A “Novel” Approach to This Post

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Poetry. Drama. Short stories. Non-fiction works.

As I humbly learned, writing a novel can prove fleeting at times. Image courtesy of Academic Help.

All these forms of the written word challenge the writer of literature, commentary and criticism. But it’s the novel — that extended extended genre of fiction — that truly provides the examination and demonstration of the writer’s skill, dedication, drive and passion.

It’s with first-hand experience that I make this assertion.

Last week, I completed the “Novel Writing Workshop” course, another educational step toward earning a master’s degree in English.  Completing the course, however, did not equate to completing my novel.

Ah, the sound and connotation of those words, “my novel.” Yes, I am underway with an extended work of fiction, and I plan to complete a draft by August.

Hold me to that.

In my class, I was one of six fledgling novelists. Some already had works published, others were well into stories that spanned genres (a young woman growing up in a foreign brothel, a surreal account of spirits interacting with people), topics (detective tales, a search for a missing child) and continents (from North America to Asia.)  Me, I created a protagonist who to my knowledge has not been used before: A building engineer. From Chicago, as you’d expect.

More on my story soon.

Every class I’ve taken these past six semesters has culminated in gaining knowledge and understanding of the written word. And, all have improved my cognitive skills.

To summarize, here’s what I learned over the past 14 weeks:

  • First Person.  Writing in first person is harder than anticipated. I launched my work taking the narrator’s point of view, but the instructor and classmates wholeheartedly suggested I move to the third person omniscient. I did, and it really made a difference in the narrative.
  • Accepting Criticism.  At first I was somewhat stunned by critical comments, leading to defensive replies: “What do you mean there’s not enough conflict? Why do you find the dialogue too dense at times? So, what the heck does understanding temporal distance and free-indirect discourse have to do with writing a novel?” Every writer receives criticism; I learned to accept feedback and move on.
  • Map Out the Complete Storyline.  Before class started in early September, I drafted a two-page synopsis of sorts, but I really didn’t craft a solid plot or a conclusion. That led to a roadblock, one I’ve since overcome.
  • Point of View Characters. There can only be so many “POV” characters in a work for it to be intriguing and make sense. I learned to restrict this perspective to my protagonist and the guy who’s the villain.
  • Trust Your Instincts.  In light of the aforementioned, it will be my name below the title of the work. When the manuscript is completed, the results will be based on what I think is right.

And now, a sample. Here’s the first paragraph of the work:

“For Myron Jezmanski, here’s how it goes when everything is right, when nothing unexpected gets in the way, when he can count on the day being like the day before, and the day before that, and there’s no crap or nonsense that he has to deal with and he can close his eyes and just be thankful for what he’s built, what he has, and what he’s earned. First, the dog is still asleep when he awakes at 5:30 a.m., which means Myron doesn’t have to let him in the yard until he’s had a shower, coffee – one-half teaspoon of sugar only — and a bowl of Cheerios with fruit – dried fruit in the wintertime, fresh fruit when it’s in season. Hell, if he’s going to pay $4.99 for a pint of strawberries in January. If they’re out of Cheerios, he will eat his wife’s granola, even though he really doesn’t see the big deal in granola.”

What do you gain from these 157 words about my protagonist? Stay tuned for more.

By the way, the title of my novel is “The Way It’s Supposed to Be.”

 

 

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What Reading Moby Dick Taught Me About Life Today

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

By tomorrow, I will have finished reading one of the most heralded works of fiction in the annuals of American literature. For the past month of so, I’ve taken on Herman Melville’s monumental classic, Moby Dick, otherwise titled, The Whale.

Being engaged in a masterpiece like Moby Dick compels the reader to focus on one body of work.

As for my critique, that may happen in some form later this year, after I complete the next course in my “quest” (felt it appropriate to use such a superfluous noun, given the plot of the aforementioned book) for my Master’s degree in English. Upcoming this Fall: “English 507 Theory, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: Unthinking Signification.”

Taking on a novel, or any voluminous fiction or non-fiction work the size and scope of Moby Dick requires dedication and patience. The hardcover University of California Press edition I’m reading spans 577 pages and includes some informative illustrations of ships, big fish and the men who sail the ships in order to hunt big fish.

Furthermore, Melville’s prose is not what I would rank as “light reading.” Symbolism aside, this is serious, yet compelling, prose, as detailed in this passage from Chapter 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale:”

“But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and from more portentous — why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things most appalling to mankind.”

Someday, my prose may be this good. Someday. Maybe.

Now, let me direct this conversation to what reading Moby Dick has taught me about one aspect of life today. On my weekday commute on the CTA Blue Line, I observe fellow passengers and ascertain that they would not have the patience to read a novel, especially not a gargantuan work like Moby Dick. Most fellow passengers, not all, ride handheld in hand, dexterously swiping between Pinterest and texts, Facebook and Candy Crush Saga.

Do these folks — young and old — read novels or other long-form literature?  Will they ever? Will a significant number people from future generations only absorb information through images and videos, subheads and captions, texts and instant messages? And, perhaps more vitally, will they ever learn to savor reading a masterwork without responding to an incoming digital message?

Without question, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are studying this relatively modern phenomenon. Assuredly, there are plenty of options for conducting primary research, beyond the Blue Line el.

Now, as noted, I still have a few chapters to go. So, please don’t respond with the fate of Ahab, Ishmael and my favorite character Queequeg — much less the big white whale.

Of course, I could quickly consult my handheld and have the answer.  But, nawh! I prefer to savor and learn, page by page.