When you’re writing an essay on a novel or film, you’ll be given an essay topic or prompt. Start by underlining the key phrases in the essay topic. This is what you’ll need to write about in your essay. If you need to clarify the meaning of keywords, consult a dictionary. Sometimes it can be useful to restate the essay topic in your own words.
With the essay topic in mind, it’s time to start planning the essay. Planning is one of the most important parts of writing an essay. It’s a good idea to re-read your text. As you go, make note of interesting scenes and quotations relevant to your essay topic. Reading the text closely means you’ll have lots of examples to discuss in your essay.
The importance of planning can’t be overstated. If you don’t spend time reading your text, taking notes, thinking about the essay topic and giving your thoughts time to develop, you won’t be able to write a detailed and interesting essay.
Once you’ve got your ideas together, it’s time to start organising them. Rewrite your ideas on a fresh sheet of paper, organising related ideas under headings drawn directly from the essay topic.
STRUCTURING YOUR ESSAY
Essays are a formal and structured style of writing that have three parts – the introduction, the body and the conclusion.
Your introduction should be designed to attract the reader’s attention and give him/her an idea of the essay focus.
Within the space of a few lines, you should introduce the subject of your essay, in addition to your contention. The reader should know just from the introduction what your point of view is, and where the essay will be heading.
To introduce the subject for a text response essay, you should mention the title of the text in addition to the author. This should not be a stand alone sentence like, “Barry Jonsberg wrote a novel entitled The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull.” It should be effortlessly integrated into a sentence, for example: “Satire and sarcasm are constantly used in Barry Jonsberg’s novel The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull.”
Or, you should just begin the essay by introducing the subject and then move on to the issue at hand, for example: “In The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, author Barry Johnsburg discusses many social issues.”
The title of the novel should be used in italics, underlined or single quotation marks. Only one of these is necessary. You should also refer to the author by their full name the first time you introduce them, and by their surname only for every additional time you mention them, for example: “Jonsberg portrays Calma as…”
WRITING THE INTRODUCTION
1. Show that you understand the essay question by re-writing it in your own words. Don’t simply repeat the key words, but aim to use synonyms. This not only demonstrates your understanding of the topic, but allows you to show how articulate you are.
2. Establish your contention clearly and early on. There should be no confusion as to your take on the essay prompt. If the essay is asking ‘Do you agree?’ – you should make it very clear whether you agree/disagree or partly agree. Other essay prompts may be asking you ‘to what extent do you agree’ or simply to ‘discuss’. Your contention should avoid saying ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’. You should be able to state it confidently and clearly without resorting to the first person. The reader already knows it is your opinion; you don’t need to state the obvious.
3. Perhaps begin with an attention grabber, some startling or interesting information. It could simply be a fact that explicitly illustrates the point you wish to make. You could always use a quote in your introduction. Usually quotes are kept for your body paragraphs, however a quote can be used in the opening paragraph if it fits perfectly with your overall contention.
4. Summarise the main arguments that you are going to discuss in your body paragraphs. If your contention is the what you believe, the supporting arguments are the why you believe this. A few sentences explaining your topic in general terms can lead the reader gently to your main paragraphs. You should make it very clear exactly where the essay is heading.
5. Don’t fall into the trap of summarising the novel – assume your reader knows the text well and doesn’t require too much background information. Get straight into your analysis.
Essay Topic: The character of Miss Payne is that of a villain. Discuss.
In Barry Jonsberg’s amusing novel, The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull, the character of Miss Payne is introduced to the reader as a one dimensional villain. She is mean, strict and is described as looking like ‘a pitbull chewing a wasp’. However, throughout the duration of the novel, Miss Payne begins to reveal many other layers to her personality. The reader discovers that she is more than one dimensional and is, after all, merely human. The reader also draws the conclusion that the narrator, Calma Harrison, is rather biased in her narration and that perhaps not everything is as it seems. This casts doubt on whether or not Miss Payne is guilty of various crimes and overall bad behavior. Therefore it cannot be argued convincingly that the character of Miss Payne is a villain in the traditional sense of the word.
When you’re writing an essay, a good way to remember the structure of body paragraphs is TEEL.
