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.
Essays are a formal and structured style of writing that have three parts – the introduction, the body and the conclusion.
Within the space of a few lines, your introduction should introduce the topic of your essay, your contention and what you intend to discuss. The reader should know just from the introduction what your point of view is, and where the essay will be heading. To introduce the topic for a text response essay, you should mention the title of the text in addition to the author. You should cover all of this information in a few sentences: “The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross, is highly critical of violence, valuing the compassion of characters like Katniss and Peeta while criticising the cruelty and self-interest of others.”
The title of the text should be used in italics 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: “Ross depicts The Capitol as cruel and uncaring.”
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.
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.
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. The Hunger Games is highly critical of reality television, Gale suggests that if everyone boycotted the program then they “they don’t have a game”.
Introduce longer quotes using a colon, e.g. The Hunger Games is highly critical of The Capitol’s cruelty and lack of compassion. As Gale notes: ““You root for your favourite. You cry. When they get killed. It’s sick.”
Always make sure quotes are short and appropriate to your discussion.
An ellipsis can be used to shorten quotes: “Thirteen districts rebelled against the country that fed them…so it was decreed that each year, the various districts of Panem would offer up in tribute one young man and woman to fight to the death in a pageant of honour, courage and sacrifice.”
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.
Try your hand at essay writing by having a go at one of these topics about The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games is a critique of reality television. Discuss.
The Hunger Games promotes the idea that compassion is more important than self-interest. Discuss.
The Hunger Games is a pageant of honour, courage and sacrifice. Do you agree?
“You root for your favourite. You cry. When they get killed. It’s sick.” Do you agree with Gale’s assessment of The Hunger Games?
Although The Hunger Games is a violent film, it is unrelenting in its criticism of violence and cruelty. Discuss.
It’s The Capitol, not the other tributes, which is the real antagonist in the film. Discuss.