How to Introduce a Book, and Why I Like Hemingway

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish….

-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

When you introduce a book, you can’t simply give an imagery description of the town, or a bland description of the character’s physique. Sometimes you wait to say who the character is or how the character looks until after you say what the character does.

Here in the introduction of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, I am struck by the short paragraph which tells readers why the old man is the center of this story. Look at the following passage, which is the rest of the introduction, to see what I mean:

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

Although I omitted sections for brevity, I included the most important phrase—“the flag of permanent defeat”—which sets the story’s tone and shows the old man’s perpetual misfortune. My favorite lines in the next few pages involve dialogue between the old man and the boy, when they reminisce about the time they first met and how important the boy is to the man:

“How old was I when you first took me in a boat?” [said the boy].

“Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?”

“I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. …”

“Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?”

“I remember everything from when we first went together.”

The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

“If you were my boy I’d take you out and gamble,” he said. “But you are your father’s and your mother’s and you are in a lucky boat.”

When Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for this novella, he deserved it well. We now know who the old man is by seeing him with our eyes and understanding him with our minds. That is the importance of style when introducing characters.

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How a Story Ought to Be–Truthful and not Grotesque

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

One of the most prolific examples of fiction theory comes from “The Fiction Writer & His Country,” by Flannery O’Connor, a prolific fiction writer from the 1960’s South. O’Connor explains the reason why most people are drawn to grotesque elements in literature: These people experience grotesqueness in their lives and thus struggle to relate to anything else. They do not enjoy happy endings because they do not experience happy endings. Above all, they do not realize Jesus’ hope, and as a result, their stories have elements that are also without hope.

However, fiction should not include grotesque elements for the sake of being grotesque; rather, fiction should leave readers with a sense of energy, excitement, or hope, while conveying truth in a manner that seems realistic or true to life.

In my fiction writing, I aspire to create this atmosphere and convey my Jesus without words that only Christians would understand or fantastical situations that non-Christians would disbelieve. (If my stories require the character’s demise, I will use it.) I want to gradually incorporate Him in my stories until my readers are accustomed to Him. If I offend them with Jesus, I will not mention Him. Yet if they are open to possibilities, I will show them what joy I have found in Him (such as no stress) and appeal to them through this enjoyable atmosphere.

My Personal Literary Theories: Why I Do What I Do

Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.
Every week, my hall or the adjacent hall will post inspirational verses for the girls in the dorms.

When I first began my college course in Writing Theory and Ethics, I had little to no intention of writing down my own theories of writing outside the class, thinking that theories were only set aside for academic exercises or dissertations. But now that I have taken this class, I see that I’ve been writing down my theories ever since I began my novels in high school. It was just a matter of recognizing my own patterns of thought and seeing those patterns play out in my fiction.

When I took classes in literary theory and creative writing, I began my own diary in which I revisited events of the day and sometimes jotted down clips of creative writing that I didn’t use for my assignments. As I matured in my writing and pursued my love of novels, I began to see patterns in how I thought and how I formed my stories. Sometimes those stories followed a similar motif, such as how I view a hopeful versus a happy ending and how I insinuate my faith into my writing so that my Christianity appears normal rather than contrived.

As I added my minor in journalism, I began to condense my diction and form my style with more action-packed syntax. Now I see the world through a journalist’s eyes, replacing my prepositional phrases with clear-cut nouns and verbs that grab my readers’ attention.

But my love is novels, and though the economy has shifted in favor of technical and journalistic writing, I have coupled my love for novels with my skill in journalism and have found social media to bridge the gap between classical literature and contemporary trends. It is actually in the ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter that I have begun establishing my presence as a writer, and as I tweet, text, and post “likes” on my statuses, I am beginning to see that the trends in our culture are helping me build a happy podium on which I can establish my career as a writer.

Throughout the journey of developing my personal literary theories, I have delved into greater strides of what I truly believe to be my own theories on faith, fiction, and journalism. In all my writing, I’ve noticed that I carry a thread of hope in my work. Whether it’s in newspaper articles, novels, or academic prose, I’m always writing with the clear vision that my readers will glean hope from my writing, and it’s because of my love for and belief in God that I’m able to portray hope in my writing and see this whole world as a reflection of His glory and workmanship.

Twelve signs you’re a true English major…

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It was the saddest day when I had to return these to the library. They were my greatest friends during my senior literature project.

It’s my senior year, and I’m finally realizing the true characteristics of an English major. We’re tough, strong, and self-conscious about our grammar. We love books, Oxford commas, and bubble gum shaped like Shakespearean books. But most of all, we love that we can geek over little things together, small things like correcting our classmates’ grammar or editing a romance novel we got for homework.

I admit it: We’re geeks to the extreme core.

