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The writer’s craft


Use your knowledge of the way narratives are structured to create a plot graph of the main elements of the narrative.

To do this well the following should be undertaken:

1. List the (ten) most important events that you think should be documented.

2. Structure the story – create the graph making sure you document the following:

a) Orientation in time and place

b) Orientation in character

c) Complication 1 – does it have a resolution?

d) Complication 2 – does it have a resolution?

e) Complication 3 – does it have a resolution?

f) Complication 4

g) Climax

h) Resolution

3. The book is in five parts. What is the main idea of each part?

4. Epigrams from Moby Dick appear at the beginning of each part. What’s each epigram emphasising? How does the plot in each section reflect the concerns of the epigram?

Quotation from Moby Dick Explain what the quote is sayingHow is this quotation relevant to the section of the novel that follows?
Part 1

Call me Ishmael

Part 2

I will not say as schoolboys do to bullies – Take someone of your own size; don’t pommel me! No, ye’ve knocked me down, and I am up again; but ye have run and hidden.

Part 3

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke…and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.

Part 4

…what trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.

Part 5

Delight is to him – a far, far upward and inward delight – who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self.


Intertextuality and Don’t Call Me Ishmael

Moby Dick does not just appear in the epigrams, it is part of the fabric of the book creating intertextual connections between the books. Intertexuality is a special literary device used in writing. We can notice intertextuality occurring in a text we are reading or viewing when the writer starts to make references to another text. This can be any type of text. In this book, when a reference occurs, it is normally done in a significant way. In other words, what the writer is referring to, or borrowing from, the other text seems to be very important in helping the reader to understand concepts, ideas or messages. It may even shape the plot or form of the text and it becomes important for the reader to have some knowledge of the other text referenced in order to better enjoy or make meaning of the text they are reading. A well-known American sitcom cartoon that students probably recognise, The Simpsons, often uses intertextual references and this helps a wider audience appreciate the messages within each episode.

  1. The dominant intertextual reference in this novel is Moby Dick. How do you know?
  2. Write down all the characters or other references that become important for you to know to help you understand the text better.
  3. Do you think it matters if you don’t know the other text? Why? Why not?
  4. Can you think of another text you have experienced that uses intertextuality?

Approach to characterisation

Bauer’s characterisation helps the audience empathise with, but not pity Ishmael.

  • Miss Tarango asks students to write five important things about themselves. What do Ishmael’s five things reveal about himself? (p. 30)
  • Ask students: What five things would Bagsley write about himself?
  • Students write five important things about themselves.

‘Showing and NOT telling’

This is an important mantra to remember when writing your own creative story. It is particularly important when constructing characters.

It is the writer’s job to know when to ‘show’ and when to ‘tell’ and it is a balancing act. This is also known as ‘indirect characterisation.’

Direct characterisation: tells the audience what the personality of the character is; for example: ‘The patient boy and quiet girl were both well-mannered and did not disobey their mother.’

Explanation: The author is directly telling the audience the personality of these two children. The boy is ‘patient’ and the girl is ‘quiet.’

Indirect characterisation shows things that reveal the personality of a character.

Use the STEAL mnemonic to assist in character analysis.

There are five different methods of indirect characterisation. Find these in the book and add examples.

Type of indirect characterisationAnalysis Evidence
SpeechWhat does the character say?

How does the character speak?

ThoughtsWhat is revealed through the character’s private thoughts and feelings?
Effect on others towards the characterWhat is revealed through the character’s effect on other people?

How do other characters feel or behave in reaction to the character?



What does the character do?

How does the character behave?



What does the character look like?

How does the character dress?


Consider this description of James Scobie:

He was small and a little too neat. His hair was parted perfectly on one side and swept back from his forehead like a wave poised to break. The lines left by the comb’s teeth were as clear as shoe prints on the moon. As for his clothes, it was as if his grandfather was his fashion guru. His socks were pulled all the way up and turned down at the top so that they matched exactly. His shirt was tucked tightly into his shorts, which rode high up over the little mound of his stomach. Apart from that, his skin was pale and looked as if it could be bruised by a strong breezeEverything about him was a living, breathing ‘Kick Me’ sign. (pp. 55–57)

The author chooses similes to describe James but he starts with a very simple direct statement: He was small and a little too neat. The words ‘a little too’ are negative – there is clearly little value for small and neat people in this world. The negative opening is continued through the statements that follow.

