The Prose Commentary

The Commentary: Elements of Style
A useful site to revise meanings of these terms:
What might be in a piece of drama or a short story?
We expect to find:
Style (stylistic features and narrative and dramatic techniques)
The way each writer uses language is called a writer’s style. In a commentary, you are
asked to analyse a writer’s style to show how he/she presents his/her subject.
You must become a reader who is aware of all of these elements of style and who can
recognise them working together to create literature.
Remember, for every feature you identify, you must also be able to comment upon its
Elements of style found in prose
Narrative perspective: who is telling the story?
First-person narrator
Second-person narrative voice
Third person “omniscient’ narrator
Paragraph division: how long and how many?
Short paragraphs
Long paragraphs
When and why do they change?
Sentence length and structure: how long and complex are the sentences?
Sentence fragments (beginning with a conjunction or preposition)
Short sentences
Long sentences
Simple sentences
Complex sentences: many clauses
When and why does sentence/length change?
Punctuation: how often and what type? Its effect upon the pace and emphasis of the
Semi-colons and colons
Question marks
Exclamation marks
When does it change, and why?
Diction: word choice
Generally, is the diction:
 Formal or colloquial?
 Elevated and poetic (fancy) or straightforward?
 Technical (jargon: words developed for use within a particular group and
hard for outsiders to understand, eg scientific jargon)?
 Slang (very informal words and meanings for vivid and unconventional
Parts of speech:
 Nouns: concrete and abstract objects in the piece of writing;
 Verbs: significant actions taking place in the piece;
 Adjectives and adverbs: especially of colour and number.
Words with particular resonance, associations or connotations:
 Denotation: the dictionary definition of a word;
 Connotation: the suggested or associated meaning of a word beyond the
word’s literal significance.
Groups or patterns of particular types of words.
Mood: the overall feeling generated by a work of art.
Tone: The speaker’s attitude to his/her subject, determined by a combination of
language, content and context.
Imagery: use of words and phrases to create pictures in the reader’s mind.
Sensory imagery: the use of words and phrases which appeal to the reader’s
senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing
Imagery is created by figurative devices, also known as figures of speech.
[A figure of speech is a word or phrase used for vivid effect rather than literally.
“Figurative” means metaphorical; not literal]
Figures of speech used to create visual imagery:
Simile: a comparison comparing one thing to another using “like” or “as”
Metaphor: a comparison in which one thing is said to be another thing, using “is”.
Personification: a type of metaphor by which inanimate objects are given animate
Figures of speech used to create aural imagery:
Onomatopoeia: a word or phrase imitating the sounds of a thing or action
Alliteration: repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words
Assonance: repetition of vowel sounds within words
Consonance: repetition of consonant sounds within words
Sibilance: repetition of “s” sounds
Other figurative devices:
Oxymoron: a figure of speech in which two contradictory ideas are combined (eg
“brawling love… loving hate”; “Fair devil”.
Hyperbole: exaggeration for effect (eg “my feet are killing me”)
Allusion: an indirect reference to an event, person, place or thing.
Pun: a humorous play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word,
or the similar sense or sound of different words.
Paradox: a statement which seems contradictory or absurd, but which is true.
Antithesis: the juxtaposition of contrasting words or ideas to give a feeling of
balance (eg “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”.)
Dominant imagery: patterns or types of imagery which run throughout the
Other literary devices:
Symbolism: using one thing to represent another.
Contrast: The use of opposing elements in proximity to produce an intensified
Juxtaposition: the act of placing things side by side
1) The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to
their literal meaning.
2) An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent
and intended meaning.
3) A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect.
4) Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs: "the
irony of Ireland's copying the nation she most hated".
Direct speech
Indirect speech
Interior monologue: a passage of writing presenting a character's inner thoughts
and emotions in a direct, sometimes disjointed or fragmentary manner
Stream of consciousness
The Commentary: A Response Scaffold
Introductory paragraph:
Using SCASI present a short overview of the subject of the passage, giving its:
 context;
 purpose and effect in terms of SCASI;
 significance to the whole in terms of SCASI.
Body paragraphs:
Step 1: Divide passage into manageable ‘chunks”, either by
 paragraphs or punctuation;
 different stages in a process of thought or argument;
 subject-matter
 speaker.
Step 2: Move through the passage, chunk by chunk. Give each
manageable chunk its own paragraph. Within each paragraph,
TS: Stating what the main purpose and content of the chunk is (SCASI)
SD: Identifying stylistic features and commenting upon how their their effects
achieve the writer’s purpose by:
a) Point: statement of a feature.
b) Illustration: quote stylistic feature/language technique
c) Explanation: analyse the particular stylistic feature/language technique
to show how it contributes to SCASI
CS: Re-stating the purpose and effect of the “chunk” you have analysed.
Concluding paragraph:
Reiterate main purpose and effect of the whole passage.
Try to provide a richer appreciation than the one briefly offered in your
introductory paragraph: focus on the issues and dominant imagery of the passage
and the significance and effects of these.