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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

will it come to life?

Back at it. Morning notes: A History of Technology, The Grail Legend.

On to the main course: I got back to chapter 18, boldly opening up my draft and notes documents, and, after a bit of review, started typing. I nudged it ahead to page 10, and credited myself with a four-page day. Good for me, especially lately.

Sometimes I can have glimmers of how the finished product might feel: the emotions that could, potentially (and of course legitimately--see my post of five days ago), arise in the reader. Could people actually feel things for my characters? This is what is hardest to gauge, and easiest to lose sight of, while writing. The writing of my opus feels like a nonstop conveyor-belt of technical problems. The idea that something lifelike might arise from it seems remote, possibly uncanny.

I think back to working in TV. Sometimes, in fact quite often, it worked--in spite of the process, which was not only technically demanding but also fraught with emotional and political awfulness of various kinds. Amazingly, scenes would play, story would flow. I remember watching the finished episode called "A Place Called Nowhere", in which our hero Jay visits a vacant, dreamlike, haunted version of his own house--the place he is trying to return to but can't remember in his coma. It's familiar, and yet... Then he finds a weirdly vacant version of his own mother in the kitchen, baking a cake. She talks with him, and then, suddenly, fades out of sight--vanishes. Even though I cowrote this scene myself, I found it powerful viewing; I got chills.

You can't buy that. It was all worth it.

I have to trust that there is that kind of seismic power latent under the workaday surface of my current project. That the triumphs and failures I planned for my characters, these not-yet-existent phantoms, whose lives I only dimly felt at the outline stage, will somehow be realized and have their potential actualized. This is the real alchemy of storytelling, and it can't be taken for granted. There's no way of knowing for sure whether it will work. Only finishing it will reveal its true power.


  • That reminds me of the truth of you don't know what you've really written, until after you've written the whole book. Everything that's in it then, the characters, actions, emotions, subtext, textures, impressions, and everything else "morphs" into that unexpected life with its own power and you discover you've written something great. d:)

    By Blogger Debra Young, at September 15, 2005 8:27 AM  

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