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Soapstone Technique

Over the last few weeks I have been introducing my GCSE and A-Level students to a technique more often used in the IB or AP exams. But what is SOAPSTone technique, and more importantly, is it actually useful? Well, both yes and no.

SOAPSTone is a clever little acronym for the following:

Speaker: The person who is telling the story - whether that be the writer, or the narrator. Be careful, don’t confuse a third person narrator for the writer! I like to think of texts like this: texts have many speakers. One will be the writer, whose voice is heard to a greater or lesser extent. Then there might be the voice of a narrator. And under that, might be the voices of characters. Which voices can you find in the text you are reading?

Occasion: The occasion is a little bit simpler. When and where does this piece of writing take place? How does this context affect the text?

Audience: Just as we have several different speakers, we might also have several different audiences. The primary audience is the target audience of a text, who the text is written for. We might consider how this audience influences how a text is written, as well as what it says. Yet texts also have unintended audience - for instance, a modern reader encountering a Shakespeare play. How does this change their perspective on the piece of writing? Should it?

Purpose: Why was this piece of writing written? Was it designed to persuade a group of people of something? To inform them of something they should know about? Or simply to describe the writer’s own experience? Knowing or interpreting what a writer’s purpose is will really help you to work out how they subtly manipulate their readership to believe what they want them to.

Subject: Very simply, this is what the piece of writing is about. Is this a diatribe about gender equality or a description of snowdrops in spring? Either would heavily influence other factors about the extract.

Tone: Finally, this is one of the most important, yet underused features of any piece of writing. Simply speaking, the tone is how the writer says what they say - are they being serious, humorous, factual, fearful? Tone can give us very important clues about not only what the writer intends to do with a piece of writing, but also about how the reader should be feeling when they read it.

As you can see, none of the above is a groundbreaking literary discovery. More accurately, SOAPSTone technique is a way of remembering the basic foundations of a text, so that you can build your textual analyses upon them. In that way, they can be extremely useful to help you interpret a new piece of writing, particularly in an examination setting. You can even put some of these features in your introduction, to show your reader that you understand what the text is trying to do. It might be simply recapping some of the basics, but SOAPSTone technique is still a valuable tool to help you build more complicated essays, without losing your footing.

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