How to score well for PSLE English Paper 1 (part 2)
CRAFTING COMPLICATIONS – SHOW, DON’T TELL
In the previous article, we explained theme and dilemma. Both are key concepts crucial to producing relevant and interesting content for PSLE English Paper 1. While theme reflects the central idea of the narrative through phrases such as ‘An ungrateful stranger’ or ‘An inconsiderate act’, dilemma shows readers the difficult choices or challenging situation the characters find themselves in.
A dilemma is an example of a complication that is a key component of the narrative plot. We will focus on another example of a complication, the predicament, in this article.
A predicament is a difficult or unpleasant situation faced by the characters.
It is recommended to describe and show the complication instead of just telling the readers. We mention this point in our previous article in that readers have expectations. They expect to see events unfolding before them, not a summary of the events.
Below is an illustration of the differences between telling and showing.
Telling the readers
Jamie saw Alan looking at a piece of paper during the examination. Alan hid the paper when the invigilator came near and took it out when he walked away. Jamie raised her hand to alert the invigilator to Alan’s actions.
Showing the readers
Jamie inhaled sharply as she tried to recall a particular concept that she had revised the previous day. At that moment, something caught her attention. It was her best friend, Alan. He glanced about furtively before gently opening up a crumpled piece of paper he had taken out from his pencil case moments ago. He appeared to be squinting at something written on the paper before placing it back in his pencil case. He started scribbling furiously before he took out the piece of paper and repeated his previous actions. It quickly struck Jamie that Alan was cheating! She was at a loss on what to do. She felt that she should inform her teacher but she did not really want to get her good friend, Alan in trouble. The tension worsened when Alan realized that Jamie had noticed her actions as they looked silently at each other.
Isn't showing much more engaging then telling?
In showing the predicament, the writer makes an attempt to describe what the main character, Jamie, had witnessed as something that completely alters the usual patterns of events. The writer shows the furtiveness of Alan as he copied from a hidden piece of paper and creates tension, in the readers, by describing the two characters staring wordlessly at each other.More importantly, the writer escalated the severity of the events gradually instead of summarising all the key events in two or three short sentences. The writer also stirred readers’ empathy for Jamie by describing the moral dilemma facing her as she struggled to make a key decision.
In conclusion, to effectively craft a complication in a narrative, the writer must
1. Gradually escalate the severity of the events.
2. Create tension or awkwardness in the form of a dilemma or predicament by showing the difficult or unpleasant situation the characters are in.
3. Get the readers to empathise with the main character(s) in the narrative.
About the Author
Teacher Chin has more than a decade of experience in teaching English from Primary Two to Primary Six in local primary schools. He is presently, in his free time, having immense enjoyment experimenting with the Nimzo-Indian Defence in chess and trying out the Apacs Lethal 9 in badminton doubles.