Topic sentence. Start off with a topic sentence which explains how the idea you’re about to discuss is related to the essay topic.
Expand/Explain. Explore and explain ideas related to the topic.
Evidence/Examples.Make sure you use examples and quotations from the novel to support your discussion. The best use of evidence is where the quote is integrated into your own argument, for example: “Calma participates in the stalking of Miss Payne “because of some misguided sense of loyalty” she felt towards Kiffo.”
Link. Another topic sentence linking back to the essay topic.
The conclusion of your essay should briefly recap that ideas you’ve discussed and tie up your argument. A good conclusion should leave your reader with the impression that you have convincingly answered the essay topic. Try to avoid repeating yourself. You may use short quotations in the conclusion if it’s relevant but don’t introduce any new points.
USING TEXTUAL EVIDENCE
When writing an essay, you will need to use textual evidence. The best way to do this is by incorporating short, direct quotations from the text into your own sentences. Quotes should always be surrounded by quotation marks. You can use either single or double quotation marks but don’t use both, e.g. Kiffo’s life was “full of casual cruelty.”
Introduce longer quotes using a colon, e.g. Kiffo lived a hard life and was treated badly by his father: “I had little first-hand knowledge of the kind of life he led, but I knew that it was loveless and full of casual cruelty.”
Always make sure quotes are short and appropriate to your discussion.
An ellipsis can be used to shorten quotes: “Kiffo’s life was a warzone…I could see it in his eyes and the bruises that he did his best to conceal.”
When using quotations, students often ask whether they should put a full stop inside or outside the quotation marks. If the quotation has a full stop at the end and that’s where you want to end the sentence, then the full stop goes inside the quotation marks.
e.g. Kiffo’s life was “full of casual cruelty.”
If the quotation doesn’t include a full stop and you want to end a sentence, then the full stop goes outside the quotation mark.
e.g. Kiffo led a difficult life, Calma describes his existence as a “war zone”.
Only punctuation that appeared in the original quoted material should be included inside the quotation marks. Otherwise, punctuation is placed outside the closing quotation mark.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
• Spend lots of time planning your essay.
• Make sure you have an introduction, body and conclusion.
• Because essays are a formal style of writing, you’ll want to avoid the personal pronoun ‘I’. Don’t write, “I think…” or “I believe”. In most cases, you can simply remove these phrases and your sentence will read much stronger.
• Avoid retelling the story.
• Use short, appropriate quotations to support your discussion.
SAMPLE ESSAY #1
Essay Topic: “Kiffo is a victim of his upbringing, low socio-economic status and the education system.” Do you agree?
In The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull by Barry Jonsberg, Jaryd ‘Kiffo’ Kiffing is a lout and a troublemaker who has a “hatred of authority figures” and a “tendency towards mindless violence”. At the beginning of the novel, he taunts one of his teachers to the point of nervous breakdown and attempts to trash the house of another. Although Jonsberg attributes his dysfunctional behaviour to an abusive upbringing and the indifference of his teachers, Kiffo is also a victim of his own choices.
In the novel, narrator Calma Harrison is deeply troubled by Kiffo’s violent and cruel upbringing. She is upset that his life is “loveless and full of casual cruelty.” At the end of the novel, she shares these concerns in her eulogy for the troubled teen, attributing his behaviour to the abuse inflicted by his father whose beatings caused “bruises he did his best to conceal.” During the eulogy, she also explains that his abusive father taught him some of his “worst characteristics.” Earlier in the novel, when The Pitbull chides him for performing poorly on a test, Calma points out that his family doesn’t encourage “academic success” in anything apart form “excessive drinking”. Jonsberg gives us a brief glimpse of Kiffo’s tumultuous life when Calma overhears an abusive argument with his father. At the age of seventeen, Kiffo’s older brother dies of a heroin overdoes, another reflection of the unstable family he comes from. It is quite clear that Kiffo’s violent and abusive upbringing is, in part, the reason for his aggressive and dysfunctional behaviour.
