What’s going on in here

THINGS CHANGE – May 2010 (six months later)

When I started this project last October I thought that I’d wrap it up as soon as my thesis was written. It’s written. In fact I finished it in March and got thumbs up from my committee. In June I make a thirty-minute oral defense of my work. My discoveries from writing this blog will be a huge part of my commentary.

I’m so glad I did this! It has made a huge difference in my understanding of what goes on in the opening of a novel and it focused my attention on what I was reading and how it motivated me forward.

So what has changed?

The format, mostly. I must recognize Susan Bell and her wonderful book THE ARTFUL EDIT. From her insightful work I have added several categories to my postings, including language, structure and foreshadowing. Ms. Bell offers excellent advise to writers on how to view their work for the purpose of editing – not over editing, but self editing. I recommend it highly.

Another format addition. I’ve added a category called THEMATIC PREAMBLE. Most significant works offer a three or four page cycle at the very beginning of the story that parallels the main story. An excellent example of this is John Irving’s CIDER HOUSE RULES where the book opens with a generic tale that segues into the story of Homer Wells and the orphanage. Often times a prologue will serve as a thematic preamble.

The thing that hasn’t changed is that I love writing these reviews. Even though I’ve finished my thesis assignment and am scheduled for September graduation I enjoy these close readings and commenting on what will happen after the first ten pages are over.

So for now, I’ll continue to write reviews every now and then, in between the collection of short stories that are due in August for me to graduate.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

WHAT’S GOING ON IN HERE?? October 2009

I began to wonder. What draws me into a novel during the first ten pages? Why do I keep reading? What is the crucial information an author presents at the very beginning of her story that keeps me reading to the last paragraph?

That, and also I’m compiling data for my thesis in the craft of creative fiction. I’m a graduate student in the low-residency creative writing program at UC Riverside – Palm Desert Campus and I have a paper to write. This is how I’m collecting my data.

So I started picking up books at garage sales. Books I’d heard of but had not read. (Can you believe I escaped junior high school and never read Catcher In The Rye?) What was it about Love Story that kept a decade of teens reading beyond chapter two? And what the heck is going on with Anna Karenina at the beginning of the story that causes her to toss herself under a train at the end? What information do Barbara Kingsolver, Mary Shelly, E.L. Doctorow or Ian McEwan present in the first few pages that grabs your attention and makes you want to keep on reading?

These postings are the way I see it — in the first ten pages.

Thanks – Bryan

7 responses to “What’s going on in here

  1. Mark Wensel

    Yes, why would any one ‘toss themselves’ under a train? They might toss a Kleenex, or other object, but to seemingly carelessly toss a person is a stretch.
    I look forward to what information Mary Shelly has to offer for you. Great job, nicely done and very interesting points of view.
    Thanks,
    -Mark

    • Unfortunately she “tosses” herself under the train in the LAST ten pages. [My friend Alaina pointed out that she took poison. No train involved.] One could argue that she literally throws herself away like a tissue when faced with the reality of how her future will execute itself. Between Madame Bovary, Hedda Gabler, and Edna Pontellier in “The Awakening” the turn of the century was a tragic time for women. At least Nora from “A Doll’s House” escaped with her life.

  2. WHAT a clever light, yet filling take on books- love the web photo. Maybe if you have time and you want more books, just let me know Bryan…you may have to start farming out 10-page writers to help you keep up with the demand as you break it up into genres over time.

    KUDOS, and of course carpe diem!

    LOVE Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Mrs. Dalloway is right where it should be front and center! Have you read any Zola? One of my favorites…

  3. Alaina

    Great idea, Bryan, and I like your analyses.

    Perhaps you didn’t finish Mme Bovary; Emma poisons herself in an excruciating scene, with no trains in sight.

    • Alaina! Thanks for looking in and for the comment about Emma’s death. I usually read only the first ten pages in order to stay impartial. After I posted the comments on “The Awakening” I finished the book. Interesting parallel between that and Mrs. Bovary. Now that I think of I confused Madame Bovary with Anna Karinina. Oh Lordy me, those Russians.
      Please keep coming back. It is surprising to me that no matter the era, it is important for the story to establish a setting AND LOCATION in the first few pages. Even if the exact location is vague, like in Madame Bovary, the interior of the house is vividly described, which makes sense as it is a domestic drama. Stay tuned. This week will be “All’s Quiet on the Western Front” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’ Tale”.
      Please leave more comments when you visit. – Bryan

  4. Keep posting! I look forward to getting hooked on some of these books you’re checking out.

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