Master of Creative Writing

Halfway through the programme, the time seems ripe to commit a few phrases to memory. The novel I’m writing as my thesis will be my sixth and I’m doing a masters in order to understand the process better, and to be qualified to teach in a different forum than private school ESL.

Some of the founding members of the AUT University faculty formerly worked for the University of Auckland. A difference between the programmes is that, while Auckland uni follows the Iowa model of giving and getting peer feedback on your work in progress, AUT prefers a teaching model. What follows is terminology and other random insights from our weekly masterclasses.

I always start my first draft on paper.



Meme: “We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme… It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’. Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” — Richard Dawkins

meme lit

Homocommunicative Vs heterocommunicative narratives: it seems to be when the narrator speaks to the reader from the point of view of I and You, compared to speaking to the reader about the character, via he and she. But read this

Mike on Mimesis Vs Diegesis

Write fast, revise slowly.

Story + Dialogue + Action = Narration

“Show don’t tell” should be investigated per work, not taken as a rule.

The reader ought to feel like the genius = the power of subtext. Allow it to show through action and dialogue.

Dark work can be playful. Aim for a deep-seated engagement, rather than earnestness. “Trust the gut, not the nut.”

“Creative work needs boundaries to harness the psychic rush.” Find the balance between chaos and order.

Mimesis Vs Diegesis

Diegesis is narration (ie, story and plot) but mimesis is a more thorny beast. Our tutors said you could convey mimesis at the sentence level via word choice, syntax and rhythm. I like the last sentence of an analysis from The University of Chicago:

Images are a part of our material existence, but also mimetically bind our experience of reality to subjectivity and connote a “sensuous experience that is beyond reference to reality”

The same site explains Aristotle’s priorities:

As such, when Aristotle outlines the six key components of the poetics of tragedy, he constructs a mimetic hierarchy, privileging Mythos (Plot or Fable) over the other five aspects. He orders these components according to their significance in the poetics of tragedy: Mythos (Plot or Fable), Ethos (Character), Dianoia (Thought or Themes), Lexis (Diction), Opsis (Spectacle), and finally, Melos (Melody).

Opsis, Melos and Lexis = image, music (melody) and text

Structure includes Point of View: first person, (rare second person), third person subjective (similar to first person, except he/she instead of I), third person limited (chillier and easier to head hop), and the omniscient voice of saga and fairy tale.

Your choice of psychic perception will impact the reader.

Dialogism: the use in a text of different tones or viewpoints, whose interaction or contradiction are important to the text’s interpretation. (according to Google)

Time is another element in the quest for impact. Reading a novel is an inescapably temporal experience. Will you choose a linear chronology, or flashbacks?

Will the structure emerge with plot after you’ve built your fabula (everything that exists in the world of your novel, but may not be included in the novel itself) OR will you start with structure and wrap your story into it?

The Relationship Line drives the Action Line. Similarly, events won’t be engaging if we don’t care about the characters. Why should readers care?

There may also be an emotional line, or psychological line, where memory drives and leads plot – triggered by senses.

Characters may be protagonists, antagonists, neutral or shapeshifters.

A sense of the uncanny is great. What’s at stake?

Literary content = character, voice, landscape and dialogue.

Establish the Hook. The world, genre and plot. High Action hits the ground running; non-genre could be more nuanced.

Create a problem or obstacle for your character, or create mystery, challenge expectations, or unsettle your readers. THEN normalise it so it’s believable.

Readers won’t give you much time. They should be asking: “What’s happening next?” because they’re engaged. If they’re asking: “Where is this going?” they’re confused.

Should you break the 4th wall and address them directly?’

Establishing one theme always establishes a binary theme, eg, War and Peace.

Start with an image; voice comes later. Introductions are always “filmic”

Authors are not dealing with individualised texts because all stories are connected to the archetype of narrative: ancient, other worldly, fantastical, emotional, ancestral. cultural, historical.

Macro = history, character, plot, movement, voice etc

Micro = detail, possessions, things, symbols, subtext, landscape etc

Prologue + Epilogue: from three-act Greek theatre. Set up information which will come to be prominent. A chorus may have spoken also, breaking the fourth wall. Gives a voice to someone who may not speak again (eg, will be murdered or already dead). Establishes a reality and validates an existence.

