A Novel Idea

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I am reading a book that breaks down the exam procedures for the position of Prize Fellow for All Souls College, Oxford. 

I had a thought that the process would make a good framework or writing structure for a longer narrative, i.e. he said boldly, a first novel.

( All readers want to be writers as someone once said)

I actually had a similar idea when I tried to read a book that also uses this idea Giles Goat Boy,by John Barth.

But that book was odd and I don't remember enjoying it or even finishing it.

What would you recommend, writers, is my next move ?

I am considering the following action items : reading Giles Goat- Boy, making an outline of the All Souls Process ( hey- how’s that for a title?) , don’t make an outline- just make a copy and set it aside, read other books that may be related to such an idea, write a large rambling note to myself that highlights some of the ideas I could work into a longer narrative, do nothing- let the idea germinate and see what happens if I come back to it  in 2 weeks or so, or other?





My first novel was just a mess of writing without form I had collected in notebooks over several years, and it wasn't until I read Tristram Shandy that I figured out how to put it all together. Some of my content fit nicely into a TS container, and when material didn't fit, I became inventive. (For example, the Uncle Toby of Tristram Shandy who is obsessed with military re-enactments becomes Uncle Richard, an obsessed Beatles fan, in my novel.) Using an existing novel (or exam process) as the container for new writing is an awesome idea. The art is in picking a good container novel. When it comes to deciding whether or not to use an outline, I think either choice could work, but it's more important to understand your motivation for writing the novel. Some people become novelists because they want to become novelists. Others become novelists because there's an idea for novel floating in the air that they are dying to write. As a reader, I can almost always tell who's who. I don't think I understand how you see a novel in the prize fellow exam procedures without hearing more about the idea, but that's the beauty of writing narrative; there can be a logic in stories that can make sense out of something that doesn't make sense.
Interesting challenge, Brian. Not that I'm an expert but by the powers invested in me via the "comment" field, I'd say: go for it. I looked up those exam procedures for All Souls in Oxford and the expression "cleverest people in the world" jumps write off the wikipedia page...that suggest some interesting characters. Oxfordians, dons and dumbbells in love with their intellects, perhaps without much appreciation for their bodies or their masculinity (that's the chasm that interests me, don't go there ;-) ...of course, there's the intense sexism that only a class society like the English can afford to have & still deeply and secretly admire...now, there's a raft of English novels in that sphere (D H Lawrence comes to mind), and even an American movie with the "cleverest people" conundrum, The Paper Chase, a 1970 novel by Osborn on which a wonderful movie is based (parts of which I show my students at the beginning of the term: to show how a lecturer who is out of his mind sounds like)...the entire (lost) institution of the "campus novel" comes to my mind, too, with its most recent representative, the brilliantly funny British novelist and critic David Lodge. — Okay, admittedly, I'm off on my own horse here, galumphing into a novelistic sunset...

You also asked about process. Now that is most interesting to me, because I'm in the middle of the same question. I've written 30,000 words without an outline and the further I get the more convinced I am that you simply need to let the characters do the work & forget about structure and the rest. It'll come to you...whenever. Richard Melo's story refers, I think. Good luck—sounds like a promising idea if only because it holds promise for you!
I always found the less structure I use in the beginning of writing a novel the easier the flow of ideas, if I use an outline (which is rare), it's more like a timeline format to lay out what happened when, but often this happens well into the process and I need to get a handle on the timing of events. (I usually write the first "stuff" in a notebook and then transcribe it to the laptop from there, expanding as I go along)...I rein it in once I have "enough stuff" to work with...usually that means there's a definite beginning, a certain ending that I'm aiming for, and enough stuff in the middle that are the road map with landmarks to get from beginning to end. I have a novel in progress that I'm still adding to the file from time to time as ideas pop up, my books take years to write, so it's quite glacial...this one is going to be a tough manuscript to work out, I have tons of research to do. I really love making these formative bits n' pieces and putting them together, filling in the blanks... (I love the process!)