Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"There's a Wind in the Sky and It Rakes at My Heart"

I’ve more or less finished with chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, and 15. Chapters 7 and 8 need some substantial revisions, but the fifth and sixth are probably my finest work to date.

I was worried about the fifth at first. It would be hard to write, no matter how I chose to tackle it: The scene of the vision during second lunch has always posed special problems, for the same reasons why in the past I’ve always found Chapter 3 to be nearly impossible to write. You have to get the sequence of events exactly right; you have to explain why I was so disturbed; you have to keep it from being a dry recitation of numbers and symbols by lending it suspense and emotion; and you have to find some way of making it relatable to others. This I was able to accomplish by shortening the scene, simplifying the language until it was perfectly clear what was going on (and why I found it odd), and couching the vision in the context of a gripping Quizbowl tournament.

This chapter was, in many ways, a reversal of the previous. Where in the fourth I had plunged at the outset straight into the pith and marrow of the unseen realm, and only in the latter half returned to the serenely eerie circumstances of the story, in the fifth I didn’t put my Melville hat on till the end. (In the sixth I put it on but once, when we were on the bus). Yet the exposition in the fifth chapter was much better integrated than that of the previous. The subject wasn’t some exalted thing, but a psychological analysis of Corey’s character which kept my ponderous investigation in the framework of the story, and indeed ended with it. The level of anger and hatred which was developing between us, even then, is easily as scary as any of the supernatural events of the previous chapter, the more so perhaps for being universally relatable. “But, from that day forward, we were only friends in name,” is as ominous an ending as the bizarre combination of angels, prophecy, telepathy, and shared dreams which burst into malignant flower at the end of Chapter 4.

And the sixth chapter is my favorite. It’s much more Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell than it is anything else, but that’s hardly a problem given the nature of the story I’m writing. Just a few days ago I went through my table of contents and wrote out a plot summary for each of the first fifteen chapters. My first realization was that there’s a remarkably linear plot. I mean in life, my senior year of high school and my first year of college. They were both very well-plotted (the “Shakespearean drama,” in particular, of freshman year, was structured like a five-act play. How odd). The supernatural is introduced at the very beginning and there are always three or four strands of narrative at play at any given time. Then, as I discerned even then, each character has mysteries that he or she is hiding. You’re never fully in possession of all the secrets, till the very end. All of which is to say, it was a REAL novel. And far better structured, far better paced, I feel, than many.

My second realization was that the best way to tell it is also probably the simplest. I’m rethinking it in terms of the Great American Novel and deliberating whether it wouldn’t perhaps be more effective as a tense, fast-paced, Harry Potter- or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell-style fantasy, since this is after all what it ended up being in the living. That doesn’t mean that the profound and the Sublime won’t still come into it at times, as they do in a Charles Williams novel, but they’ll be more carefully managed in the future, and they won’t evade the framework of the story. The more I consider the matter, at any rate, the more it appears that this is the kind of novel I’m designed to write. My foremost literary strengths are as a storyteller. Given that I have a nearly-perfect story sitting here in front of me, and given the incredible ease with which I spin out narration, when freed of its more self-conscious trappings, I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t made this slightly harder than it needs to be.

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