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Working with Module A Elective 1: Distinctive Voices

This material was written by Lynne Marsh, Literacy 7-12 Consultant, South Western Sydney Region.

Defining: Distinctive Voices
Authorial Voice
As you read…
Variety of Distinctive Voices
Examples of Distinctive Voices



This resource should be used to establish your understanding of the Syllabus requirements through explanation, examples and activities. The ideas provided cannot substitute your own close study of your set text, which you need to know well. This resource should be used in conjunction with that set text as a springboard into the elective, initially, and then into your set text. Always follow your teacher’s guidance and professional approach to achieve the best result in your HSC examination.

Be very familiar with how the syllabus documents describe the Module and Elective:

… students examine particular language structures and features used in the prescribed text and in a range of situations that they encounter in their daily lives. They explore, examine and analyse how the conventions of textual forms, language modes and media shape meaning. Composition focuses on experimentation with variations of purpose, audience and form to achieve different effects. These compositions may be realised in a variety of forms and media.”
Stage 6 Syllabus – ENGLISH Board of Studies 1999 page 33

“This module requires students to explore the uses of a particular aspect of language. It develops students’ awareness of language and helps them understand how our perceptions of and relationships with others and the world are shaped in written, spoken and visual language…
English Stage 6 Prescriptions 2009 -2012 page 12

“In responding and composing students consider various types and functions of voices in texts. They explore the ways language is used to create voices in texts, how the use of this language affects interpretation and shapes meaning. Students examine one prescribed text, in addition to other texts providing examples of distinctive voices.”
English Stage 6 Prescriptions 2009-2012 page 12

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Defining Distinctive Voices

All texts, regardless of form or composer, inherently present different voices in their composition. The voices within a text may or may not be a continuation or extension of the authorial voice.

The distinctive voices, inherent in any text/s, can be deconstructed to develop an understanding which may validate, challenge or disprove society’s values and/or beliefs within a given context. Language, in all its forms, is a human thing, and bears the traces or imprints of human use, not inherently but in its use. It allows opportunities for the composers to use their work to criticise societies; promote a specific political agenda, record or recreate social and cultural perspectives, persuade acceptance or denial of a particular point of view, and develop lifelike recreations of characters. A text may promote obvious distinction between the authorial voice and character's viewpoint.

However, regardless of the movement between the distinctive voices that assist in defining any text, you cannot surgically remove the voice/s from the creative process without destroying the mechanism of the creative process itself. These mechanisms can be considered in relation to the forms and features of texts, influenceing interpretation and how meaning is shaped in and through texts.

The context of the text is paramount. To successfully understand the context of a text it is necessary to have some understanding of composer’s background. This includes biographical research to establish a social, historical and cultural basis for the text. While a text may be composed outside the life of a composer, there is always an underlying factor for its creation and this information cannot be obtained without researching the composer. Composers can often present information to the responders in such a way that we can see what the narrator overlooks and our interpretation can be swayed through that background knowledge.

All texts convey implications of audience and argument, thereby altering the literal message. This module focuses on how distinctive voices convey those implications.

Student Activities have been placed throughout the resource to provide the opportunity for confirmation that your understanding of the requirements of the module are developing. Complete each activity as you work with this guide. You should be very familiar with your set text.

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Authorial Voice

Authorial voice may provide the contextual understanding for the text as a whole and the composer’s voice can be present behind the story. The authorial voice may also be purely fictional, created by the author, or it may be a means of historical, cultural or social comment. The purpose may not necessarily be identified with the biographical context of the composer. Therefore it cannot be assumed that the authorial voice is an "authentic" representation of the historical author or composer.

