What Comes After The End?

Banana_bread_fresh_from_the_oven,_October_2009I got to “The End” of the first draft of my latest novel without a car chase, drug bust, or explosion and only one murder, which occurs off-stage. I think I stayed focused on my character. I went back through and did an edit, looking for obvious errors, redundancies, clunky constructions, and arrhythmias. That pulled out about 400 words, but I added about the same back in to develop passages that seemed to gloss over important material. In the end the word count stayed about the same, just over 70K.

Now, I think I’ll let it bake for a month or two. I need to improve some physical descriptions, which I find difficult to write, but I’m somewhat overdosed on this project right now, so I’m going to procrastinate that chore. I also have some nagging worries. One is that my antagonist might be severely one-dimensional, verging on Snidely Whiplash. That happens because it’s a first-person narrator, and she sees him that way. It’s not clear how I would round him out, from her point of view.

Another concern is having too much summary and not enough enactment. There’s a lot of dialog, and some of it is expositional. In part that’s because of the framing device of MC talking to a counselor, which, by definition, is talking heads. I tried to offset that constraint by dramatizing numerous events in reminiscences and flashbacks, rather than summarizing them, but all the time-slicing does interrupt the forward momentum. I don’t know if it’s bad, or if I got away with it.

It’s not entirely clear what’s telling and what’s showing. In real life, what most people do, 99.9% of the time is summarize events to each other. Few of us work on a shrimp boat all day or ride a horse across the desert. What we do is talk to each other, in person, on email, or telephone. We’re in the business of telling stories to each other. Why then is “telling” anathema? I think maybe that dichotomy is badly characterized.

I wouldn’t mind submitting the novel to a critique group, especially a group of experienced writers. I could workshop it. I considered the Taos writing conference, which I attended a couple of years ago for a class on character-driven plotting. They have a master novel class which reads complete manuscripts. I’m tempted, despite the steep price (about $3,000 for me, including travel, food, lodging, conference and workshop fees). I’d have to critique 5 other novels in order to earn 5 critiques of mine, a fair trade, but a lot of work. I’ve been to a lot of workshops –stories, poems, novel chapters – and they’ve been consistently underwhelming, the blind leading the blind, basically. Nevertheless, any reader feedback is valuable, so I haven’t ruled it out.  Maybe it’s too soon to think about next steps. I’ll let my “finished” manuscript age on the backup disk for a while.

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