v.v

When I had boldly said before that I had finished writing the vignettes, surely you knew that I would come back to correct such an outrageous assertion.

Doing the math, I had them done. Twenty-four chapters; twenty-three inter-chapter vignettes in the bank. I even spent a stressful evening inserting the vignettes from their separate file into the body of the One-Match Fire document, creating the new document I named “OMF v.v.” I grumbled as I did this because every single time they imported as a different typeface that I had to fix and then panicked when somehow their placement got off and I seemed to be missing one. I got it all worked out in the end, even changing the (very short) Chapter 24 into a vignette itself. And I thought it done.

Silly me.

I guess maybe I needed to believe it was done so I could jolt my self into considering the implications of this and realize that I was missing something truly fundamental.

Nowhere in the entire novel did I have a character actually building and lighting a one-match fire. I had fires burning and fires remembered, but I’d never had a one-match fire built. Building a successful one-match fire is supposed to be a skill that is handed down from father to son in the novel. Hence the title.*

So, vignettes to the rescue. I thought that I could devote one of them to this important task. They are long enuf (~300 words) to cover the process, and the activity spans the novel, so it needn’t happen in any one given story. It occurred to me that since it is a tradition that belongs to the three main characters, I could write the vignette such that any one of them could be building the fire. (There are a couple of lines of dialogue in the novel that are not tagged and remain ambiguous because they could be spoken by any one of the three in their moments.) I wouldn’t specify which character was building the fire. He would note that the other two were down at the lake, thus making clear that all three are at the cabin, while he was building their evening fire. And which of them he was wouldn’t matter. The tradition was successfully handed down and any of the three could accomplish it.

That part was easy. I’ve built enuf of one-match fires myself to know how to describe the process. But once I had the vignette written, I needed a place to put it. Fortunately, I was never really satisfied with another one I had written. It did provide important information to the novel, and it bolstered some character explication that was also important, but it seemed forced, even gratuitous. I figured I could take the essentials from the weak vignette and insert them into an existing story/chapter to do the same thing. (Plus, it had some snarky word play that I didn’t want to lose.) I did this without too much surgery, leaving its placement open.

And it happened that its placement was sufficiently along in the storyline that the youngest character (of the three) was old enuf to be able to build successful one-match fires himself.

I’m in the process of reading through v.v now, and someone should probably slap me and tell me to leave well enuf alone, but I have this idea that maybe I can do a little something to clarify/fortify the presence of the narrator. I don’t want to bring him out and make him overt, but I think if I can make it clear that there is someone actually telling the tales, an outsider, it will smooth over some of the structural “issues” that have always nagged me about the telling. (Chiefly, how can anyone know/remember specific moments from forty years in the past? My narrator can’t, of course, but his is telling stories, not writing history.) I’ll be on the watch for the one or two opportunities I think I need to make this happen.

And then really, for certain, absolutely, I’ll consider the novel finished!

*Thank you, Ellen Goldstein!

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