Student Activity

  1. Research biographical information about the composer of your set text.
  2. What, if any, relationship does this biographical information add to the contextual understanding of the text, as a whole?
  3. Is the authorial voice of your set text fictional or authentic? Give examples from the biographical information and the set text to support your decision.
  4. During the exploration and study of your set text revisit your biographical research on the composer. Continually add to your notes specific examples from the set text and other texts that identify and explain how the distinctive voices in your set text promote or subvert the biographical information. Explain in relation to the following:
    • Purpose: What is the reason for the composer writing the text?
    • Argument: What point of view is the composer promoting in order to persuade the reader?
    • Persona: Is the personality of the composer clearly definable in the text? Consider how the personality, through the distinctive voice of character/s, is used to better convince the responder of the point of view or argument.
    • Audience: Who is the intended audience for the text?
    • Assumptions: Has the composer made assumptions about the knowledge base of the audiences? If so, what areas does he/she assume their audience is knowledgeable of and what examples in the text support those assertions?
    • Inference: What inferences can be drawn about the composer’s purpose and strategies?
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As you read…

…your set texts and other related texts listen carefully to the voices of the composer and the characters. Consider the use of silences and dialogue. There is generally no single voice as all texts are built on a relationship between composer, responder and character.

Consider the notion of intertexuality. What we understand is driven by what we know, and how that affects our own understanding of meaning.

Student Activity (apply these questions to all texts you explore)

  1. Does the composer write from personal experience?
  2. Does the composer use first person “I” or does the composer remain removed from the text?
  3. What form does the narration of the text follow?
  4. Does the composer use slang, irony, humour?
  5. Do the voices in the text change? Explain how and why. Give some examples of a shift in the voice/s.
  6. Does the publication information (such as cover blurbs and author details) of the text provide any clues to the composer’s purpose?


Composers often highlight the values of a culture or a society by using characters who are alienated from that culture or society because of gender, cultural background, societal positioning, socioeconomic or religious reasons.

Student Activity

  1. Using your own text develop a summary of a character’s significant role, and show how that character's alienation reveals the surrounding society's assumptions and moral values.
  2. Based on the syllabus information, for this module, explain how the distinctive voice of each character contributes to the contextual meaning of the text.
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Variety of distinctive voices:

A voice in any text can be determined through different language techniques. It is essential that you consider these language techniques selected by composers to project meaning.

The module is NOT simply a study of dialogue; it is infinitely more sophisticated than how two characters may verbally interact with each other.

This does not mean that dialogue should be ignored but it should only be considered as one example of ways in which distinctive voices are used within texts to promote and enhance meaning.

Examples of distinctive voices

Draw up a table and maintain a running log sheet of the texts you explore.

Name of Text Composer Quote Explanation – what makes this quote an example of distinctive voice Language techniques used


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Examine how dialogue is used to represent and develop the relationships between characters and reveal their differences whilst also revealing their backgrounds and longing.

Student Activity

Find an example from your set text and one other text where dialogue is used to project distinctive voices. Consider the feelings and emotional positioning of the characters and explain how the composer’s choice of language builds that understanding.

Body Language

Body language provides insight into the emotional psyche of characters; perhaps more immediate in visual texts, such as film, but easily interpreted from a written text. We communicate more through body language than any other form of communication. Non verbal and verbal communication need to have some congruent relationship between them. Body language could be considered, therefore, to the extent that it relates to “distinctive voices”.

Student Activity

  1. Research body language using a search engine on the internet.
  2. Examine body language in relation to your set text. Does your set text rely heavily on non-verbal communication or body language to help support a distinctive voice in developing meaning within that text?
  3. How can tone be established by body language without including dialogue?


Silence can be considered an extension of body language or an absence of voice. It can be powerful and sometimes provokes a sense of foreboding or fear. Language techniques used in written text to establish silence can be descriptive and emotionally charged. In a visual text the relationship to body language is more discernable.

Student Activity

  1. Find an example of silence, the conspicuous absence of a distinctive voice, in any text. For example, the Robin Williams film, What Dreams May Come (1998).
  2. Choose one example that exemplifies how silence is used to establish and enhance meaning.
  3. Present this example to your class as a role play, an explanation, incorporated in a speech or written response that has a focus on the Elective.

