Clarity

I’ve never worked on a short story or novel (or even a feature article for that matter) with as much clarity as I have for the story I’ve titled “The Sleep of Reason.” I know exactly what the story needs to do at every point, exactly what motivates the protagonist as his psychology evolves through the story, exactly what tonal shifts need to happen and when.

The problem I am having is that this clarity means that everything has to work exactly to support the story. I realize that is true for all good writing, but I’ve never been in a writing situation where this clarity is so apparent during the writing. In much of the fiction I write I know the general direction I want to go, and I often feel my way along, trying out this or that to see if it works. The stories spend time in the wilderness getting purified. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the plot of my future novel Finnegans Fogbound has completely changed from what I had originally imagined. About the only original remnant is the title (and even that will go when I think up a more suitable one).

With “The Sleep of Reason” however, there is no doubt. The path is clear. And that is what makes it so demanding. Each word has to fit and work its purpose in the story. Not later when I’m working on the rewrite but right now as the words come fresh. I spent more than two hours yesterday writing only two paragraphs, going over and over the word choices and sentence structure to make sure they were exactly right. And I knew what was “exactly right” because of this odd clarity I have. Usually this kind of thing doesn’t happen to me until I have a first draft of the entire document completed. Then I go in with my ruthless red pen and get to work. With “The Sleep of Reason” though I’m in this hyper editing mode with each sentence as it comes from my fingertips.

One of the things I like about the novels of Philip Roth is that I can tell that every single word is exactly the right one for the job. Each word is doing its proper work. I don’t feel that with most other novels I read. In fact, one way I judge a novel (or a movie) is by whether I could have added or taken away anything from it to improve it. I don’t mean to write it in my style or to my taste. It’s more a sense that the novel wasn’t all that it could have been. And of course, so much of genre fiction is formulaic, which I think is a kind of contempt for the story that could have been.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with “The Sleep of Reason.” It’s certainly going to be too long to qualify as a short story. (Those two paragraph yesterday comprised nearly 800 words, for example, and they only dealt with a little bit of story mechanics. My notes for the story are more than 4,000 words, and I add a couple hundred words each week.) I don’t know how long it will be, but it will be novella length, even with ruthless pruning. Unless I get some unexpected insights to the story though, I can’t imagine it reaching novel length. The market for novellas is so tiny that I hold little hope of finding a home for it. Yet I feel compelled to write it.

Still, as coherently as the story is developing, as demanding as it is being, maybe it will be “perfect” and thus will find a home.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Finnegans, Humble efforts, short stories, Sleep of Reason

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