16.31: First Page Fundamentals—MOBY DICK

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we explore the first page of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: here is the 1st paragraph of Moby Dick, for reference.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time tozz get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.




Homework: Write an introduction that is purely internal to the character’s mental state.

10 thoughts on “16.31: First Page Fundamentals—MOBY DICK”

  1. Hi everyone,

    With the utmost respect, I disagree with your interpretation of these opening lines of MD. I see the opening lines as actually a little jaunty, a little of looking at life sideways, and a character prepared to cast himself to the winds of fate.

    I disagree about your interpretation of suicidal ideation too. It’s a long stretch from a “drizzly November of the soul,” and “methodically knocking people’s hats off” to suicidal ideation.

    If you read Moby Dick, even as the hunt becomes more desperate, his sideways, humorous attitude to life continues, especially in terms of his analysis of characters on the Pequod. For example, he refers to Ahab several times as a hoary old hunks of a sea captain.

    Anyhoo, that’s my take, and for those of you who have yet to read MB, I recommend you do so.

    1. Hi,

      I have not read this book but I’m sorry, I have to disagree with you.

      Everything I’ve seen in those lines do speak about suicidal ideation – especially the idea of stepping onto the streets, pausing in front of coffin warehouses, knocking other people’s hats off.

      It centers around death and ultimately finding reasons to go (ie: getting into fights as a reason to die – you can just blame it on the other person punching you too hard).

      Suicidal ideation isn’t always obvious nor does it have to be extreme, blatant displays of sadness/anger/emotion. In fact a lot of depressed people resort to dark humour. It’s not always bleak, it’s often subtle!

  2. Call them Dongwon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard. And this week, they tackled the starting paragraph of that classic, Moby Dick. With restraint! And a great deal of character. Knocking people’s hats off. Cato throws himself on his sword, I quietly take to the ship. Growing grim about the mouth. There’s a lot more you can read in the transcript available now in the archives.

  3. I want to say thanks for this podcast. I found this podcast through clicking ‘random community’ on Dreamwidth where I landed on the transcript archive for it.

    I don’t listen to podcasts. But reading through the transcipts of them have been incredibly helpful.

    I love how you make your podcast accessible to all audiences.

    Every week I look forward to reading the transcript. I like your exercises, I found myself very inspired when I do them. There’s so many great points you mention too

    Please keep up the good work

  4. In the podcast, someone mentions the question, if the protagonist died, who is hearing this account?

    Is it worth mentioning that “Ishmael” is Hebrew for “God hears”?

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