Thursday, August 18, 2011

No Known Direction of Travel

My work in progress is confusing me. I've figured out the story arc for the first eight chapters (or, rather, I've figured out how to structure each of the two main storylines' first four chapters and have decided to alternate them chapter-by-chapter so that adds up to eight, right?). I've got a good idea about who/what/where is going on for each of the main characters. But what I lack is any idea at all about where everything goes after that. Yes, I said I was going to write this book without an outline, without figuring out the ending in advance. I plan to find it all as I go along. A grand voyage of discovery, eh? A wander through my subconscious and my guideless research. An adventure!

I hate it. I have things that might be symbols, but if I don't know what the story is, what the themes are, what's going to happen, how do I go about building the symbolic framework of the novel the way I always do? How do I know what's important at this point? How do I know how to introduce subjects? Are they metaphors? Are they just themselves? I don't know what any of the parts do, how they connect, what their function is. It's all just a bunch of stuff. It bears a passing resemblance to a novel in progress, but I'm not sure it really is one, or will add up to one when I'm done. It frustrates the hell out of me, kids, it really does.

But that, perhaps, might be the point. I am attempting this grand farce of a process in order, hopefully, to learn something new about writing and the only way I can do that, I assume, is to see it through to the end. Which means that I will keep at this fucking novel, one word at a time, and it'll be a protracted fistfight. Yay. I can only assume that I'll be quoting Nietzsche about that which doesn't kill me for the next year or so. Hurrah.

Possibly I can get into the mindset where I tell myself that I'm making a big clay sculpture and I'll just keep adding more clay, moving bits around and tearing off handfuls here and there until the shape makes itself apparent and then I'll start refining it. Seems like a damned messy way to make art. I'm used to preparatory sketches and reams of preproduction notes. Storyboards, even (the finale of my novel Killing Hamlet was first "written" as a little cartoon that I still have pinned to the wall by my desk at home). Anyway, this writing without a net or a known direction of travel pisses me off but I'll keep at it.

Edit to add:
Because someone says roosters can lead you astray, I give you here the first page of Chapter 2. All the usual caveats about it being rough, etc.

An hour before sunrise, the rooster was already crowing. His cry was loud but querelous, as if he was unsure of his right to announce the coming dawn. Er-err? Er-err? he crowed, strutting along the top of the fence, his black feathers invisible in the dark. Er-err? The world did not respond to his vague calls, the sun did not rise above the eastern hills and the rooster put his head under his wing and went back to sleep.

The rooster's name was Augustine. The nuns had named him after the saint. Most of the animals on the farm were named after saints. The bull was Luke, of course. The goats were Sebastian and Theresa. The cow was Martha. The nuns hadn't told the bishop that they'd named the animals for saints. The bishop would not have approved. The bishop seemed to be a man lacking entirely in humor but he was very old and the nuns prayed for a friendlier man once God saw fit to bring the current bishop home to Heaven.

The farm sat on the western edge of the village, at the foot of a line of low hills. There was a barn, a chicken coop, a small fenced yard, a storage shed and the farm house. The house was built of unpainted concrete blocks and had a roof of corrugated tin. The barn and the shed were unpainted wooden structures roofed with thatch. The nuns were saving money to replace the thatch with sheets of tin. Inside the house there was a stove, an open pantry, a plain wooden table and six plain wooden chairs, a small wooden bookshelf, a kerosene lamp, a brass crucifix and a small shrine to the Virgin. There was only one room. In one corner of this room there was a steel trapdoor that was locked from below with a heavy padlock. Beneath the trapdoor was the underground chamber where the four nuns slept on narrow wooden bunk beds, and where the visiting female missionaries also slept.


  1. Good times! As I read this I am reminded of the idea that maybe the stories are already in us, though we can't see them clearly yet. Maybe one part of your brain is telling the story to another part of your brain.

  2. I'm trying to trust that I'm writing about these two people because something about them is important to me personally, and if I write about them long enough, I'll see what that is and it will become clear what will happen with them.

    Though a couple of years ago I did a bunch of work on a novel that I ended up not being able to write. I'd rather this one wasn't a false lead. There are many irritating aspects to this project. But I have a rooster named Augustine, and that pleases me.

  3. Be careful with the roosters. Sometimes they try to lead you astray.

  4. I am not unwary of roosters. See above for Augustine.

  5. "We are not measured by the challenges we face in life, but rather by the steps we take to overcome them."

    - Some f*&^ing Elf

  6. I thought we were measured by height.

  7. Smurfs are exactly three apples tall.