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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, June 12, 2008

the end and how to get there

The finger? Much better, thanks. Its last segment is still a bit hard from inflammation, but it does not hurt, and I can use it at will. I used it to play some guitar last night, and this morning I'm typing with both hands.

Kimmie and I have been watching the 1977 Masterpiece Theatre production of Love for Lydia, based on the novel by H. E. Bates. Set in England of the 1920s and 30s, the story has a moody young man, Edward Richardson, aspiring to be a novelist. While the core of the story is shaped around his love for a beautiful young socialite, Lydia, who also appears to be somewhat mentally ill, I'm interested by how the approach to novel-writing is portrayed. Young Richardson simply rolls a sheet of paper into a typewriter, types "Chapter One", and launches on his book.

While I'm sure that many, no doubt most, novels are written that way, I'm equally sure that very few published ones are. But since it was presumably written this way by Bates, it seems plausible that this was how Bates himself worked. That seems the more likely, since he wrote and published hundreds of works in his lifetime (he died in 1974). (It's also possible though that the material was written in order to conform with the audience's preconceptions in order not to distract from the more important relational parts of the story.)

To me, it's as hard to imagine writing a book without a careful plan as it is to imagine building a house by just starting to dig in the ground and making it up as you go along. And writing a large book is more like building a skyscraper. It's inconceivable that it could work out without detailed planning.

On the other hand, who really knows? All the various methods and techniques for creative writing are probably so much whistling in the dark. In reality, it's probably, as I've mentioned before, as that pilot told me back at Seminary: "Any landing you walk away from is a good landing." Any method that gets you to the end is a good method.

Well then. I suppose I should get on with it.


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