If I were you… What to do when watching or reading a text for the first time.

 

So, we come into a new term and with that, a new area of study. This one should be relatively familiar to everyone as it is the essay which has been retained from the old study design. It is the one which you’ve been preparing for throughout your education. It is what was once known as Text Response and is now a part of Reading and Creating.

The task is relatively simple:

“Students prepare sustained analytical interpretations of selected texts, discussing how features of the texts create meaning and using textual evidence to support their responses. They use planning and drafting to test and clarify their ideas, and editing to produce clear and coherent expression. They craft their writing for convincing and effective presentation.”

It’s about careful and considered interpretation, clear analysis and insightful comments on a piece of literature or film which has been specifically crafted to affect its audience in various ways. Your interpretation needs to be based around the authorial intent regarding the themes and ideas the author deals with in the text. It must be confident. It must be supported by textual evidence (quotes, structural features, film/poetic/language techniques etc). It DOES NOT have to be the same conclusion that your teacher comes to but it has to be VALID- and you should be aware that other interpretations exist and are as equally valid as yours. Showing this depth of thought in your essay is a great way to enhance your writing and therefore, your score.

Now, I said it’s relatively simple, I know… and then I laid down a whole lot of components and thinking and writing and pretty complex levels of thought. Sorry. Let’s start at the very beginning. (Which if I’m being honest, you should have done over your summer holidays- now, it’s almost too late. But hey, do it anyway.)

To do everything I mentioned above, you need to know the text like the back of your hand. You know how you know everything about your favourite book, movie, series, reality tv star, k-drama… whatever, well- double that level of intensity. You need to be so on top of this text that NO question could stump you.

My best friend has a copy of Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit which has the most obscure questions about the 3rd Best Boy and how he broke his toe on WHAT day precisely of filming The Two Towers.

She knows the answer.

Image result for lord of the rings nerd

She knew this too. As anyone SHOULD.

THAT is the level of knowledge you should have.

Because VCE is a competition and there will be someone else who does. Why not be that guy?

So. How do we get there?

Step One

  • Read/watch the text.
  • Repeat

Ok, it’s not that simple, but this step (including the repetition) is the MOST IMPORTANT THING you can do to gain a thorough knowledge of the text. And I’m not talking about skim reading or skim watching, though these have their place later on in the process, I’m talking about the sort of watching and reading you do where you are 100% dedicated to the plot and everything which propels it. The sort of watching where you will pause it if your family are talking too loudly. The sort of reading where people need to call your name twice before you respond. You need to invest in the text— even and ESPECIALLY if you don’t like it.

For your first viewing/reading, I would recommend just reading. Don’t take notes or highlight, just absorb it. That said, if you notice a trend or something which you think “I see what he/she’s doing there” then OF COURSE, write it down. But generally, speaking, just enjoy the read, get to know the characters, keep tabs on the plot, be impacted by the power of language, images, sound, music, ART… etc.

After you’ve read it, jot down a list of themes/ideas the text covered. DON’T READ A TEXT GUIDE yet- just use your BRAIN. What stood out to you as being a main focus of the author? Don’t try and get fancy either- the biggest inhibitor to success, in my opinion, is having the expectation that your first go will be perfect. It doesn’t need to be DEEP (at this stage), it doesn’t have to be specific (at this stage), it can be obvious (at this stage). In All About Eve– SURPRISE, one of the themes is WOMEN. Clearly, this shouldn’t be your end point by any stretch of the imagination but it can be the starting point. Aim for a list of approx. 10 themes which you think the text covers. After you’ve created this list, I recommend developing an interpretation about each of these broad themes. Ask yourself, “What is Mankiewicz saying about WOMEN in his film?” This is likely to help you narrow your theme to the ideas and insights contained within the text. If you are able, refine your list by adding these sub themes and broad interpretative statements to it. Remember, these are based on first impressions so they’re likely to be relatively basic- but also based on gut reaction which is not a bad thing. Just don’t stop there.

Image result for all about eve women

Another thing you can do after your initial read through is start building a character bank. List all the characters you can remember which had some influence on the plot, major or minor. Next to each, write their key characteristics, what their role in the text is, their relationships, their motivations- as much as you can glean from your first read/watch. These first impressions are important because authors know that most of their audience aren’t going to be studying their text intently. They want their message to get out to Average Reader- so as long as you’re at least vaguely switched on, you should pick up their message.

After each read, discussion, class you should be able to add to this. Start including what themes they are used to explore. Start developing interpretations about their purpose in the text. Start listing quotes which embody them or which explain and deepen their character.

This theme list and character list will help you gather your thoughts and ideas as you finish your initial reading of the text, but like I said, it should in no way be where you end your study. As you read and repeat and learn and discuss and debate and repeat, you will add to this initial information and refine it, eventually developing that insightful analytical writing you need to produce in your SAC and exam.

Hope this is helpful!

Happy reading!

Amy xx

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