Writing is a knowledge economy: use the facts to empower your work.

Alternative openings: landscape, action, time, a device

Re: objects. It’s important to character and carries resonance, possibly through symbolism, and can even be an abstract non-object. Also, a McGuffin is an object that serves as a trigger for plot but may in itself be meaningless.

MDQ – Major Dramatic Question. The text must pose questions, or it’s just people doing stuff.

James on Narratology = science of story telling.

Create meaning in the relationship between events. Characters can be a vehicle for readers (not the characters themselves!) to achieve catharsis.

Catharsis = emotional purging

Pathos = a quality that evokes pity or sadness (google)

Bathos = (especially in a literary work) an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous. (google)

Alternatively, some stories are mainly about ideas and worlds and systems, eg, SciFi. They may contain COVERT ILLUMINATION (a sneak attack of the present). That is, what are the drivers of the present day that may manifest the future dystopia?

Fabula = the world of the story + subtext, inference, displacement, condensation. Anything not needed can be set aside as research.

Plot = causality + consequence

Text = everything semiotic, storytelling energy, including the space between the lines and paragraphs.

Semiotics = the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation (google)

Analepsis = flashback or memory

Prolapsis = flash forward

Metalepsis = is a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase from figurative speech is used in a new context (google)

As mentioned, diegesis = story/plot

Extra diegetic = omniscient (knower of all things), outside the story world

Intradiegetic = within the story world

metadiegetic narrative = a story within a story within a story. “A metadiegetic narrator is one who exists within a storyworld depicted by one of the characters of the primary narrative and who shares, with his or her fellow character(s), a narrative of his or her own.”

May include a knowing wink at the reader about the usual tropes of the genre within which the story is set.

Monologic (single speaker) Vs dialogic

NB: unreliable narrators. But we seldom mention if a narrator is reliable, as we assume this.

Composite stories = illuminate conflicts of the world

Secondary characters need a set of consciousness too – they shouldn’t only appear when the protagonist needs them. (I am guilty of this right now!)

But character details need to form part of the story, not read like a rap sheet.

Setting = a metaphoric house for the scene.

If the narrator simply tells us = diagesis = lazy Vs mimesis = story enactment.

A typical plot plan:

normality > disturbance/catalyst > actions in response > surprises > obstacles leading to turning point > complications/sub stories > climax > resolution

Very few novels portray a constant shifting perception of normality; if so, it would need another attractor, eg, the language in Ulysseys.

The disturbance needs to elicit a response or it’s not an inciting incident. What’s the challenge? To whom?

Act 2 = where novels go to die. Gotta layer the tension and keep developing!

Protagonist = main viewpoint character with which we determine meaning = the agent. Needs antagonistic forces, though not necessarily characters. Can be: villains, the world/era, the system, internal conflict. On the protagonist’s side may be: mentors, allies, support or relationship characters. Shapeshifters could be on both sides, with hidden motivations.

“People don’t just arrive in the present – they bring their whole history with them.”

Read a Paris Review interview with critic Harold Bloom

Beats = a story step or revelation. ie, can be multiple scenes in a beat.

You ought to be able to clearly delineate the action and relationship lines, and see where they intersect. What is the respective page allocation?

Traumatogenic logic = the story taking place within emotional or psychological time toward recovery. Trauma may take place in the middle of the novel, with flashbacks and forwards etc.

“Try disrupting loyalty to linearity. Change the methods by which your character is challenged to grow. Literariness is a quality, not a concept.”

James on Focalisation = perspective, point of view, voice, tone, mood, atmospherics, landscape

Content Vs stylistics/technique/craft/practice

‘Language is the medium in which thoughts form.”

Read Bakhtini “Discourse in the Novel”

Also Jaques Lacan on semiotic systems and Gerrard Genette on narratology.

Your focus will intimately reveal itself through character.

In Third Person Limited, there should be no thinking on the page Vs Interior Monologue where conversation is housed in the character’s head, or Free Indirect Speech and Vernacular Speech, where the narrator uses features of the character’s voice.

What is the psychic distance between reader and writer/narrator. Read between the lines – pregnant with meaning. Character + meaning + plot + drama = semiotic placenta. How far do you want to embed the reader? How do you write your way through strong emotion? Characters are a mediating device between writer and reader.

