Tag Archives: doctorate creative writing

August 5, 2015

Anatomy of a PhD – the research proposal, part 2

Filed under: Doctorate,PhD,Writing — Tags: , , , , , , — PD Martin @ 1:48 pm

ImFineNow onto the third instalment of my PhD series…also in retrospect! This blog finishes off my look at the research proposal.

In my last blog I compared this first research component to ‘drowning in language’, ‘time for yet another research topic/focus change’ or more simply ‘OMG’. When we left off I was faced with the reality of probably ditching my current research topic completely and starting from scratch. And that’s what I did.

“Literary” crime did seem to represent a good area for further research. What makes a novel “literary” anyway and who decides? You might think a novel either is or isn’t literary (with a capital L), but it’s not that simple. I waded in, and this is where I got to the language issues.  Why does academic language have to be so…academic?!!! At this stage, I started to doubt my ability to get my head around some of the issues. Was I just dumber than I realised?

I read Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Dialogical Imagination and for chunks of it was left with not much more than WTF?  But I kept going, wading deeper and deeper into the abyss of literary theory, the history of literature, aesthetic pleasure, the Frankfurt School and mass culture.  The history of crime fiction, including detailed analysis of more literary-styled crime novels like The Maltese Falcon, Chandler’s novels, Umberto Eco, Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. I crammed a lot of research into those few months (like most PhD students!).  In the end, I had a non-exhaustive and historically defined ‘list’ of some of the elements that make up “the literary”. I won’t go into detail here, but I think it’s useful and hopefully interesting to at least mention them:

  1. Readership/audience – popular fiction is read by the masses whereas literary fiction is read by a smaller group of educated people (completely snobby!). Furthermore, readers of popular fiction are passive readers whereas readers of literary fiction are active. Don’t get me started! This topic alone would be enough for an exegesis.
  2. The role of character and narrative form – literary novels are more character-driven and popular fiction is more plot-driven.
  3. Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia and double-voiced discourse – is there a “literary” language and a crime fiction language? How do novels use multiple narrators and dialogue to produce multiple voices?
  4. Uniqueness versus generic conformity – literary novels are unique, whereas popular fiction follows formulas.
  5. Aesthetic pleasure – something that’s often identified as being part of a response to art, and therefore to the more artistic forms of literature.
  6. Socio-political critique/commentary – literary novels try to change society by highlighting society’s shortcomings.
  7. Sales – some people believe if a novel sells well, it’s not literary…but how can a novel’s sales figures change what it is?
  8. Literary novels are harder to read – they’re denser textually, have multi-layered meanings and require deconstruction. They may also require multiple readings.
  9. Voice, language and style differences – literary fiction tends to feature more poetic prose, often treats dialogue differently and uses more interior monologues.
  10. External evaluation – if a novel is reviewed in certain prestigious publications or wins literary awards (e.g. the Man Booker, Miles Franklin, Nobel Prize) it’s definitely literary.

I’m not saying I agree with all of these (far from it), but they are areas for research. Lots of options…too many options. With only 20,000 words for my exegesis (research component) I had to narrow it down. So, I decided to focus on five elements — the role of characterisation compared to narrative form; Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia and double-voiced discourse; socio-political critique; voice, language and style; and external evaluation (e.g. literary prizes).  And to support my analysis of these characteristics, I will be examining four crime novels that have some literary elements Peter Temple’s Truth, Martin Amis’s Night Train, Benjamin Black’s Christine Falls and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.   Still a lot to wrestle into 20,000 words so I may end up cutting it even more down the track.

I presented all this at my school’s postgraduate conference in June and submitted my final proposal (and the other accompanying documentation) two weeks before my 1 August deadline. Yay! And it’s been accepted! Double yay.

So what now? Well, now it’s onto the creative component for the next twelve months. I can sit back and relax…well, it will be relaxed for me because I’m back in the zone I know, writing a novel (novella). However, the writing style will be very different to what I’ve done in the past, so it will be more challenging than my ‘normal’ time-to-write-a-book phase.

I know I’m only six months in, but so far this PhD is the best thing I’ve done in my career. I love it!

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July 17, 2015

Anatomy of a PhD – the research proposal, part 1

Filed under: Doctorate — Tags: , , , , , , — PD Martin @ 1:48 pm

OMGNow onto part two of my anatomy of a PhD series…also in retrospect! This one’s about the research proposal, but could equally be called ‘drowning in language’, ‘time for yet another research topic/focus change’ or more simply ‘OMG’.

So, casting my mind back to November…the excitement. I was giddy with it. I got in! Three years to write a novel (a novella really, at around only 60,000 words) and a 20,000 word exegesis. Piece of cake! For a start, pre-kids I was on a book-a-year schedule, and those books ranged from 80,000 words to 125,000 words. My fear of the word count is not that it’s a lot of work…it’s writing a ‘novel’ in only 60,000 words. How am I going to contain it? But that’s for another blog.

My official start date was 1 February, and I have to confess, I did wonder exactly what I’d be doing in the first six months. I mean, I had six months to submit my research proposal and associated documents as part of the first key milestone, the Core Component of the Structured Program. The largest part of that is the research proposal, but I’d already written a slightly shorter version for my application so I’d have six months to expand and refine, right?

I launched into my research on method acting, thinking about how it could be applied to character development in novels. Lucky for me (you’ll find out why it was lucky in a second) I wasn’t really putting in my full four days that first six weeks before I had my school induction, faculty induction and first in-person meeting with my supervisor. In retrospect I probably should have contacted my supervisor sooner, but because the university year didn’t officially start until March (and as far as I was concerned I had plenty to go on with) I kept ploughing through. Constantin Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler were my key focal points.

Then the first meeting came along and my whole research topic was thrown into doubt. I can boil the hour-long conversation down to this:

Method acting for authors…great concept but is there any academic research on it?

Um, not really, no. But isn’t it good to be groundbreaking in research?

Well, ideally you’re looking for a gap that CAN be informed by previous research.  What literary theory would you draw on?

Um, none. Can I interview authors to investigate the crossover between character development and method acting?

Possibly, sure. But then you’re going to need ethics approval – a potentially lengthy and mine-field ridden path. And how would it all relate to theory?

Mmm…

The suggestion: How about tying it to the creative component of your PhD, the fact you’re moving into a different style of writing, one with perhaps more ‘literary’ leanings than the popular crime fiction of your Sophie Anderson series?

Mmm… ‘literary’ crime fiction. I could do that. Not actually my normal cup of tea (I sway to the more popular end as a writer and reader) but I AM moving in a different direction and I want to take my writing to another level, a deeper level.  And I’m definitely moving to character-driven work (which is how the whole method acting thing came up), not police procedurals or forensic crime. But what about character and method acting?  Was I really ready to let it go? And it was March…I had three months until I had to present my research proposal at the school’s postgrad conference.  The first OMG came in right about here.

So, step 1: put down Stanislavski and co and check out ACADEMIC studies that may cover method acting and storytelling.

Step 2: Start investigating literary crime and “the literary” in general.

Deep breaths. The piece of cake was suddenly a hell of a lot bigger. Like, huge. Lucky for me I love cake, huh?

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