the other chiefs who had shared the glory of rescuing Jerusalem had been laid low.

The Editor of the Review comments, in strong terms, on the numerous faults of this sentence, and thus concludes his strictures, "Finally we would ask whether 'all the other chiefs' had been laid low in the year 1135, or at the age of eighty, or both? We have seldom seen a worse piece of writing than this, in whatever way it be contemplated." It, is certainly a reproach to Sir James, for, supposing him in a hurry when writing, it is to be presumed that he corrected his own proof sheets, and then he had an opportunity of seeing this unwieldy sentence in all its deformity. Such an exhibition is calculated to injure even a respectable author like him, because it might prejudice the public against his .style, while it would probably ruin one who was struggling for fame. Now I shall offer no amendment. Study my directions for correcting long-windedness, and you can make this crude mass of confused relatives perfectly intelligible, and pleasing to read, by a proper distribution of the members, and a little exercise of judgment in connection. This, I say over again, is the best way to improve your own style.

(Justin Brenan, Composition and Punctuation familiarly explained, 1865, pp. 110-111)


Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Persuasive Writing and a Letter of Complaint

The Rep Theatre and the Library of Birmingham

This blog briefly shares parts of a recent exercise with students.

The first aim was to undertake reading and writing exercises in order to gain a better understanding of techniques of persuasion.

The second aim was to turn the exercise upside down by writing a highly critical review, or a letter of complaint.

We also deployed speaking exercises in the form of  radio-style interviews, a phone-in, and social media interactive engagement such as short text and tweet responses.

The underlying aims were vocabulary building and confident use of language.

Our first task was to study the vocabulary used in advertisements and marketing/advertising material. These were drawn from a Children's Guide to Leisure Activities in the Black Country (West Midlands, UK);  Rewriting the Book - Discovery Season - Library of Birmingham; and What's On at the beacon Arts centre, Greenock, Scotland.

Initially students were asked to selected the best 10 words, and then add to the list and pool/share their findings.

This is the list of some of the persuasive language used in those publications:

fascinating, encouraged, connections, impress,
discover, enjoy, celebrate, meet, experience, love,
understand, beautiful, fabulous, inspired, collaborate,
offer, unusual, brainchild, magical, new, leading,
opportunity, diverse, hands-on, intriguing, dynamic,
aesthetic, unique, vision, adventurous, vibrant.

Next students invented a new attraction: a play, a park, a tourist or leisure activity and wrote their own advertising copy. The aim was to deploy as many words from the list as possible.

This was also an opportunity for art work and design skills.

Working in pairs, students were next asked to write a highly critical review of the other person's event or tourist attraction. Some students wrote letters of complaint. Students were asked to be either bitterly critical or absurdly humorous in their approach.

To assist with this exercise we used a thesaurus and brainstorm to find antonyms for our list of persuasive vocabulary. Some of the critical words included

tedious, disappointing, unimpressive, lost,
distressing, torment, overworked,
squandered, hate, confused, worn-out,
unrequired, neglected, exploited,
predictable, dispensed with, unsuitable,
tiresome, expensive, mismanaged, impractical,
under-utilized,  derelict, obsolete

The vocabulary also served as a prompt for building and developing a creative critique.We also sampled literary reviews and user-generated social media commentary available within online newspaper reviews.


The old library is Birmingham was considered by some observers to be a wonder of concrete brutalist architecture. Others, such as Prince Charles, who lacks a training in architecture, quipped that is was more like a place to burn books, than to read them/ a place where books were incinerated, not kept.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)