  • What does the author imply by the simile ‘like a wave poised to break.’ Is this a weakness or strength? Explain.
  • The next simile is ‘as clear as shoe prints on the moon’. What is the effect of this simile?
  • Discuss the ways the characters Prindabel, Bill and Razza are ‘shown’ in Chapter 21.
  • How do we find out about Bagsley?
  • How are the staff members seen?



The school setting is meant to protect students from bullying but it is being run by very busy teachers.

  • How does the writer make us aware of this problem?

Write a strong statement in response to this question then use PEEL or TEEL or PETAL or another paragraph structure that you are familiar with to help you to structure a strong one-paragraph response.

Give at least one example and refer to evidence from the text that shows this.

Point of view 

This story is told from a teenage male point of view. How is this made believable in the novel?

  • What makes it a distinctly male voice?
  • Would this narrative work with a female voice?

The language of humour

Don’t Call Me Ishmael deals with the difficult subject of bullying through humour from the point of view of the protagonist, Ishmael. Humour is not just about language skills it is also an indicator of emotional/psychological strength.

To achieve the humour the book uses many language devices. Ishmael starts with an anecdote of his birth, from his father’s point of view. He is frequently self-deprecating, putting himself down. Many of the characters show their strength of character in the way they manipulate language such as sarcasm or hyperbole. Mr Barker is regarded a ‘having a black belt in sarcasm’ (p. 90), a metaphor that implies the strength of his language skills. But perhaps the most powerful user of language is James Scobie, especially in Chapter 15.

As students read they should collect examples and complete the table (also attached) below (PDF, 111KB). They may not find examples of all the humour styles listed.

Words describing humourExplanationExamples from Don’t Call Me Ishmael


overstatement or exaggeration




Meaning the opposite of what is stated


Silly words/pranks


Imitation used to ridicule


Like irony but delivered in a mocking tone


Putting yourself down


Based on the situation


Physical comedy involving body
Toilet humour


Referring to ‘toilet’ matters


Words combined to create humour


Exchange of witty remarks


A story that has a humorous ending


Quick witty comebacks


A play on words – similar in sound but different meaning


Implying something without being direct


When a word sounds similar to another but has very different meaning

(I am effluent instead of I am affluent)



Often phrased as question and answer showing the absurdity of a situation

Students can collect some examples of repartee in the book and present this as a performance.

Humour has a few psychological levels. Humour can be:

  • Affiliative – something everyone will find funny and not offensive
  • Aggressive – put downs targeting groups or individuals
  • Self-enhancing – laughing at yourself or at everyday situations in a good-humoured way
  • Self-defeating – very negative about the self – this is also self-destructive.

Which psychological level is most relevant to Don’t Call Me Ishmael? Explain.

Significance of names 

Ishmael? What kind of wussy-crap name is that? (p. 18)

The focus of the book is the name Ishmael. It is regarded as the source of the protagonists’ problems: Barry Bagsley had miraculously transformed me from Ishmael Leseur to Staleness Manure. (p. 19)

In contrast Miss Tarango regards names as important, to be treated with respect, and ‘beamed enthusiastically’ when she learnt Ishmael’s name:

Names can be important and symbolic in books, so they often have deeper meaning. (p. 26)

When he finally reads the book Moby Dick and sees the film, Ishmael realises how powerful the original Ishmael is but also feels he is different.

I found myself drawn into Captain Ahab’s mad quest for revenge against the white whale…I was nothing like this Ishmael. (p. 236)

You see, the plain truth was, unlike me, Ishmael in Moby Dick wasn’t a loser at all. (p. 237)

Students can listen to this video of a rap song on names (‘If they can pronounce Shakespeare’ by Yasmin Lewis).

  • What is the attitude to names in this video?
  • What advice would this speaker give to Ishmael about his name?

Students can work in groups to discuss the use of names in stories they have read.


Synthesising task/activity

Character from different points of view

Students have to write three character descriptions of Ishmael: one from the point of view of James Scobie; the other as Miss Tarango and the third from the point of view of Barry Bagsley.

Imagine the first time they each see Ishmael (you may want to re-read relevant chapters). Write a paragraph description of the way they see Ishmael. Capture the voice of each character.


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