Politically driven voices

A politically driven voice delivers a message that includes a specific point of view. Cartoons may contain dialogue and/or body language as the vehicles for delivering that message. Humour and satire are often used, which can be very condescending and/or defamatory depending on the point of view of the composer. Look for examples of texts in newspapers, television, radio and websites that promote judgments for or against politicians, political parties and societal values.

Student Activity

  1. Visit the Analysing political cartoons website http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/activities/political-cartoon/model.html (external website)
  2. Choose one cartoon and explain the composer’s purpose.
  3. How does the composer achieve this purpose? Explain the technique used and provide an example from the cartoon that represents a distinctive voice.
  4. Are there cultural differences through political cartoons? Explain what determines those differences.


Symbolism can be developed through language choices such as similes, metaphors and other figurative language. Through such representation a distinctive voice may be established. This representation can be verbal or non-verbal.

Symbolism is used to provide a broader perspective than the linear use of language. This extension of meaning can transform visual language into a very powerful instrument.

In literature, symbolism is used to provide meaning to the writing beyond what is actually being described. Symbolism can represent the theme of a story beyond the literal level e.g. a storm at a critical point, when there is conflict or high emotions. The composer uses the storm to symbolise these conflicts and feelings. A river could represent the flow of life, from birth to death. Composers may use flowers, animals, and objects etc. as symbols for something else.

However, not everything in a story is necessarily symbolic. Sometimes, a garden landscape is simply a garden ... until it is contrasted with a bustling city, at which point the garden could symbolise tranquillity, peace, or escape. The Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come provides an excellent example of the voice of silence combined with the distinctive voice through symbolism of gardens and colours.

If we understand the symbolism used in a text and consider is as a distinctive voice used by the composer for a specific purpose then often the meaning of that text either becomes clearer or enhanced. Symbolism can be used by voices to make them more distinctive.

Student Activity

  1. Examine the use of symbolism in a variety of texts. For example, you could focus on a scene from Michael Gow’s play Away (in which the dialogue is full of symbolism). Or you could read a picture book like Woolves in the Sitee and consider how symbols are developed through the voice of the narrator.
  2. How can dialogue, non-verbal language, visual representations and symbolism work together to develop the distinctive voice?
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Practise finding the distinctive voice

Use the headings and notes above to analyse and examine your set text for the different elements that are combined to establish distinctive voices within the text. But, be mindful that the examples listed above are not the only language techniques used to develop, promote, establish, and enhance distinctive voices.

Student Activity

  1. Brainstorm some other ways that language structures and features are used in the prescribed text to make voices distinctive.
  2. Use the examples as a guide to assist you to explore the ways language is used to create voices in texts of your own choosing.

Practice Response

Analyse and explain how the composers’ use of distinctive voices shape and define relationships through written, spoken and visual language.

In your response you will need to refer to your set text and two texts of your own choosing.

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It’s no Laughing Matter, Analysing Political Cartoons. (external website)

Political cartoons provide visual representations of Distinctive Voices. The authorial voice often projects the specific political preference of the composer. The opinion presented can be considered biased and persuasive. This website offers an online opportunity to complete a series of activities for understanding and analysing the ways in which distinctive voices are used through the visual medium of cartoons to satirise political debates, affiliations and elections.

Using body language (external website)

A guide to understanding and using body language by analysing the clustering of signals and postures, which are dependent on internal emotions and mental states of characters or personalities. Learning to recognising how this whole clustering maybe more reliable than trying to interpret individual elements. Determining the role and purpose of body language as one form of distinctive voices and how meaning is established and enhanced.

What Dreams May Come (external website) (1998)

Starring Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorra
This film is rich in symbolism and silence in relation to distinctive voices. It is just one example of a text that uses these features and hopefully will inspire you to find your own text.

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