By Katie King
A How-To Guide: Weaving Narrative Writing with The Great Books
What Is It?
These short, 5-minute reads are personal reflections and editorials from our staff and seminar leaders on some aspect of the books that they have been reading and discussing in seminars. As seminar leaders, they are explicitly instructed not to teach. The purpose of the seminar at Online Great Books is to discuss the material, to question each other’s beliefs so that through the questioning, members come to a deeper understanding of what they believe and why they believe it. The intent is not to acquire someone else’s beliefs.
That being said, we have some very knowledgeable, very well-read interlocutors on staff. “Moments” is an outlet for them to voice their opinions. Our very own Karl Schudt came up with this method. He also came up with The Gadfly Method, another fun way to enter the pre-stages of writing. In his own words, they are “little stores of little journeys made possible by the books we read.”
How Can I Write Using This Format?
Transforming 5-second moments in your life into 5 minutes of reading
Karl puts it best:
“The gist is, you start by thinking about just one thing. Then, you encounter something in the Great Books. It doesn’t have to be a big theme. It can be something as mundane as Menelaus recognizing Telemachus by his feet. Then, at the end, you think differently.”
In terms of everyday praxis, this method shows receptivity to the author’s signals, all while interviewing your own life’s signalings. You also learn to rely on how you make meaning of things, how to point out the high points in your own life, and relate it back to crucial scenes in the narrative.
If you’ve ever heard of the theory of narrative identity, think about it in those terms. With this method, you’re deconstructing your life experiences into an internalized, evolving story of yourself. Now, you’re just relating it to the Great Books. Who doesn’t love free therapy, right?
An important question to ask yourself as you’re using this format: is what you are writing suited for a first-time reader of a Great Books author and, at the same time, something that could be useful to a scholar who is used to quibbling over small details in the text?
Why Small Moments > Big Picture
If you can narrow down a 5-second moment in your life and paint a picture around it, you have yourself a winner. Whether it be a moment of transformation or realization, you’re going to be writing about something your audience cares about.
In an interview with Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness, author Matthew Dicks gives a fine example of how these ‘Moments’ differ from mere anecdotes:
“An anecdote, sort of like I climbed a tree and I fell out of it and I broke my leg, you’d tell your friends that story. But if the breaking of the leg doesn’t fundamentally change you in any way, then it’s just an anecdote, and it’s just something you tell your friends to let them know, sort of update your status in life, I am now a person with a broken leg. But it’s not the kind of thing that they’re going to want to tell other people about. They’re not going to want to run to their friends and say, “You’re not going to believe this amazing thing that someone just told me.”
The biggest advice about entering your “Moment”- start with something small, so small most people would just brush right by it, and zoom in. Zoom in, and then give a reason for why it caught your eye in the first place. Do you now understand yourself better? Do you now understand a passage of the book you’re reading just a little better?
Make sure to check out our podcast for examples of this form of storytelling:
Influences? Further Reading?
Brann, Eva. Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight in Reading the Odyssey and the Iliad
McKay, Brett “Podcast #462: How to Tell Better Stories“