We don’t make story from nothing; we arrange what’s already there. Ex Nihila is a myth

Watch TED talk on being a misfit and think, is a writer an outcast? Must they be?

Find character from the inside out; don’t fall back on merely describing them. Think: specificity of detail, backstory, conflict, narrative drive, the world around them, eg, senses. What do you choose to describe through their eyes? Can use images to speak of the theme without referring to it.

Metaphor = a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. (google) ALSO: a unified comparative image

Metonymy = the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the turf for horse racing. (google). ALSO: a chain of unrelated images that together create meaning.

motif = a recurring concrete object that illustrates inconcrete/abstract themes

chronotope = “A term taken over by Mikhail Bakhtin from 1920s science to describe the manner in which literature represents time and space. SEE: the Literary Encyclopeadia 

Metalepsis = read this

Contiguity =  the sequential occurrence or proximity of stimulus and response, causing their association in the mind. “contiguity is necessary in all forms of learning” (google)

factuality = instance, event, knowledge, writing

auto fiction = try typing in a word to Google and seeing what other sentences pop up!

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 9.57.44 am.png

NB: the Action line must be resolved, often in the climax, but resolution on the relationship line may happen in the reader’s head in the denouement, or in the unwritten story that lies beyond the end of the novel.

Siobhan on Place + Space

Beginnings need authorial intervention to draw the reader in. Character must exist somewhere but it’s more than that! NZers cannot deny the earth and landscape is an integral part of cosmology and bi-cultural identity. It’s living, breathing and active = it is a character in itself.

Move from the general wide shot to specific close up.

Maori word WA = space + place + time

See: T.S. Eliot’s Objective correlative = the artistic and literary technique of representing or evoking a particular emotion by means of symbols which become indicative of that emotion and are associated with it. (google)

Place and space and character development are intertwined: psychological, physical, symbolic. You can’t shut readers out who haven’t been there – description can’t be alienating but inclusive. Concrete elements and specifics will help anchor newcomers. Certain objects can give a sense of permanency and then tie them into details that may change and be relevant only at that time.

Film is the dominant cultural medium right now and narrative is intrinsically filmic. Play the director’s role!

Blank landscape = emotional apathy? What are you trying to do with your reader? Emotional engagement with the narrative is filtered through character’s emotions.

Corollary = a proposition that follows from (and is often appended to) one already proved. (google)

eg, place + space sets up an emotional register/tenor for the story that will be affirmed by story. How is place + space pitching readers to view character interactions? What we choose to describe creates Atmospheric Register.

Colour and geometry are universal AND purposeful to character. Compartmentalise/shade into elements. Also, time, season, day, month, weather.

What is the character’s state of mind at the point in the story when you have placed them in a particular environment? Physically place them in it as a voyeur. Look around, static. Novels are a visual medium! Sound is also key. Consider Sentient Possibilities. THEN give these details mobility and momentum to generate other descriptions.

spiegelwelt = mirror world, by Cornelia Funke

In approaching the character, you should also be approaching narrative. Require: authenticity, complexity, veracity, actuality and dimension in your antagonists also (The Joker, Iago). Must be deep enough for readers to want to make a connection. A hero should have flaws and weaknesses, which will disable their ability to make wise choices. What dynamic is created by how they overcome weaknesses? What path is my character on? Will they overcome their weaknesses? If not, who will? Are their weaknesses debilitating or merely inconvenient? “Beauty is the wound”

Plot must accommodate authenticate character. You may plan your story and then when you write it, the character suddenly tells you: “No, I wouldn’t do that.”

A realised Character = mind map, physicality, psychology, plot + conflict

Publisher T.I. = title information sheets

James on Point of View

Point of views exist on a spectrum, rather than a siloed approach – that is, you can move between some of them as you write. Also, multiple first person narratives are more common than before

3rd person limited stays outside character and you interpret them through their actions, and guess their motivations = behaviourist

3rd person limited + subjective = have your cake and eat it.

A preceding subjective paragraph can make a successive omniscient paragraph seems subjective too. Subjective seems in the moment; limited/omniscient is more like the narrator has control.

