Monday, February 14, 2011

Stories Within the Story

Yes, another post about revising my novel Cocke & Bull! I know you were all dying for news, so here's news. I've begun the Third Round of revisions, and task the first is to rewrite the diary entries of Father John Dowd. You see, the protagonist of C&B has in his possession a journal that was written by the good Father, and there appear in the text of the novel about eight or nine excerpts from this journal. I knew when I wrote the first draft that these would be important later, and that Father Dowd's story would serve as a foil for the protagonist's tale, but I didn't really know how until I was most of the way through the first draft. Which means that most of the diary entries in the MS are placeholders I will have to rewrite with fresh, new, meaningful material. In order to do that, I'll have to actually figure out what Fr. Dowd's personal story arc is, then figure out the order in which that story appears in the novel, and then figure out what each individual diary entry has to do with the section of the novel in which it appears. Likely some of the non-diary prose will have to be rewritten to better work with the new diary entries, too. So, some work for Bailey. This is work that I've been putting off, frankly, because it's going to require serious and concentrated thought. I've been enjoying my hiatus from deep thinking while between revisions, but now it's back into the fray for me.

I've always liked books that contain excerpts from other fictional books. For a while, I was going to lard up the pages of Killing Hamlet with chunks of writing from the mythical Nunc Scio Mysterium, but I decided against that. I may, however, slip some letters into my next novel. I've not yet ruled it out.

13 comments:

  1. Just as long as there aren't any fucking elves ;-)

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  2. I'm confident you can pull this off. As a rule, I hesitate when an author does this because for too many others the actual details of the piece-within-a-piece are not critical and the prose not interesting enough for me to feel compelled to really read the excerpts. I find myself skimming, and I hate that.

    If anyone can pull it off, though, I'm sure it's you...

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  3. Rick: Tolkein reference! You win!

    Nevets: Yeah, too often this is used to pile in backstory and the letters/diaries aren't interesting in themselves. I'm not going that route at all. And I've only got something like 2,000 words tied up in these diary entries, so they're brief and rarely-encountered in the MS. We'll see how I feel about them when I've revised them. Happily, they don't really need to go in any particular order, except for the last three. So I've got room to play a bit.

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  4. I love stories within stories (and art within art etc) and that was a big part of my 'used to be WIP, currently more RIP'. The problem (or not) was, I got more interested in the story within my story and less interested in the protagonist of my book(more because the protagonist was too like me and therefore not as interesting to me. Realized I needed to 'rebuild' her). ANyway , I am digressing. What I wanted to say was I am interested in fiction within fiction and felt compelled to comment..:). I especially love references to fictional fiction within books which makes me just long to read fiction/poetry that does not exist (e.g with Coetze's Elizabeth Costello which I began recently. And Possession- I remember googling that guy's name- the author whom Roland was researching-. I mean he HAD to exist)

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  5. Alas, I spilled coffee on my copy of Nunc Scio Mysterium, making it completely illegible. It was also a problem when I had to return it to the Library of Congress.

    The Unfinished Song has a story-within-a-story, or maybe more of a parallel story. It's accessed through Visions, not a book, because writing hasn't been invented yet.

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  6. Lavanya, a bunch of friends and I are all re-reading Possession right now. It's one of my big influences. I also like what Byatt does with colors and shapes (and she'll use some verbs only with certain characters), but if you pay too much attention to her formal systems it becomes a distraction. And yes about making sure the protagonist isn't just a version of you. My first book was boring because it starred me, and I'm not nearly as fascinating as I'd like to think I am.

    Tara, the LoC copy was the only one in America. Hmm. And there are only a few surviving copies. Now that's vexing. Well. Well, I say. Why are fictional books always so rare and fragile?

    Stories-within-stories are cool, too. I like them when they nest like matryoshka dolls. Have you read The Master and Margarita? It's unclear which of the three stories is the main one, and which is within which.

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  7. I have only read Byatt's Possession (a while ago) and enjoyed it. I don't like to be too conscious of the way the writer is writing- it sometimes interferes with the reading experience, but other times it can be fun (like sharing a secret with the author). WHich of her other books do you recommend?
    Yes, there was a problem with my protagonist- I actually renamed her so I could start afresh. I think her goals reflected mine too closely at the time- which was why she bored me. It might have been that I was consciously trying to make her slightly different from me and it just didn't work. I have been trying different voices (especially male) in a couple short stories- and find it liberating to not be stuck inside my head.. I am also realizing that it is easier to use/write what you know when the characters are unlike you (or atleast not too like you). Because this way, the affect of what I know on what I write is more subtle. But, maybe this is because I have just begun writing/fleshing out fictional characters and need more practice?

    I didn't know Master and Margarita had stories within stories. Must find my copy and read.

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  8. I meant 'effect ' of what I know. What I actually meant was that what I know doesn't obviously reflect in the characters experiences (if I have characters unlike me), but sort of permeates it in a less obvious (to me) way.

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  9. Lavanya: Master and Margarita is like three stories that all chase each other around.

    Regards Byatt, her latest (The Children's Book) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize but I've not read it and Mighty Reader didn't call it great. I liked all four books in the "Babel Tower" series, and I like her books of short stories (especially "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye" collection). I also liked "The Biographer's Tale" a lot, though Mighty Reader didn't care for it. Her books about writing are also worth a read (especially "On Histories and Stories").

    It's much easier for me to see my characters clearly the less like me they are. I need to look at them like they're total strangers that I'm trying to understand, not people I know intimately. It's a way to be more curious about them and to let my imagination run a bit more out of control.

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  10. Thanks for the recommendations!

    "It's much easier for me to see my characters clearly the less like me they are. I need to look at them like they're total strangers that I'm trying to understand, not people I know intimately. It's a way to be more curious about them and to let my imagination run a bit more out of control."

    Exactly!!

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  11. "what I know doesn't obviously reflect in the characters experiences (if I have characters unlike me), but sort of permeates it in a less obvious (to me) way."

    Also exactly! You don't just recount your own life story with changed character names. You can say "life is like this" without saying, "this is what I did one time." Perspective: not just for Renaissance painters anymore!

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  12. I like the ideas of stories within a story and my first experience of this was the Arabian Nights :)

    I like your recommendations for reading...will look them up.

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  13. Damyanti: For about two years now I keep telling myself I'm going to read Arabian Nights again. There's an edition out (a few years old now) that was put together by Byatt, and I may get it. Hmm, maybe I'll stroll through a bookshop on my lunch break today. Though I bought a book last night while killing time and my "to be read" pile is already taller than I am. Oh, the labors of the constant reader are endless!

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