I can’t believe I’m writing this, but in exactly one month and five days, I’m going to be defending my thesis to my committee. Everything in the past 2.5 years has led up to this moment, and I can’t believe it’s already so close. If you’d told me just a few years ago that I’d be this close to finishing something this massive, I wouldn’t have believed you. (Then again, I didn’t decide to go to graduate school until just a few short months before I finished my Bachelor’s degree.)
I met with my adviser on Friday afternoon in a local coffee shop after work. The point of this particular meeting was so I could hand over my 90+ pages of edits to her and receive her feedback on some edits that I needed to make on my critical introduction.
I knew the critical introduction was a mess, because I ran out of steam on it. It’s also different from most other papers I’ve written. Whereas most papers are research and theory based, this is craft-based, meaning that I’m writing about how I’m writing, not about how someone else is writing. It’s a really difficult thing to get your head around, to be honest.
I’ve got to rewrite almost the entirety of the paper (which I have included at the bottom of this post, for your reference!), but I’m not super upset about it. I figure I can get this thing knocked out before this weekend. My thesis and critical introduction are due the week of October! I can’t believe I’m this close. I’ve already scribbled down some ideas for what I’m going to work on in this introduction. It’s a lot of revising, but I know I can do it.
- My thesis & critical introduction are due in my committee members’ boxes the week of October 1-5, 2018.
- My thesis defense is at 3:30 p.m. on October 29, 2018.
- Once I finish with these two things, I won’t have to worry about anything else until December 7, 2018, when I walk across that stage and finally receive my diploma!
September 14, 2018
For as far back as I can remember, I’ve only had one dream: to write a book. This dream started off with short ‘books’ entitled The Adventures of Ginger, who was our cat at the time. A “re-imagining” project in fourth grade led to The Three Piggettes, a re-telling of The Three Little Pigs. I wrote it, illustrated it, and over a decade later it’s been sitting on my computer, languishing for the past two years as I attempt time and time again to tweak it to be acceptable for submission. I started my first full-length novel (as I imagined it, at least) in fifth grade, writing in multiple composition notebooks. It never went anywhere and while it did eventually make its way into my computer, it hasn’t seen the light of day in almost a decade.
Unconquered started off in a composition notebook too, as a throwback to those days where I sat furiously scribbling at recess, but it eventually demanded to be put into a more-easily-edited format, and arrived on my computer screen four years ago.
The passages you hold in your hands bear very little, if any, resemblance to that story.
I started major revisions on the story when I was told that I could submit a creative thesis for my degree instead of an academic one, and through Dr. Wurzbacher’s guidance I’ve managed to find several craft books that have helped solidify my writing and turn what was a mess of sentences into something (almost) coherent. One of those books was Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter, a collection of essays. Two of the essays in particular, “On Defamiliarization” and “Counterpointed Characterization,” were instrumental in helping me figure out how to work through this story. “On Defamiliarization” talks about the concept of making the familiar strange and the strange familiar. This is what I am doing with my story world. While the story takes place in an alternate reality already, the time period may be easily recognized by a reader as being similar to our own medieval period. However, small things happen throughout the story that reminds you that you are not on Earth: there is magic, for one, and for another there are monsters. I undertook the task of making everything that would seem extraordinary — or at the very least, out of place — seem regular and mundane to the citizens of my world. Mira, one of the main characters, was transported to this world from Earth and as such she can see all of the strange happenings as being strange. For Drake, the main character and the narrator of the novel, it’s not out of the ordinary for the seamstress to be using magic to make her dresses. He has accepted the fact that there are monsters outside of the human spectrum and is dedicated to ridding his country of one of them, the half-man, half-Ghoul King Andras.
Another thing I enjoyed in Burning Down the House was the concept of “Counterpointed Characterization,” under the chapter entitled the same. Baxter writes, “It is the job of those who write fiction to expose the secrets of characters and take away the mask.” While not every story needs a protagonist and an antagonist, my story has both. Counterpointing characters is interesting, because it means that not everything has to be one hundred percent black and white. It is perfectly acceptable to have some gray areas, and people don’t need to be completely for or against someone. It is okay to make my main character have some not-so-great qualities and give a redeeming quality or two to the “big bads” of my story. It’s boring to read about someone being good all the time, anyway. Drake is the leader of a band of thieves who have installed themselves in a complex tunnel network running under the district of Shibya on the continent of Terra. His people are the last ones that are free and unconquered, thus the title of the story. When you think of the word “thief,” you most likely envision someone in all black who steals (and possibly does worse) for their own profit. While Drake does do those thing, and his men do the same, they are also the last line of resistance against King Andras and his Ghouls, and are recruited by Duke Miles of Shibya in order to find a way to take Andras off the throne.
