Brian Doyle's "No"

by Guest Blogger, Bluffton student Becky Boban

This week’s Guest Blogger is Becky Boban, who discusses the Brian Doyle essay “No”- and the way he uses description in a momentum-building relay to engage the reader. If you would like to read “No” before you try this prompt, here’s a link: 
http://www.kenyonreview.org/journal/spring-2008/selections/no/

Brian Doyle’s Style and Point of View in “No”

No, by Brian Doyle, is a piece that is entertaining to read as well as moving. In which, the speaker depicts different scenarios featured in the life of an editor, and reasons why certain pieces are rejected and accepted. The reader gains an understanding of what it’s like to be both a writer and an editor, but the most fascinating may be the lives of the characters mentioned.

The most lyrical example of this lies in the latter half of the composition, which in mid-stride lists “[y]es to a twenty-year-old woman who wrote a lean perfect piece about her job running the ancient wooden-horse carousel in a shopping mall. Yes to a sixty-year-old woman who wrote the greatest two-line poem I have ever seen to date. … Yes to a twenty-year-old woman who was a waitress in a bar in a rotten part of town and wrote a haunting brief piece about the quiet people who sat at the bar every night when it closed. Yes to a sixty-year-old man who drives a bus and wrote a piece about a six-year-old girl who was so broken and so hilarious and so brave that when I finished reading the essay I put my face in my hands and wept” (Readings for Writers 381). The passage seeks to display a range of different characters and situations and how they still connect and relate back to the narrator, suggesting how certain stories and characters can be intertwined.

For this writing prompt, consider Brian Doyle’s writing style. Specifically, examine how he lists his characters and their lives and interests in other characters around them as writers themselves. What does he include to describe them, to paint a picture of their lives? More importantly, what does he leave out? At what point would too much description weigh the character down? What adjectives does he use to effectively get the point across with minimal explanation? Thinking about this strategy, try to write down your own list of characters and their life situations. Focus on sketching them as clear and specific as you can without using excessive language. This is the first part of the prompt and challenges one you to embrace a different style of language similar to Brian Doyle’s while practicing using words and descriptions economically in your writing. The more accurate the word choice, it may be found the less wordy the writing is, which may prove helpful for a writer under pressure for submitting to magazines with character limitations.

Doyle’s piece not only carries a lyrical style to it, sweeping the reader from one scene and idea to the next, but also raises to mind an important craft element of fiction; point of view. Doyle’s narrator shares with the reader the experience of what it’s like to be an editor, moved by other’s pieces of writing while at the same time forced to reject pieces for various reasons. Doyle reveals the humanity in a figure many may wish to disregard, given the rejection letter they are associated with. In No, the narrator mentions several editors he worked with in the past and what they were like; “[h]e cursed beautifully, in great rushes and torrents, and wrote like a roaring angel” (Readings for Writers 380).

Pick one of the characters from the list you wrote up from the first prompt, maybe one whose point of view one would normally not consider or have a certain stereotype for. Bring humanity into the stereotype. Make the character believable, realistic, and complicated. While exploring this new point of view, still keep in mind the style you want for your writing, recalling that one precise word is worth more than a handful off-the mark. Seek these words out.

If you find your character is not intriguing enough to go off on a story with yet, try to draw a connection between them and one of the other characters you listed that may be unexpected, just as Doyle’s narrator was connected indirectly to so many different lives. This should present a situation at hand for your plot and lead you to the beginnings of a story.

Becky Boban

Questions for Becky? Email her at bridge@bluffton.edu!