Kiffo’s impoverished upbringing is another reason Jonsberg gives for his dysfunctional behaviour. Early in the book, Calma notes that he doesn’t live in the “type of neighbourhood that you tended to go into if you could avoid it.” Given that he lives in such a violent neighbourhood, it’s easy to understand why he’s so violent and aggressive towards others. He lives in a house that reeks of “old socks, sweat, tobacco and despair” that she considers evidence of his “bleak existence”. During the novel, when Kiffo and Calma visit one of Kiffo’s friends, she describes the experience as “unpleasant and traumatic”. Growing up in abject poverty, where violence, aggression, alcohol and drug abuse are an everyday part of life, is one of the reasons that Kiffo is so unstable.
At school, the one place where he should feel a sense of belonging, Kiffo experienced a “different kind of violence”. During her eulogy, Calma explains that school was “breaking his spirit”. The work that he receives is “grossly unfair” and he is given a hard time by his teachers, which only encourages his “vile” behaviour. Physically abused at home and living in a neighbourhood where violence is commonplace, Kiffo’s sense of worth continues to be eroded at school. As Calma explains during the eulogy: “…if you tell someone they’re stupid enough times, they will believe you. And Kiffo did believe it.” Kiffo could be a “real bastard” and this behaviour means that his teachers are unable to help him escape the violence and poverty in his life. School, the one place where “abused kids should be able to find support and understanding”, only ends up alienating Kiffo and magnifying the violent and aggressive behaviour he learnt at home.
Although Kiffo is a victim of his abusive upbringing and indifferent teachers, he is also a victim of his own choices. Kiffo is capable of loyalty and kindness. When the entire school is spreading rumours about Calma, Kiffo gives her “friendship and support”. Perhaps if he’d extended this kindness to his teachers, they would have been more willing to help him out. Instead, he chooses to bully them mercilessly and enjoys “the battle” of reducing Miss Leanyer to a nervous wreck. At the beginning of the novel, Calma describes what little regard he has for those who are there to help him: “For him, a teacher…had no rights at all.” He sees it as his duty to “give them a hard time”. Although Kiffo is a victim of his violent and abusive upbringing, he is also a victim of the choices that he makes, choosing to alienate the very people who could have a positive impact on his life.
In The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, Jaryd Kiffing is a troubled teen with a “tendency towards mindless violence”. Author Barry Jonsberg attributes this to his abusive upbringing, life of abject poverty and the way his teachers “break his spirit”. Despite this, Kiffo is still a victim of his own choices, deciding to alienate the people who could potentially have a beneficial effect on his life.
SAMPLE ESSAY #2
Essay Topic: Is this a humorous novel with some serious parts, or is it a serious novel with some humorous parts? Respond using evidence from the text.
The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull by Barry Jonsberg is a combination of comedy and tragedy. The narrator, Calma Harrison, is exceptionally witty and her wicked sense of humour brings a sense of levity to the novel. Nevertheless, the book is still explores some weighty themes including friendship and poverty.
The opening of The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Jonsberg starts the novel with Calma describing her close friend Jaryd ‘Kiffo’ Kiffing. Her description is incredibly amusing. She describes his hair as a field of corn “trampled by a whole load of drug-crazed dingoes during a cyclone.” She explains how his legs are bent like brackets, however, “unlike brackets there is not much of interest between them.” Similarly, she describes the conflict between Kiffo and Miss Leanyer in an incredibly humours manner, despite the fact that his behaviour, as she will describe it later, is nothing short of “vile”. She describes how Miss Leanyer launches herself across the classroom like an “avenging harpy” and she was “growling like an enraged animal”. She imagines her being thrown into a mental institution where she spends her days “stabbing scissors into footballs, drooling and screaming.” Although what Kiffo did to Miss Leanyer was “pretty sad”, Calma describes it in such an amusing and engaging way that it becomes humorous and farcical. In many ways, this scene sets the tone for the rest of the book which is a combination of comedy and tragedy.
