Sunday, February 15, 2009

Letting It Be Real

With my thesis defense rapidly approaching, I’m hurriedly trying to make my novel as good as possible by the deadline (which is about a month away). I recently received some really useful feedback from a couple of people who read my novel over the break and then I met with the head of my committee this past Thursday to work out some more ideas for revision. The good news? She doesn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t pass my defense. The bad news? I still have A LOT of revising to do to make it the publishable novel I want it to be.

I’ve had to face something these past few days as I mentally combined all the various feedback I’ve been given and tried to figure out how to address some of the major issues that exist with the ending of the novel. The ending is simply not going to work. It must change. Big deal, right? Well, it was difficult for me to accept this truth because when I set about to write the novel basically all that existed in my mind was the ending: I wanted to figure out how a character could get to the point of making a specific decision, a decision that is very wrong in my eyes. The entire novel blossomed from me trying to work out, in my own head, how somebody would make this decision.

But in the process of writing the novel, the story and the characters within it took on lives of their own. They became more than just an idea and they began to do things that were absolutely right for them to do . . . but made the ending make no sense. My brute refusal to accept that, to try and force the story to end this way simply because that was the original premise for the story, was essentially ruining the entire thing. I think Damien put it best when he told me that he had liked the book the entire way through until the ending, which ultimately made him angry and made him hate every single character completely. A pretty disappointing way to leave a story. This was not at all the reaction I was going for - obviously.

I realized, after really struggling with it, that the ending had to change. My thesis advisor made a wonderful suggestion for a good medium between the ending I had originally wanted to have and the ending that I absolutely did not want because I thought it would be too happy of an ending. Ultimately I realized that this new ending was more heartbreaking (the reaction I was going for all along) but even more important, it was way more complicated and real. This is the way this character would deal with the events that unfold throughout the course of the novel.

I feel like this was an important lesson about writing that I was going to have to learn sooner or later: that you can’t stay married to a premise. Or specific scenes, for that matter, or bits of dialogue or narration. Really, part of revising well is being able to cut and change the things that you love because they just don’t fit with this world and the characters within it.

For me writing is a very organic experience, I just sit down in front of the computer and type whatever pops into my head. As a result, the characters become organic, too. They live and breathe and do whatever the hell they want to do, regardless of what I wanted this story to be. In a lot of ways that means I have to give up my right to be the world creator – I’m more of an observer. The recorder of what happens. But if I impose my own vision of what this story should be or who these characters are it’s more likely to just destroy the whole thing, make it feel forced, scripted, created and, as a result, unbelievable. And not at all worth reading.

1 comment:

Justus said...

That's such a tough call. It is funny how sometimes the initial spark winds up not being the story at all. Still, it's hard to let go and allow the story to dictate what it wants. I think it's probably a good decision in this case, though. You'll have to let me read the new ending when you get there.