Another craft book that opened my eyes to new experiences was Magic(al) Realism by Maggie Ann Bowers. Before starting on this project, I was unaware of the term magic realism or magical realism. I did not realize there was a term for the type of books I enjoyed reading beyond the generic fantasy genre. It’s been around for decades — starting in the 1920s, but reaching its peak in the 1980s — and yet I had never heard of it. In magical realism, the reader must rely on the narrator to show what is real and what is not, and it is through the narrator that they learn to accept the fantastical elements of the story. There was a lot of discussion on Gabriel Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude¸ which I also read for this project, as it has become the quintessential magical realism book in the last few decades. Bowers’ discussion of magical realism and how it relates to [Finish this]
[On the Narrator]
I have found, through many workshops and many nights spent hunched over a keyboard or notebook, that my writing seems to come to life more when I write in first person than in third person. The narrator in Unconquered is Drake, a twenty-something male who has the challenge of uniting the continent of Terra under his banner and the banner of Duke Miles of Shibya in order to eradicate the dark threat that has overtaken Terra’s throne. I realized I have written maybe one story in a female voice through all my years of writing, and even then that was in third person. I suppose I am perpetuating the stereotype that nobody wants to read a story narrated by a girl, and that action stories are usually always narrated by men. The Hunger Games, of course, bucked this trend, but for the most part, if you ask someone who their favorite fantasy author is, the response will be usually be the name of a white male. I myself drew a lot of inspiration from Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series (and other subsequent myth-based series). While the ages of his protagonists are about half of what mine are, I enjoyed Riordan’s style of writing and the humor he was able to inject into the plot. I wanted to read through the Merlin series by T.A. Barron, but did not have the time to do that. It was the same thing: a young boy loses part of himself in order to
[On the Writing Influences]
Why did I choose to tell this story, though? What could I contribute to the world of literature by telling Drake’s story? I’ve always loved reading fantasy stories, and especially ones that involved dragons and such. For a long time, Eragon and by extension the rest of the Inheritance cycle by Christopher Paolini was at the top of my fantasy reading list. It was eventually knocked off that pedestal when I discovered The Lord of the Rings and the rest of Middle-Earth (which is amusing, considering the entire Inheritance cycle is a direct mix of Star Wars and Tolkien). I enjoyed the idea of someone who has no world experience beyond their own little corner of peace traversing a large and dangerous world to defeat a great evil. While I did not put my characters on quite that large of a quest, I still wanted to include a quest element in my story. The main quest in my novel is moving Drake and his band of Thieves across the continent to lay siege to the Demon King Andras’s castle and rid the world of his evil influence. I have always been fascinated by the medieval era (most likely because of the time I spent in Europe when I was in middle school — old enough to remember and yet still young enough to believe in magic). I wanted to bring the history to life, but in my own way. Despite the fact that I wanted to breathe some sort of fantasy elements into my story, I found myself struggling with that and sticking more to historical fact, even researching items such as “when were glass windows first used” and “medieval slang.” Dr. Wurzbacher reminded me that I was working within the realm of magical realism, and separating my world just enough from ours to make it familiar and yet strange would be the right way to go about things. It’s the same with Middle-Earth. There are many recognizable elements, but with a heavy layer of fantasy brushed on top of them. I wanted to go a little lighter: a readily-recognizable world with a light dusting of something fantastical. There are monsters, yes, and there is magic, but the vast majority of the world is no different from what you might encounter while walking down the street.
My biggest struggle throughout the writing of this piece has been what to do with the blank space. I have had it drilled into me in workshop after workshop to “show, not tell.” I thought that meant I needed to put in more descriptions, to take the long way around, to make sure that everyone knew what was going on in the story. I ended up with things that were not relevant to my tale and that took away from the overall story I was trying to tell. After a few meetings with my advisor, “How can I sum this up without losing anything?” became my overall mantra. I found that I could convey the same feelings without bogging everything down if I summarized it in a few sentences and moved the plot along without relying on filler to take up the white space within the pages. This has always been a problem for me, though. (It’s probably a problem in this paper.) I have always struggled with finding stuff to fill the in-between parts in longer essays and research papers. I feel like I repeat the same thing too often, and that nobody will want to read it because it is a bunch of filler and quotes with a few things here and there. The novella Invisible Cities by [insert author] was interesting to read in this respect. It is simply a scene per page, where the narrator (in this case, Marco Polo) describes an entire city in just a few sentences. It is not long and overbearing, but instead short and simple, while still being able to put the big picture in everyone’s mind and show them the minute details at the same time. One of my favorite quotes from this novella is “The city does not tell the past but contains it.”
Do you have any comments for me? Do you think I’ll make it? Let me know in the comments!
And as always, keep reading.