vignettes

What of One-Match Fire? you say. What’s the latest news in that adventure?

Well, I seem to have a serious case of not-being-able-to-let-go. I was cautioned about this by a friend. That it was never going to be perfectly finished in my eyes and that I had to reach a point where I released my grip and surrendered it to the world.

And I thought maybe I was there, except the nagging wouldn’t relent. More than just pencil work and trying to refine verbs or staggeringly beautiful sentences, I thought there were some gaps in the story telling that needed to be filled somehow. The novel spans more than forty years in the lives of three people (two fathers, two sons), and there are several long spans of years in the narrative that are not represented. There are some significant life events that readers don’t get to see or the characters to experience. They’re just “understood” to have happened. And that seems insufficient, even a cheat to the reader.

There are 24 chapters in the novel as it currently stands, and that includes two late-addition chapters that were originally intended for the inevitable sequel. (Isn’t that further evidence that I can’t let go?) The gap filling that I think is needed is more than just bringing in some references to existing chapters. In part, I think the chapters are complete and whole as they are currently written. The fact that ten of them have been published as stand-alone stories confirms this in my inchoate mind. So I don’t really want to attempt to substantially change them. And the idea of writing whole new chapters is too daunting for my little mind to be willing to engage. Plus I think a whole new chapter to deal with this or that subtlety might be stretching its worth and/or diluting its impact.

So, somehow, I came upon a different solution. I am now writing 300-word vignettes that I will slip in between the chapters. Vignettes are handy because they don’t really need a beginning, middle, and end. They are just snapshots of a moment, of a thought. But if done right, they can set up or clear up some later or earlier matter in the bigger narrative. They can show how a certain decision was made or why a certain action was taken. They can effectively fill some of the gaps without the need to write a few thousand words to do so.

One-Match Fire is written with a third-person narrator. (Originally, before I realized that the stories I was writing were accumulating into an actual novel, I wrote several of them in first person, and one was even published in that state. But then, when I saw I had a novel rather than a cycle, I figured I needed to rein in the narrator, at least give it a consistency that the reader would follow. So I made it third person, with a specific narrator in mind. Then it became a different person who is the narrator, which I thinks works better.)

The vignettes, on the other hand, are being written in first person. I think this gives a better glimpse into the minds of the characters in these critical moments. I can show the characters to the reader in ways the characters wouldn’t show themselves to each other, giving them more depth. (Uncertainty. Doubt. Regret. Fear. Shame. All human qualities that the characters would keep stuffed inside themselves rather than trouble the people they love.)

I don’t think having between-chapter vignettes in first person is unconventional to the point of being experimental, and I don’t think it would jar the reader, once the pattern became apparent. And I do think it serves the story well.

I’ve written four thirteen of these so far. That leaves only nineteen ten to go. To this point they’ve been easy to write, and that’s due to me knowing what holes need filling (and knowing these characters so well). But I’ve done the easy stuff. Part of what lies ahead is defining what holes are still out there, and which are more important to address than the others.

And then, once I have all twenty-three written, I’m promising myself I will consider the novel finished.

Explore posts in the same categories: Fathers and Sons

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