So, what have I learnt in the first half of my first semester of my Masters in Creative Writing? Lots of new words, for starters, and the most exciting by far is ‘interrobang’. Isn’t it just marvelous? It’s the official name of the ‘non-standard’ mark of punctuation that you deploy when you end a sentence like this – ?!? or !?! Technically, one uses the interrobang to add emphasis at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question, but I have been known to chuck one in (blithely unaware of it’s offical monicker) to express general excitement or disbelief.

I’ve gobbled up a raft of new terms like interrobang in my Professional Editing course which is delivering high levels of satisfaction. Pragmatic, practical and useful, this subject is both fascinating and directly applicable to improving how I self-edit my own work and potentially as a foundation for future employment as a copyeditor. I’m loving every second of it – even wading through the somewhat dry text book!

Nerdy but fun!

Here are a few more editing and grammatical terms that I’m reacquainting myself with and relishing: em-dash, comma splice, malapropisim, verso, full-out, endmatter, correlative conjunction, recto, cognate, apodosis, subjunctive, caret, gerund, dangling modifier, moropheme, ellipsis, reflexive, pleonasm, homophone, register, neologisism. Delicious!

Less engaging has been the swathe of words and concepts I have had to digest as I wade though my subject in literary and narrative theory. Cop some of these: exode, stasimon, praxis, analepsis, metonymy, materiality, phenomenonology, mimesis, anachrony, diegesis, paratext, scenectomy, parode, focalisation, trope, leitmotif, aphasia, prosidy, actant, autodiegesis, narrativity, deixis, metalepsis, illocution, prolepsis, qualia, fabula.

I have to tell you, I’ve really wrestled with the fabula, a key concept in narratology, which is defined as a series of logically and chronologically related events caused or experienced by actors. The fabula is distinct from story, or plot, or narrative, which all mean slightly different things. Here is a fabula:

a) a crime is planned; b) a crime is committed; c) clues/evidence is found; d) criminal is caught.

The ‘story’ could be told as C-B-D-A, or A-B-D-C or … you get the idea. The narrative is the fully combined result. Apparently, extracting and analysing fabula in texts can be a powerful diagnostic tool. I found studying it powerfully annoying.

Do I care about the technical difference between a fabula, a story and a plot? And do I need to read in-depth treatises on the subject written by academics whose sole purpose in life seems to be to try to write more obscurely and inpenetrably than their peers? Narratology says I should, but frankly I don’t give a toss. What I care about is developing my ability to write a cracking good tale that is populated with engaging characters, grips the attention and leaves the reader feeling happy/satisfied/shocked/excited/sad/amazed/transformed. Grasping the concept of fabula hasn’t really helped …

And have you ever heard of homodiegetic narration? Me neither. But it turns out I wrote a whole book of it! My novel, Under New Management, is narrated in the first person by my protagonist, Tess. Little did I know that I had been dealing with homodiegesis – a narrator who has participated in the circumstances and events about which he or she tells a story. The homodiegetic narrator is not to be confused, of course, with the heterodiegetic narrator (who is not a participant in the story) or the intradiegetic narrator (a character who tells a story within the story). Gimme a break!

It’s not just the academics getting me down. It’s some of the authors we are being compelled to read as well. I noted in my first uni blog that much to my chagrin I had been forced to read Hemingway. Perhaps I should have moderated my expressions of disgust given some of the mandatory reading that has followed. Good ole’ Heminway is positively lyrical compared to some of the offerings I’ve had to digest. Take this lovely sample from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

Call me crazy, but isn’t that just gobbldeygook? Oh dear, I think I’m really putting my foot in my academic mouth here. Hating Hemingway is one thing, but dissing the mighty Joyce (‘regarded as one of the most influential and important writers of the 20th century’) is another. Perhaps if this gets out I’ll be stripped of my degree, defrocked of my robes and mortar board.

I confess that I’m beginning to find a lot of this academic naval-gazing a bit pointless, and in fact quite dispiriting. Now that my head is becoming jammed with theories on the ‘best’ way to write I fear that I’ll never again enjoy the unfettered, rule-free, joyous authorial exuberance with which I bashed out Under New Management. If I’m carefully crafting a story arc, and slipping in some style indirect libre, and ensuring that I explore character A’s seminal flaws, and messing with narrative form to push the post-post modernist boundaries what becomes of my voice? Maybe that epoch in France was my one true moment of literary creative freedom?

I’ve touched previously on the great debate about whether Masters degrees like the one I’m doing have any value. This week we read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I discovered that Truman Capote weighed in on the topic: ‘I was determined never to set a studious foot inside a college classroom. I felt that either one was or wasn’t a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome. I still think I was correct.’

Capote – not in favour of writing degrees

I’m feeling pretty sympathetic with Truman right now. If it wasn’t for the engaging and eminently useful content of Professional Editing, and the slightly stretchy reading list in Narrative Writing that I’m actually really enjoying, I might be contemplating drastic action. As it is, the best of the reading is keeping me both sane and engaged. In the past fortnight I’ve relished Trent Dalton’s ballsy, soul-baring Boy Swallows Universe, marvelled at Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain and revisited the brilliance of Virgina’s Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. The degree’s process of pushing me bryond my customary reading preferences is deliving just what I’d hoped, opening me up to new perspectives and tickling my creative fancy.

And I’ve just had the results back from my first assignment, the ‘readers’ report’ on Phosphorescence that I submitted for Professional Editing. For a girly-swat student like me, a Distinction can’t help but bring a smile to my face 🙂