If you’re anything like us—or worse, if you’re an English major at all—you’ll notice that you’ll find some predilections very common in your daily or semester routines. And if you abide by these characteristics, I’m very sorry to say that you are a true English major; there’s no going back.

  1. You memorize every famous line by Shakespeare and apply Hamlet’s soliloquy to your daily life: “To sleep or not to sleep; that is the question…” you say during finals week, for instance.
  2. You love endnotes because they look cute, and you use them just for fun.
  3. By your sophomore year, you’re writing 10 pages on two stanzas of poetry, and you actually enjoy it.
  4. You have erasers or bubble gum shaped like your favorite classical books, like Canterbury Tales or Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  5. You know Colin Firth only as Mr. Darcy.
  6. You carry three bibles with you: Associated Press (AP), Chicago Manual of Style and MLA.
  7. You don’t love your Chicago Manual until you carry it with you everywhere, even in the kitchen.
  8. You get the greatest thrill from editing commas in a proofing project, especially if it’s a romance novel.
  9. You live in the library’s basement, and you know all the librarians by name.
  10. You feel you have no purpose until your next big paper; you actually cry when your senior project is over.
  11. Fridays are the saddest days because there’s no school until Monday.
  12. You get goosebumps from reading your favorite novels, and when you return your library books, you feel like you’re parting with old friends.

Hanging out with English nerds makes me realize not only the geekiness of my life, like the way I geek over Shakespeare books in the form of bubble gum, but also the severe fact that I’ll never escape these traits in my whole life.

Let’s face it: we’re either born English majors, or we’re morphed into being English majors. We live three to four years at college, get acquainted with our professors, and sooner than we know it, we’re drawn into studying literary criticism, analyzing poems for pentameter breaks, and when we go home we’re automatically correcting our siblings’ composition papers—just because we can.

We can’t change who we are, but even if we can, we realize we find greater joy in stressing over pentameters and Milton’s Paradise Lost than we would ever have over anything else. We love what we do, and it comes from the long hours we’ve spent together, the repeated assignments we’ve shared in freshman composition or introductory courses in Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer. And finally when we get published in our university’s literary magazine, we feel the same thrill of ecstasy and relief.

Only by living out these qualities do we finally realize the true depth of being an English major. Coming all this way to a university makes me appreciate my field even more, and I relish every moment of it.

How to become an English scholar without really trying

Photo Courtesy of ToemLondres
Photo Courtesy of ToemLondres

So you think you want to be an English scholar? You love fantasy, you smell books when no one looks and you kind of like Shakespeare but don’t really know why. Join the club. We’ve got a bunch of people who’d love to assimilate—I mean, welcome you into our coterie. And if you’re not really sure it’s the right fit for you, it’s no sweat at all. Just follow this pattern, and you’ll be thinking, talking and eating like an English major.

Freshman year: It all starts at the English department barbecue. You mingle with the professors and talk about English-y stuff. Your professor happens to have a collection of Shakespearean quotes made entirely of magnets, and you geek over the Shakespeare mug your mother just bought you from Stratford-on-Avon. Next, you start to think like a poet and compose a mental poem about hot dog mustard dripping down your professor’s sleeves.

Now it’s time for the test. You’ve taken your introductory class and figure out the many ways how to not make sense when analyzing literature. You read Shakespeare’s sonnet about his wife’s bad breath and realize that there’s more than three ways to look at it. But if you have the faintest clue what psychoanalytic critics are saying, you’re onto your next step in becoming an English scholar.

Sophomore year: You’re introduced to more obscure literature. The building blocks of your freshman year are becoming cemented in your brain, and you start to read things like Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” or Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” things that don’t seem normal in daily life. But you don’t start becoming an English scholar until you learn Middle English. It’s a combination of Norse and German, spoken with a Scottish accent. It sounds brilliant, especially when your fellow English majors have no clue what you’re saying.

Junior year: You start to notice things. You prefer to watch “Dead Poets Society” over “The Hunger Games.” You quote Jane Austen’s infamous first line from “Pride & Prejudice” in daily conversation. You start to get crazy over Colin Firth as Darcy. And if someone—especially an English major—hasn’t read Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” you seriously judge them.

Senior year: Things start to get a little weird. You start to see things like “homoeroticism in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’” or the “political sexuality of Ichabod Crane.” You obsess over things like iambic pentameters and fuss over trochees or dactyls. But if you’re a true English scholar, you’ll know for certain whether Robert Frost’s poetry is actually blank verse or free verse. But when you start to see “The Psychological Ruthlessness of Peter Rabbit,” then you know you’ve gone too far. There’s no return for you now. You’ve now officially become an English scholar.

But don’t say we didn’t warn you. Sure, it seems glamorous—the books, the fame, the Shakespeare—but all in all, it’s really a bunch of people who think they’re smarter than they really are.