Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Little Project

A little about me. I'm a graduate student currently finishing my thesis with hopes of graduating this December.

Here's the tough part about working on a thesis project. A lot of times, the student really doesn't have anyone to relate to. Everyone in their classes is always at a different point in their work. Some are working on their second thesis class, others have barely started the program, and there are even a few people who are taking an extra year before graduating to work on a project.

This post is to help others like me, those students who want to know that someone else is struggling just like them. And it's to let them know that it's perfectly normal to feel like you're going crazy. That's part of the appeal, in my opinion. As I start the heavier part of my work and research I'm going to blog about the things I find most pertinent, either to my project or to my hoped-for future career as a writer.

So moving on.

Work on a thesis project requires background research. A lot of it is to help with your own writing process but it is also to give a better understanding to your subject matter. I'm currently working my way through some new required texts for my project. As an aspiring writer, these books seem like a must for my bookshelf.

The first book on the list is "Aspects of the Novel" by E.M. Forster, the original edition having appeared back in 1927. The cover describes this book as a "renowned guide to writing". I've worked my way through the introduction, and the first aspect "story", and I have to say, this guide is good so far.

The "Story" section opens with Forster talking about three voices who answer the question "what does a novel do?" The answer revolves around the idea that a novel tells a story. The point of the story is to keep the reader asking what happens next, that's what makes the "story" the backbone of a novel. The only fault of the novel can be that the audience does not want to learn what happens next.

So far so good. I get all that. Fairly straightforward and simple. To tell the truth, I'm almost confused about why I was told to read this for my project. Then I get to this line.

"...the basis of a novel is a story, and a story is a narrative of events arranged in time sequence. (A story, by the way, is not the same as a plot. It may form the basis of one, but the plot is an organism of a higher type, and will be defined and discussed in a future lecture.) (30)"

Organism of a higher type?
Color me intrigued.

Forster moves on to discuss Sir Walter Scott, an author I have never read, and judging by Forster's opinion, not one I'm likely to look for in the future. Forster explains that Scott's popularity depended on two things: one, the fact that many people had his works read to them as children, leading them to attach happy memories to his novels; and two was that he could tell a story. He could keep the reader in suspense, and keep their curiosity focused on his work.

Something every writer needs for their novels to work.

As I kept reading, I was given excerpts of Scott's "The Antiquary" to explain why audiences felt so inclined to continue reading. (I wasn't interested, judging by the glimpse I was given, but oh well.) He discusses the use of time sequence, writers that follow it and others that try to abolish it in their works, explaining the pros and cons of each. As I kept reading, I had several thoughts swimming around in my head. First off, I kept agreeing with everything I was reading. And second, I couldn't believe this was from a lecture given back in 1927.

I have so many favorite passages in this section, but I'm only going to type a few more out here for you readers in the hope that some of you may be intrigued enough to go out and get a copy of this yourselves. Here's one good passage:

"A word in conclusion about the story as the repository of a voice. It is the aspect of the novelist's work which asks to be read out loud, which appeals not to the eye, like most prose, but to the ear;... (39)"

How very true, don't you think? Something about that passage resonates a deeper understanding in me, making me think "Exactly" in my head as I make note of the passage and continue my reading.

"What the story does do in this particular capacity, all it can do, is to transform us from readers into listeners, to whom "a" voice speaks, the voice of the tribal narrator, squatting in the middle of the cave, and saying one thing after another until the audience falls asleep among their affal and bones. The story is primitive, it reaches back to the origins of literature, before reading was discovered, and it appeals to what is primitive in us. That is why we are so unreasonable over the stories we like, and so ready to bully those who like something else. (40)"

Raise your hand if you bully others that don't like the same novels you do. That line has to be one of the best in the piece.

Forster returns to the three voices from the beginning of the chapter that answered the question "What does a novel do?" as he concludes his section on the aspect of "Story". He states:

"Do not say them vaguely and good-temperedly like a busman: you have not the right. Do not say them briskly and aggressively like a golfer: you know better. Say them a little sadly, and you will be correct. Yes--oh, dear, yes-- the novel tells a story. (42)"

Wow. After finishing the section on "Story", all I can say is that I wish I was in the audience when Forster gave this lecture. As a writer, that would have been a life-changing experience.

Coming soon, a review on "People" and "The Plot". If anything, these blogs will be great to use as notes once my real work starts next month :D

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