Essay skill: Attention to detail (in examples)

28 03 2011

For some essay questions, attention makes a huge difference; for others, attention to detail may be deemed trivial, unnecessary or a slight digression. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a particular signal, word or question type that helps us identify these detail-loving questions, so it comes down to assessing each question as they come.

Here’s one example of a question where attention to detail really brings our response to a new level:

Why read the book when you can watch the film?

 

This calls for us to look specifically at film adaptations of books, and identify ways in which the book adds something the film doesn’t. Note that we don’t actually have to prove that the book is better than the film – it is not a “more than” comparison; it’s another form of comparison.

 

Less detailed:

 

Even though one could watch the film, one should read the book because it does justice to the author as it truly tells the story as the author envisioned. This is because film adaptations are often trimmed down to fit into a two-hour movie, and certain scenes, sub-plots or minor characters may need to be cut out of the film. In addition , after these cuts, changes to the sequence of scenes, or other changes, may need to be made to the movie for it to make sense to the viewer. This was evident in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, particularly in later installments, where large sections in the books needed to be cut, as the 400-page long books would never be able to be presented completely in a two-and-a-half-hour movie.

 

Another reason why one should read the book even when they can watch the film is that movies might omit details from the book, and this might falsely portray the author as being a poor writer who did not fully conceptualize and think through the little details in a story. This is unfair, as movie-goers might judge the author for these “mistakes”, without realizing that it was actually due to constraints faced in making the movie, or because the director had a different vision for the movie. This was seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1), where the attention to detail and complete, detailed explanation of certain events was omitted in the film.

 

The above arguments work, but for this particular question, adding specific details really helps in the illustration:

 

Even though one could watch the film, one should read the book because it does justice to the author as it truly tells the story as the author envisioned. This is because film adaptations are often trimmed down to fit into a two-hour movie, and certain scenes, sub-plots or minor characters may need to be cut out of the film. In addition , after these cuts, changes to the sequence of scenes, or other changes, may need to be made to the movie for it to make sense to the viewer. This was evident in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where close to nothing was mentioned about Hermione’s involvement in setting up the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW), despite the fact that this sub-plot was crucial for an appreciation of the role of house elves (including Harry’s own house elf, Kreacher) in the last installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Seeing that the director of the Goblet of Fire omitted SPEW from the movie, it appears that he did not read the last book and failed to realize the significance of SPEW – illustrating that more than just reading the book the film is based on, in the case of a series, one might need to read all the books before watching the film – especially if one is a director! A similar situation was seen in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1). Here, the opening scene shows Hermione erasing every trace of herself from the lives of her parents, before wiping their memory of any knowledge of her. In the book, this was revealed much later – a good 300 or so pages in. Outside the Harry Potter franchise, a far more drastic deviation from the book was seen in Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (where the film released under the US title, “The Golden Compass”). While the book has clear, strong references to the evils of the Catholic Church, the movie showed cowardice by staying clear of all religious undertones, lest ticket sales are affected by the Pope declaring the movie sinful – which the Pope did anyway. In all these examples, the story in the movie is not told the way the author envisioned it, and it does the original work an injustice if one does not read the book.

 

Another reason why one should read the book even when they can watch the film is that movies might omit details from the book, and this might falsely portray the author as being a poor writer who did not fully conceptualize and think through the little details in a story. This is unfair, as movie-goers might judge the author for these “mistakes”, without realizing that it was actually due to constraints faced in making the movie, or because the director had a different vision for the movie. This was seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1). In the film, nothing was mentioned about how the trio kept getting caught by death eaters (there was a taboo placed on the name “Voldemort”, which made one’s location known by Death Eaters the minute the name was mentioned). It is this detail, the little things, which show JK Rowling’s complete conceptualization of the wizarding world. And because the absence of these details may keep movie-goers wondering about the gaps in the explanation, making it look almost as though it was an oversight on the part of the author, watching the movie without reading the book really is a slap in the face of literary genius.

 

Granted, the above paragraphs show an over-reliance on Harry Potter examples, and this is a limitation of the paragraphs. However, the skill to note is that for this particular question, the attention to detail really makes a difference to your answer. However, it is crucial to note that this skill cannot be unthinkingly applied to all essay questions – some essay questions, because of the nature of their demands, will not credit (and may even penalise) such specific detail.

 

 

Task

“The tourist does not see the country the inhabitants know.” Do you agree?

Consider how attention to detail can improve the quality of an argument for the question above. Write one less detailed argument and one more detailed argument to illustrate this.

 

 

 


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