Friday, June 8, 2012

maintaining a certain established mood

Yesterday evening, during my bus commute, I finished writing Chapter 13 of my first draft for Go Home, Miss America. The book's now about 65,000 words. I'm looking for around 80,000 words for the first draft, and we'll see what happens during revisions in the fall or winter. I assume the word count will go up the way it always does, despite the cold-hearted cuts I'll make everywhere. Xeno's manuscript, you know. Even if you don't.

The literary conceit of having two story lines that begin far from each other and then connect 2/3 of the way through the book seems to be working, as does the additional literary conceit of having each of the main characters remain support characters in each other's stories. When the chapter belongs to David Molloy, Catherine Lark is a side character, and vice versa. David is more in the background in Catherine's chapters than she is in his, but even in David's chapters Catherine is mostly a prop. So that's interesting and I worry that it creates emotional distance in unintended ways but now, three chapters from the end of the book, is no time to stop and think about that. This is a time for charging forward, sticking to my notes as well as I can, and getting those three final chapters written come what may. Come what may, I tell you. The last chapter will be tricky; it could easily slide into treacly denouement if I let it. I won't let it, though.

What else was I going to say about this book? Oh, something about the language and how when one writes a novel, one creates a list of rules to set boundaries within which the narrative is formed. Part of those rules have to do with voice, with the sorts of figurative language used to engage with character emotions. What always seems to happen with me is that by the time I'm most of the way through the first draft I feel restricted and oppressed and maybe just bored with the voice boundaries I've created for the project. I begin to feel that I'm just using the same words over and over, writing the same sorts of images, just maintaining a certain established mood or symbolic framework until the end of the novel because I've set it into motion and now must maintain it for the reader and this maintaining of the narrative boundaries wears on me and I wish I was writing something else, something bounded by different narrative rules and I want to use a new set of images and a different vocabulary and the danger is that I'll do something radical just for its own sake. That's not always a bad thing; some of the "gosh I'm bored and I'd like to do something weird now" bits toward the end of Cocke & Bull and The Last Guest are actually pretty cool. But really, I just need to focus and write and finish the damned first draft. But I begin to feel hemmed in by my own artistic decisions. Which is merely another part of the drafting process.

Is all of that what I was going to say? Not exactly, I don't think. What I really meant to say was that I need to learn more verbs and adjectives. Motion verbs, mostly. No, I have no idea what I'm talking about now.

I'm also thinking that I should mention my friend Michelle Davidson Argyle's novel The Breakaway. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Michelle presents her story as a sort of naive romance, but it's actually just the protagonist who is naive and romantic. Michelle's book is knowing and moral and the author is much more aware than is her protagonist. I don't know quite how to talk about it without giving away the story, but it's a fine book and bits of Michelle's symbolism keep cropping up in my mind as I move through my day. I haven't figured out everything she is doing with color in the book, not yet. And the big tree must be more than just a big tree and a plot device, right? Yes, it must.

10 comments:

  1. I attribute this feeling you describe to growth. Each project probably carries us up to a new skill level, and that probably makes us anxious to try out new tricks. I'm trying to use that energy to make Everybody better than Cyberlama, which I hope is better than Rooster, etc. And cool about Michelle's book!

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  2. I don't know about growth. I think I'm trying new things with each book, but it's sort of thrashing around in a different direction is all. It's not like there's any measurable progress along a linear path. There's doesn't seem to be any particular thing I'm working towards in the world of the novel, you know? I'm just trying to amuse myself with every new book, to set arbitrary challenges for myself. It's all very unscientific and blindly done. Though I swear that I'm going easy on myself for the next project, except of course that the challenge will be to make the book funny. I've never really done comedy. I think it will be interesting to learn about comedy, which is formally very close to tragedy, you know. Possibly more interesting, too.

    "Interesting," that's what it's all about. I want the writing to remain interesting to me. I want the challenges to remain interesting. I don't care about growth. Maybe it's all the same thing, just viewed from a different angle?

    Hey, next week I'll be reading your book, Malasarn.

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  3. I'll be excited to see what you think of PP. I'm worried the general response will be tepid, but, hey, it is what it is, and there's always the next book!

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  4. I have read the first page of Pagani. I liked the narrative voice a lot. The first-person POV surprised me.

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  5. That's a nice surprise. I didn't expect you to like any part of the book until several pages in! I think this book has always been in first person; I don't remember when I made that decision.

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  6. Thank you for saying such nice things about my book, Scott. I think you made my whole month. :)

    We can talk about the colors sometime if you want! Think of them as symbolically progressive. It's what Chopin does in The Awakening. It's nothing huge or amazing, but it's fun, at least!

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  7. The Breakaway is a good book. I hope it keeps selling well.

    I can see the white and the red, mostly. I'll have another look when I'm done reading Davin's new one. Which rocks so far (as of page 69).

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  8. This is nice news for me this morning!

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  9. I'm at page 123 now. The book is beautiful, Davin: so restrained and thoughtful, so quiet but full of conflict.

    It's better than anything I've written, damn you.

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  10. I'm happily surprised that you feel that way! I have a lot more to say, but I'd rather wait until you are done before I say it.

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