Today, while chatting on Facebook, I joked about how a dissertation was a not a story but being a creative writer perhaps I would think about the dissertation as a story–perhaps it would help me to write it when the time came to do so.
Right now, I’m typing up notes from books I’ve read and scribbled in and this thought came back to me.
I’m a published author, and I have been a writer and an editor for over a decade, so I have practice in that arena. I am very comfortable in that arena. Even though I have written several papers in my academic journey, the dissertation is the first time (and hope there will be many more) I will develop a research project into a book-length size. Whenever I conquer something new, I like to get a feel for it, touch it, look at it, see samples of it, see how I can take the requirements of this new thing and meld them with who I am so that I can develop a project that adheres to the requirements but also clearly illustrates that only Shonell Bacon could have produced this project.
Seeing dissertation writing within storytelling components is a way I can do this.
I think, for me, it might be a great way to envision the dissertation–and be a wonderful way for me to bridge my creative and academic sides. No, this does not mean a scholar will kill the main character at the end of the first chapter or that my human subjects will be on the run from an angry content analysis. However, looking at components of the dissertation in their relation to storytelling components can help me to marry the two arenas, thus enabling me to see this journey to (and through) dissertation writing as a positive and FUN one (I kinda already think it is, but it never hurts to have more incentive, right?).
As the writer of a dissertation, I am a creator–much like a novel writer. I have an idea for a project, and I know for that project I’m going to need strong characters who have voices that help to develop the story and move it along. Those same ideas can apply to me as I write my dissertation, and I began jotting down what parallels there are in the dissertation-novel worlds.
The dissertation is the story. I’m writing about a specific project that has a beginning, middle, and ending. Although I hope conflict will not arise throughout the “story” of the dissertation, each chapter does build like conflict, layering the study to its discussion of results and conclusion.
The scholars I use in my dissertation are my characters. Just as in a story, where I want well-developed, strong characters, I want to use scholars in my dissertation that are strong, that are developed in their respective fields and help to support the story I’m trying to tell through the dissertation.
The quotes I use from these scholars are my dialogue. Dialogue in stories, I’m constantly telling my editorial clients, should develop the characters and help move the story forward. Much is the same in regards to dissertation writing. The quotes I select not only say something about the scholars (the characters) I choose to develop my dissertation, but they also help to support my arguments and move the dissertation along.
My thoughts, which drive the dissertation, act as the exposition of the dissertation. As the narrator, I guide the story of my research. I set the scene. I provide whatever backstory is needed for my reader to understand where we are and what is going on in the research. I move from chapter to chapter, layering the story, deciding where my scholars best fit and what words of theirs best convey the “story” I’m trying to tell.
Even my methods are storytelling elements; I see them as intrigants. Intrigants are those little clues we drop throughout the story to keep the reader intrigued; there is always (there should be) a pay-off (or several pay-offs) in the story where these intrigants accumulate to their specific purpose(s). Methods, to me, are like that. At the onset,we introduce our methods, explain why we plan to use them, how we plan to use them. But typically, there is no pay-off to this introduction of the methods. We still have to talk about data and analysis and results, so there is still a pay-off to be had after we drop these intrigants (methods).
And because I’m a person who always tries to envision the end of a thing, I think about what that back cover copy looks like. Typically, the back cover copy is about 200-300 words and gives us a description of the book we are about to read. The abstract does the same thing for the dissertation. When I’m starting a new novel, I typically already have an idea of what my back cover copy is, and this helps me to structure the actual story. The same is true for my abstract. When I was finally able to whittle down my thoughts and formulate what I wanted to do in those few words, it actually expanded my mind more to see the big (and small) picture of this project and what I would have to do in order to make it work.
These thoughts might not be for everyone, but I’m actually smiling as I finish this post because I think I’ve just found my Shonell Groove for this dissertation, which is making me love the project all the more.
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