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Thesis Defense essays

October 27, 2011

At the end of next week I’ll be meeting with my thesis committee to perform the Dance of the Defense. The thesis defense is a pretty straight forward meeting–a conversation, really–between me and the three people on my committee. They’ll evaluate my thesis and ask me questions about writing in general and about my experience writing this novel. In addition to my thesis, they’ll be armed with two essays written by moi.

The essays are like ice-breakers. Their purpose is to establish a set of opinions around which we can all jabber. I mean, they also give me a chance to think and explore and declare my place in the universe. Which is nice. And since I bet you’re wondering what those essay questions are, I present to you, the thesis defense essay questions (italics mine):

1. [10 pages] Consider the whole range of writers who’ve influenced your work and then narrow it down, selecting two writers whose sense of craft is stamped into your thesis. For each of those writers, take one element of craft–dialogue, scene, action, plot, character, point of view, description, voice, style, tone, etc.–and discuss an aspect of it, looking at the craft through the lens of the writer’s work, always mindful of its powerful relevance to yours. Chose a different element of craft for each writer. To keep your topic sufficiently concentrated you’ll probably want to look closely at a single work, or even a representative passage within that work. The focus is not so much on what the writer is doing but how he or she is doing it. Support your insights and assertions with examples from your chosen text.

2. [5 pages] Writing is a record of your ability to solve problems, and the only way home, toward a fully realized novel or story, is along the path of your art. With that in mind, think of your thesis as a snapshot of your work on its way elsewhere, then consider the difficulties you confronted. Take a good look at your accomplishments and then, restricting yourself to a problem particular to your work, describe the central and most invigorating challenge you faced, and discuss some of the ways you learned to handle it. Then, where do you feel your thesis still comes up short in that regard, leaving you unsatisfied, with a feeling of remainder? And finally, how do you plan to face your old friend/problem in the future?

The idea here is that resistances in the work reveal its truth, that a vocabulary of impediments, looked at properly, expresses the work’s deepest desire–and the writer’s. I’m asking you to write about that thing, that key resistance, whatever it is. Don’t feel the need to boil your work down to some craft topic–but if you licked the problem, likely you licked it on the level of craft, so they aren’t totally divorced, I don’t imagine. Still, you could talk about a tough theme, an obsession, a type of recurring character, a landscape, a place or region or time.

This questions calls for both an appraisal of the problem as it exists in your thesis presently and some speculation about how you’re going to attack the issue in the future. Look frankly at the achievement so far, but favor your prospects, charting a course into the challenges ahead.

3. A fish never makes an aesthetic mistake. TRUE or FALSE

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