At about three p.m. yesterday afternoon I finished the third (and hopefully last) rewrite of the novel currently known as Toulouse.
Whenever I come to the last few sentences of a work, whether it is novel or short story, I feel a little deflated. The sensation is intensified in longer works–I’ve spent more time with those people, in that world–but its always there.
Part of the feeling is loss, knowing that I’ve reached the end of the creation part of this story. I’m leaving behind a whole cast of characters with problems that aren’t always solved completely. I’m letting go of the structures I’ve set up within the world, ghosts and ancestors and magic books, in this case.
The other part of that deflation is doubt. Is this the ending the story needs? The ending it deserves? Am I satisfied with everything I’ve put in this book?
Right there in the thick of things, still reeling from the immersion necessary to write a story, its often hard to tell. I’ve had a few endings I love immediately, but most of the time I’m just not sure. I think this time around I’ve led the story to a pretty happy place, with a resolution that is mostly satisfying and can be improved on via edits as opposed to whole cloth rewrites, but its been a long time coming.
When I wrote my first book, Chasing Smoke, I had no idea what I was doing, and I knew it. I didn’t care, though. The whole point of writing that book was to prove I could. I can envision the ending scene in my head right now, and I think it works with the wonderful mess that is that story, but it doesn’t matter either way. That book won’t see the light of day until I’m super famous and someone wants to torture themselves by reading my first efforts.
Then I wrote Struck By Chocolate, which also ended well, I think. And which is another book that won’t ever go anywhere.
It wasn’t until my third novel attempt that I made a serious attempt at writing in a genre I cared about, using knowledge of story structure.
And I biffed the ending.
Of course, I can go back and rewrite it, fix things, mold it into something better, but I don’t care as much about that book anymore. I was trying to explore things that don’t matter to me, in part because I was using bits and pieces from other people to influence the book, instead of drawing elements from deeper within myself.
Toulouse has been different, in that respect as well as others. I look at the difficulty of maintaining friendships with people you don’t understand, the way a taste of power can be used to make people do very bad things, and how love can sometimes help–but not always save–a terrible situation.
I think authors put themselves in everything they write. You can’t not seep through the words and onto the page. But the amount of revelation varies. In Chasing Smoke, I was there, in every comma and sentence fragment, my pain was splashed around without reservation. In Toulouse, I hope I’ve achieved something a little subtler, a little more accessible, while still being honest.
Plus, I ended the book with a kiss. Who doesn’t like kissing?
As readers, what are some of the things you look for in books and stories that you really key into?
And as writers, how do you balance between getting the truth on the page and turning your book into your therapist?
Photo used under creative commons license from NathanGibbs