Although there are many other humorous scenes in the novel – when Calma tells The Pitbull that she loves her or attempts to spy on The Ferret by masquerading as a waitress – the novel also explores some important issues including friendship. The friendship between Calma and Kiffo is a central part of the novel, demonstrating how important it is to have friends who can offer you loyalty and support in times of hardship. In primary school, Calma finds Kiffo crying in the boys toilets over the death of his older brother. As time passes, their friendship grows. She offers him some of his lunch when she notices that he doesn’t have any and lets him copy her answers during a test. Because he has grown up in a world of “casual cruelty” he appreciates these gestures of kindness and ultimately forms a lasting friendship with Calma. Kiffo returns these gestures of kindness, fending off a bully that is giving her a hard time and offering her friendship and support when her father leaves. These are just a few examples of how Barry Jonsberg explores the importance of friendship throughout the novel. Although Calma and Kiffo find themselves in humorous situations throughout the book, their friendship helps to demonstrate how important loyalty and support is in times of hardship.
Poverty is another idea serious idea that Barry Jonsberg explores in The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull. Kiffo comes from a poor family where violence and “casual cruelty” are a way of life. At one point in the novel, Calma visits Kiffo’s house. She is appalled by the state of the house and the squalor that his family lives in: “Crumpled beer cans were scattered around the carpet, if anything so threadbare and filthy could be dignified with such a name.” She describes how the house is filled with the stench of “old socks, sweat, tobacco and despair.” Although Jonsberg is clearly dealing with a serious issue and the reader is encouraged to feel a sense of sympathy for the conditions that Kiffo lives in, he allows Calma’s narration to bring a touch of humour to the scene. Calma describes what it’s like trying to find a place to sit on the couch and how “microbiologist would have been enchanted, but I wasn’t sticking my bum anywhere near it.” This scene once again demonstrates how Jonsberg deals with serious and tragic issue in a humorous manner.
Throughout The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, Barry Jonsberg explores some important issues, including friendship and poverty. The narration of Calma Harrison, however, brings a sense of humour and levity to the novel.
SAMPLE ESSAY #3
How does the relationship between Calma and Kiffo change over the course of the novel?
In The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, author Barry Jonsberg that explores notions of friendship using the strong bond between Calma Harrison and Jaryd ‘Kiffo’ Kiffing. Throughout the novel, Jonsberg gradually reveals the evolution of their friendship through a series of flashbacks. The events in the novel – including the death of Kiffo’s brother, the separation of Calma’s parents and the investigation of Miss Payne’s suspicious activities – help to bring this unlikely pair closer together.
In primary school, Calma and Kiffo are strangers. It isn’t until Calma discovers him crying in the bathroom over the death of his brother that their friendship starts to develop. Kiffo is a difficult person to know. In the beginning, she feels sympathy for him, offering him some of her lunch when she notices he hasn’t got any and allowing him to cheat on a test. Although it’s not friendship, her sympathy is the beginning of an enduring bond between them. Living in a world of “casual cruelty”, Kiffo remembers these acts of kindness and support. When Calma is pinned against the fence by a bully, Kiffo steps in to intervene. Likewise, when he finds her crying over the separation of her parents, Kiffo gives her a shoulder to cry on. Support is an important part of any friendship. In primary school, the friendship between Kiffo and Calma starts to grow from these acts of kindness.
The main events of The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull also help to bring this unlikely pair closer together. Towards the beginning of the novel, Calma reflects that she’s going to help Kiffo investigate The Pitbull despite the trouble that it might cause: “Whatever Kiffo was up to, I was going to be a part of it as well. We were friends.” By the end of the novel, their friendship has become incredibly close. In her eulogy for Kiffo, Calma reveals how close they had become: ”I loved Kiffo. Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love make up my sum.”
By the end of the book, Calma and Kiffo have a strong friendship. Nevertheless, there are still things he won’t talk about with her. Calma reflects that there are “just some things you can’t talk to Kiffo about.” The death of his brother and the abuse he suffers at home are topics that are off limits. No matter how close they become, it seems there are some things that Kiffo doesn’t want to share with even his closest friend.
In The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, author Barry Jonsberg explores ideas of friendship through the bond that develops between Calma and Kiffo. As the novel progresses, the reader sees their friendship develop and evolve. In primary school, they are little more than strangers but they gradually become close friends who offer each other comfort and support in times of hardship and stick by each other through thick and thin.