Moby Dick

Lesson 55 Chapter 1 Module 6

We’re flying along and already on Week Five.

This week, we’re moving beyond foundations even further, and into the building blocks of storytelling and writing with Character and Heroes.

Similar to the Dickens excerpt last week, the first lesson of the week is another opening line that has lasted through the decades since its first publishing in 1851.

“Call me Ishmael.”

From the moment we start reading Moby Dick, we learn that this is going to be a book that focuses on the characters in the story.

Ishmael (the narrator) is a young man who is looking to join the crew on a whaling ship, where we meet Captain Ahab, a man obsessed with exacting revenge on a white whale he has named Moby Dick, who bit off his leg at the knee.

(That looks an awful lot like a quick premise, incorporating characters, doesn’t it?!)

Looking at the cover and title of the book, you’d think you are going to be reading a book about a whale named Moby Dick.

After reading that first sentence, you are wondering who Ishmael is, and how he relates to that whale.

Then we learn about Captain Ahab in today’s excerpt*, through another secondary character (Peleg, the ship’s owner) explaining to Ishmael more about who Ahab is and his backstory. This happens after Ishmael walks away from his conversation with Peleg, thinking he should probably learn a bit more about the guy who is about to sail him off into the middle of an ocean.

Of course, it also comes at a time when the reader is wondering the exact same thing, but we don’t have the agency in the story to directly ask characters such questions.

We can carry this same concept over to our own writing, whether it is in fiction or nonfiction genres.

As we introduce characters in our writing, our readers will often want to know more about them.

You have two options at this point in time:

  • Write about the new character with direct observation and statements from the author or
  • Write about the new character through the lens of a secondary character or concept.

Oh hey, concept again? Twice in one lesson, after a week of learning about it.

That’s going to be happening a lot as we move into the backside of these lessons. This is because everything is related once you get into the actual mechanics and execution of writing.

Similar to how we learned about the premises of love, anger, and madness by looking at them through a different perspective on the concept, we can write about the characters in our worlds and brands through the framing of a different (but related and connected) character.

It allows you, as a writer, to be a little more opinionated about something, without appearing biased.

This is also why lots of nonfiction writers will use quotes or testimonials from others. Allows them to use words to illustrate the exact point they are trying to make, without making it all about their own experience and ideas.

* Today’s lesson is about 200 words longer than we pull for most of the excerpts, but it is seemingly impossible to break out into regular and extended versions. Try to plug through the entire piece, but if you aren’t able (maybe it strains your hand, maybe you don’t have time, etc) then copy as much as you can and try to read through the rest.

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