Parataxis = derived from a Greek word which means to place side by side. It can be defined as a rhetorical term in which phrases and clauses are placed one after another independently, without coordinating or subordinating them through the use of conjunctions. Paratactic sentences, clauses and phrases are useful in explaining a rapid sequence of thoughts in poetry and prose. They could evoke the feelings in a similar way as though they happened at once. It is a helpful device when describing a setting. In simple words, parataxis helps the readers to focus on a particular idea, thought, setting or emotion. Also, cultural theorists use it in cultural texts where a series of events are shown side by side.

In imagery, it can create a montage effect – an aggregate. But we don’t like non-patterned things and so we’ll invent a link if none is obviously given to us. Our choice of non-related objects will force the reader to make a connection.

Hypotaxis = the sentences, clauses and phrases are subordinated and linked. subordination of one clause to another, or when the clauses are coordinated or subordinated to one another within sentences. Hypotaxis is defined as a grammatical arrangement of constructs that work in the same way, but they play unequal role in a sentence. It helps in defining the exact meaning of a clause. The example is given in these lines, where the second line modifies the phrase “clod of clay”.

Writers use hypotaxis when they want to convey logical, causal or temporal relationships within the clauses in a sentence. Hypotactic writing is used effectively as a device for argument and persuasion. Also, it is used to express individual and related thoughts by using subordinate clauses. The subordinate clauses help in amplifying a central idea. This writing style helps in providing a great deal of information and background about the topic at hand. Hypotactic writing style heavily depends upon complex and complicated sentences to explain ideas and thoughts in detail.

In imagery, each image leads directly to the next, sentence to sentence, stitched in a linear metonymy.

Synecdoche occurs when the name of a part is used to refer to the whole, such as in “There are hungry mouths to feed.” The mouths stand in for the hungry people. The definition of metonymy is more expansive, including concepts that are merely associated in meaning and not necessarily parts of the original thing or concept.

Juxtaposition = opposition. pathos may lead to humour. A reader, metaphorically through condensation, puts them together.

“If there was no war, we would call peace Normality.” – James

non-sequiter = two things have no relation


3rd person limited used well should let the reader fill the gaps.

3rd person subjective tells us more but should not be superfluous.

When transitioning from one to the other, a line of dialogue can serve as a useful break. It should stop the artifice of the text from being noticed.

Re: Adjectives and Adverbs. Use story scope instead; change the verb! (walk quickly = scurried etc). Too much diegesis and not enough mimesis will make the reader passive (BUT Marquez and Allende). Subtle = strong.

Omniscient = classical (cultural), Victorian, Tolkien. An omniscient narrator may become a character. Knows the past and the future – all the plot. A Created Presence should not equate to the author’s voice.

3rd person limited can be deeply authorial. Do we need to know, or is it just that the author wants to tell us?

Tolstoy marked a turning point in point of view: from War and Peace (omniscient) to Anna Karenina (3rd person subjective), after which most authors followed him.

With the secularisation of society, people stopped believing in meta narratives and began to question God/ the patriarchy etc – and the omniscient voice has faded. Therefore, does the time period affect Point of View?

What is trans-temporal consciousness?

Mike on Mythic Structures

Traditional elements of study: plot, description, theme, mood + setting = atmosphere, character.

setup > complications and development > conclusion/wrap up

Set it up and pay it off.

“Transformation and change is at the heart of any story.” Mc Kee.

Ovid’s Metamorphosis describes  a physical change but it may as well be spiritual or psychological.

“skein of thought”

How important is rising action for the story? Very! Characters encounter more resistance as they get closer to their goal. They need a counterveiling force, a negative wind. In ancient stories, this was literally an army. Now it’s more often a psychological barrier. BUT rising action must have a character with Drive = primal conflict.

Conflict is the engine room of story! Values will emerge in a character’s response to drama. Reader may agree, or not. Views may be those of the author, or not.

Don’t develop character by adding qualities, eg, a bizarre past. Build ambiguity. Have a good character make bad choices. In moral complexity, the target is the reader, not the character. It should make the reader question their own morality!

“Hitchcock did not direct movies, but audiences.” We are manipulating out readers. “Look behind characters to readers’ responses.”

Intra personal = within self

Extra personal = between people

Character Vs the world. Austen actually wrote survival stories, given that women couldn’t inherit property = desperate edge.


Eek! I got so caught up writing my novel, I haven’t transcribed my notes yet!

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