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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

A View from Behind the Page

I have been asked and have asked if, when writing a novel, I write it from beginning to end, as a linear project. Yesterday while reading through the novel, I began to think about how I had put this story together.

Richard & Peggy’s story came to me in a sort of flash, back a few years ago, images of two people, moments together moments alone; buildings, objects, nature (an English town; a bookstore; a cup used for tea); and voices, words used when they speak how they speak what they say. But the writing came in bits and pieces, based on imaginative thinking about how and when and where and why, which produces scenes as varied as “the ending” (pretty much as I saw it three years ago); quotes taken from books I saw characters talking about; sexual encounters and how to get those on the page with care, wit, titilation and interest; how people see each other and think about what people do how they do it and why (the interior lives we lead 99% of our wakeful lives).

So to answer the original question, No, I did not write the story linearly; at least not at first. Maybe this is obvious, but maybe not: how can you write so far ahead when you’re not sure what happened in the past? Good question. And … I can only say its a process like dreaming (or day-dreaming, really; even fantasizing), and fitting the sections together like a puzzle: you see a bunch of blue pieces that you separate and keep to one side; you find all the edges and fit them together, etc etc. Except that puzzles use all the pieces, and as writer I can throw away scenes that don’t work or are redundant or whatnot. Finally, through the course of rewriting (I’m on the 5th draft, technically speaking), you see how it all works out. More or less.

I also recalled how film makers, and actors especially, talk about their projects. All those involved know the arc of the story, the characters and events, the emotions needed to pull it off to create art, or at least entertainment. Actors often don’t see the complete beginning-to-end story until the final cut. They are sometimes surprised at the outcome, when all is pulled together.

For obvious reasons of time, location, etc, scenes are not shot in story sequence; I wrote many novel scenes, the major moments of action, drama, and discovery, in random order (random according to when they leaped into mind — for instance a fully fleshed scene came to me in the middle of lunch at a Gozo seaside restaurant, for which I needed to order a second bottle of wine and write for the next 2hrs as the world and tourists passed by). So then, reading through THE VILLAGE WIT a final time, I realize I have put together a layer cake, in which each layer is a puzzle that itself had to be pieced together from seemingly random (but utlimately patterned) moments in character lives.

If all of this seems like the hard way to write a novel, I was interested to learn that it’s in fact how many authors work. Fitzgerald wrote quickly to make a story, and then took months and months to rewrite extensively to create what we are left to read; Roth pains over the first 8 months of every novel, knowing that he is in uncharted waters and simply writing to find direction and the story. That knowledge itself helped me keep writing (and rewriting) on days when the story and the writing looked and sounded like shit. In fact, this is a new way for me to write, all-at-once-writing, and it has proved itself the best way for me to get at, get inside, get working, and get to theĀ  finish line of a story. In the past, trying to write linearly has made me stop writing more often, wondering where the story is to go next. Now I don’t care, because I see ahead, I see behind, I see laterally and internally.

If daily “jobs” and “making a living” were this hard, I’d have killed myself a long time ago. Oddly perhaps, then, I find the challenge of writing the only work worth engaging in that doesn’t completely bore me into adding mortal sin onto the fun-sin I already enjoy.

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