Saturday, June 12, 2010

Novel versus Thesis

I've noticed similarities and differences between writing a thesis and writing a novel. Yesterday I bumped into my ex-main-supervisor and he said that by writing a novel I'm keeping up the discipline and I'm continuing to experiece the process of writing. So if I want to return to academic writing, at least I won't have forgotten to write. In fact, I may be able to bring new flavours to it.

So what are the similarities in navigating these two very different projects?

  • They are both expected to be a minimum of 80,000 words. Impetus is needed for their completion.
  • They both require a beginning, middle and end of sorts.
  • They both need to develop their narratives/arguments incrementally and logically to give a sense of progression.
  • They both need to be consistent throughout in terms of style and genre/subject, although more so with a thesis as novels can be experimental and self effacingly post modern.
  • They both involve research.
  • They are both experimental.
  • They both offer a message. In a thesis it is a structured argument based on the collected data. In a novel it is a theme which arises from the plot.
  • They both need to be continually checked for continuity errors!
  • When done effectively and industriously, the author tends to see little day-light and becomes removed from the real world.
  • Momentum is needed for both.
  • They can both be therapeutic endeavours.

And the differences?
  • You don't have to dissect/criticise the works of other authors in a novel in order to carve your position within it.
  • You don't need to quote in a novel. However, you can if you feel it brings life to the story. I use short, zen poem/koan and Korean soji quotations in my novel because one of the protagonist's spirit guides only communicates with her through spoken words with a zen philosophical slant. I am still not sure how to reference these quotations.
  • You don't need a bibliography in a novel, or do you , if there are quotes?
  • Theses tend to have visual representations of data to enhance understanding. However, there are graphic novels which arguably do the same.
  • Novels don't present the research data transparently. Any research collected tends to be embedded into the narrative rather than made explicit.
  • Theses require a transparent writing style. Novels are expected to be more subtle, stylised and murky.
  • The messages of the thesis should be clear and spelt out. The messages of the novel should be open to debate and implicit. 
  • One is fiction and one is non-fiction but there are definite overlaps and these labels can be contested (which may be another blog post).
  • A thesis conveys a message via trying to verify and/or falsify empirical and theoretical truths. A novel conveys a message by creating new, imagined truths which sometimes contest the notions of verification and falsification themselves.
  • A novel tends to be more self exploratory, however latently. A thesis tends to be an objective account and more usually written in the passive voice.
  • Writing a novel is creative, writing a thesis is reactive.
  • Writing a novel is reactive, writing a thesis is creative.
If this was an essay I would now try to synthesise these similarities and differences in the context of other recent debates. This is not an essay. It is a blog. Essay versus blog?


Ram said...

very informative... :)

Dr Ken said...

Thanks Ram. I like your blog. If you're based in India, why do you choose to write in English? Incidentally, are you writing a thesis?


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