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Reading Fiction: Meaning in Structure


Reading Fiction: Meaning in Structure Revision

Reading Fiction: Meaning in Structure

Structure is what we call the physical organisation of the text.

It can be on as large a scale as an entire book, or how paragraphs are ordered on a page, down to how words, punctuation, and even letters are organised

In any text, structure is just as important as language, and does just as much to inform the meaning of a text as individual language features.

Exactly when a word is mentioned, for example, is just as important as how it is used within a sentence.

So, now we understand the importance of structure, let’s learn how to properly analyse it! 

Perspective and Narrative Point of View in Structure

One of the key things that structure can tell us about is the perspective of the writer and the point of view they have on something.

Though some texts will try to be as unbiased as possible, more often than not biases will appear in texts.

We should always remain conscious of bias, as it can be a good feature to identify in a text.



There are other things to consider when we think about structure and point of view.

Any event has multiple perspectives, and each one has a different structural point of view.


For example:

If we imagine a story about an accident at a factory, a worker’s account might prioritise the actual accident, and any harm it caused to any fellow workers, a manager might reference the accident alongside to any operational interruptions.


However, while the owner of the business might only reference the accident itself in passing, focus remains on how profits were affected.

So, it’s important to understand how the writer’s point of view affects the order of the information presented within the text.



Structure at Sentence Level

Though it might be tempting to focus on the overall structure of a text, analysing structure at a sentence level can be the key to achieving higher marks.

It can sometimes be trickier to do this analysis at a smaller and more detailed level, but demonstrating that you understand the differences in structure will show the examiner that you have a strong understanding of how structure can be manipulated by writers to create an impact.



One way a text might present its perspective through structure is the order of information within the source.

For example, a writer of a story might do what is called “burying the lead“, where the most important information in a text is only mentioned after other unimportant information has been presented.


This can happen across an entire text, or within a single sentence

Yesterday, a large fire took place downtown at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, destroying the town hall.” 


In this example, the most important piece of information is that the town hall was destroyed, and yet it is mentioned at the very end of the sentence

From this, it can be implied that the town hall isn’t the most important part of the sentence or story to the writer.



You should also be particularly aware of the difference between the passive and active voice.

These features of a text’s structure will help to set the tone of a sentence.

The passive voice is where the subject undergoes the action of the verb.


For example:

Omar was loved by Fatima.

The subject (the person or thing that the verb acts upon), in this case, Omar, is undergoing the verb of the sentence: “loved“.



The active voice is where the subject performs the verb.


For example:

Fatima loved Omar.


Here, the subject (now Fatima) is acting upon the object of the sentence, Omar, through the verb “loved“.



It can be tricky to spot at first, but knowing which voice a sentence is in can really help you to analyse structure at sentence level.

Different voices imply different perspectives and different power dynamics.

For example, something in the passive voice possesses a weaker agency than something in the active voice.

Consciously or not, which voice the writer chooses tells the reader about their views.



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Structure at Paragraph Level

Structure is also present on a larger scale, such as in and between paragraphs.

This can affect many different aspects of a paragraph, such as:

  • Their size
  • How they begin and end
  • Why one might be chosen to go before or after another



For example, a short paragraph could be used both to emphasise something shocking, or imply a lack of information, sometimes even at the same time:


As of yet, no witnesses have come forward in the case.”



This sentence could constitute an entire, although small, paragraph.

It serves two purposes: to imply the lack of information available, and to emphasise the shock of the crime to the reader.

Both are achieved through structure: the positioning of “no witnesses” after “As of yet” in the form of a short paragraph implies that the information is malleable and could change.

This draws the reader’s attention solely to the sentence, who are then obliged to stop and think about it before moving on to the next paragraph



The order of paragraphs also contributes towards how we analyse the structural meaning of a text.

For example, if a writer uses two paragraphs at the beginning of a story talking negatively about something, only then to actually describe the thing at hand in the third paragraph, we are subconsciously biased by the structure of the text to think a certain way.



It might look something like this in a story about a new restaurant opening:


 ‘ “Have you seen how Food Weekly announced our new restaurant?” Yusuf said. “It’s awful! Let me read it to you:

“The food served on Meale street is famously greasy, expensive, and just plain unpleasant to eat. Every restaurant in that area manages to find an entirely new way of wasting not only your time, but your money too.

Yusuf’s Eatery opens this week at 1383 Meale Street, we shall see if this restaurant is a different slice of pie.” ‘


This is called poisoning the well, a metaphor for how a writer can show an opinion, usually negatively, by using only the structure of the text.  




Structure at Whole Text Level

Finally, we can learn a lot about the meaning within a text when we apply structural analysis to it as a whole

A text is always a sum of many different parts, and it’s important to investigate how these parts fit together, and what we can learn about the ideas within the text through this analysis



There are many different ways a text can use different structures to create a meaning in its “bigger picture“.

A good example of this would be if a text mixes modes of communication.

The mode of communication is simply the way in which a writer chooses to write their text. For example, poetry and prose are two different modes of communication



A text can include any number of these modes, and which ones a writer uses is an important question to ask.

A novel might include poetry for example.

So, knowing how different modes interact is an important skill to learn. 

Structurally, we can view the choice to include multiple modes of communication within a single text as a sophisticated and complex one, where each part impacts the others.



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