Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Using Literary Cubism to Write a Novel

In the following question, a reader asks about using literary cubism to write a novel.

Specifically, the readers asks:

Greetings Dr. Mughal,

As a Poet/writer I'm always contemplating the best/right approach to relaying the message. Resolution 786 has introduced me to the realm of Literary Cubism, and I'd like to know why Cubism as your approach? It certainly was the best approach as Resolution 786is by far, brilliantly written. Did Cubism as your approach come before the message that Resolution 786 carries, or the other way around?

Its incredible how the elements of history and religion are infused together, along with the fragmented forms in poetry, legal documents, etc... again brilliant. How long did it take to put it all together and fine tune it in such a way that harmony is achieved in connecting all the elements together in one book?

Congratulations on a well-written book and the challenge offered to the readers, through it, to expand the mind to undiscovered realms. Your work is surely a Storyteller's Artwork. Much kudos.

Mohamed answers:

Dear reader,

Thanks so much for your kind assessment of my work. It means a lot to me, especially since it’s coming from a practicing poet.

I think the reason I use literary cubism is grounded largely in who and what I am as a human being; my multivariate geographical, theological and educational backgrounds likely contributed to my cubist inclinations.

You asked how long it took to write this first novel. It’s difficult to put a start time on beginning the novel. Here’s why: The story started out as a concept for a play, a loosely assembled set of literary images that floated around on my desk on scraps of paper and little yellow stickies. This went on for about a year. The play carried a tentative title of War Crimes and was a courtroom drama with G_d on trial. In the midst of this never-finished draft, the Iraq War came about and the events of those days began to stand out in my consciousness. Eventually, those headlines wrapped themselves around War Crimes, turning the embryonic play into a cubist novel. The novel took about six months to set into a loose, cubist form. Through the next six months, a few trusted literary friends reviewed the draft and provided comments ranging from coherency to clarity to just plain-old grammar and spelling. All in all, I think it was about a year and a half before I was happy with the final draft.

You also pose an interesting “chicken and egg” question regarding the structural antecedents of the novel: “Did cubism as your approach come before the message that Resolution 786 carries, or the other way around?”


That’s a tough one; it’s tough because in my mind, I can’t see any sharp, defined delineation between my approach to writing a novel and the eventual message that that novel carries. Writing a novel is a wholly creative process brimming with a serendipity that’s driven by the random influences of our accidental human experiences.

Consider: we set out to write an anti-war novel with a human dimension, a novel that “fits” the newspaper headlines of the year in which we’re writing it. A particularly intriguing actual headline, in adapted form, becomes the basis for a newspaper excerpt in our fictional story. A new policy or incident at work invokes the most absurd elements of human experience; that incident, again in some adapted context and form, becomes a vignette in our draft. A beautiful young woman walks by you at the mall; you mentally capture some quintessential sense of her motion and gesture and you imbue that into a female personality in your story to help bring that character into three dimensions.

For me, writing novels is a serendipitous, non-linear process of unfettered creation. Because of this, I can’t truly say that cubism came before the message or vice versa. Rather, I think my literary approach and the book’s eventual message did a year-long dance of co-creation, a wanton and impassioned tango in the ballroom of my mind. Resolution 786 is the child of that crazy dance.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with me. Best wishes with your poetry in the coming months and years.

Your fellow writer,



  1. so interesting! i'd never even heard of literary cubism before!

  2. aspiring_x,

    Thanks; it's actually a versatile approach to constructing fiction. The technique shares a methodological kinship with the cubist approach to visual arts. Considering your background in visual arts, you might enjoy this mode of writing yourself.


  3. Very interesting letter and response! It is hard to put a "start time" on a novel. Mine are usually floating around in my head for years before I actually do anything about them.

  4. I agree, Susan. Novels are a form of self-revelation. That "self" is created and recreated through time and experiences. In the infinate plate tectonics of life's circumstances, I don't know that there could ever be a specific moment in time when a work of art begins.

  5. Hi Mohamed,
    I don't know how relevant is my way of writing a short story is with the topic in discussion.
    Anyway I thought I should share with you. Before I start writing, I always have an idea of the story in my mind, but I have seen as the story moves on, my idea changes, my characters change and my situations change, in fact everything keeps on changing as I keep writing , and finally I find that my story has no resemblance to what I had in my mind. But somehow I like it. I don't know why I can never stick to my original idea. Should I consider it as an advantage or a disadvantage, please let me know what you feel.

  6. Rama,

    I like your question! If you don't mind, I'll answer it in a separate Q&A post in the coming week. By creating a separate post, we'll be able to see if our fellow writers here have alternate opinions and approaches to the same phenomenon.