Posted tagged ‘The Sleep of Reason’

The end of the story

June 22, 2010

I think I’ve mentioned here that the last sentence of The Sleep of Reason brings the novel to a startling conclusion and reveals a bigger story that was behind the story from the very first page. I’ve certainly said that in all of the query letters I’ve sent, and I hope that has intrigued a few agents.

I’ve been corresponding with my reader, the art history one, about the ending. Among other things she said she was “blown away” by it. This made me worry that it seemed too sudden and incongruous given the story that comes before it, so I asked her. No, she said, the ending was not a bad fit, and she said as she considered the set up for it, she could see how it belonged.

I’ve long been interested in stories that hinge on the very last sentence. Portnoy’s Complaint is a good example. I wrote an early post about the writer Margaret Millar, whose mysteries have a signature twist ending. I’ve wanted to write one for a long time, but I never would have guessed in advance that The Sleep of Reason would lend itself to this ambition.

Yet the ending there is not intended to be a twist. Nor is it supposed to be much of a surprise. The ending — the character’s choice/fate — is supposed to be inevitable within the framework of the story I’ve told to that point. I’ve created parallel structures throughout the story and dropped hints here and there. I’ve given the character all of the tools and rationalizations he needs to make his choice — even several character names feed into the game. I began the set up for the ending on the very first page of the novel. And yet I don’t seem to have over-prepared. My reader did not see the ending coming even though it made sense to her once it arrived.

So I hope that the general reader does not feel manipulated or cheated by the ending or feel it is a shaggy dog story. I hope the reader sees that the story built to the only logical ending it could, even if it is one that most people would not expect.

Chapter 17 is completed

May 30, 2009

I managed to complete Chapter 17 of my novel, The Sleep of Reason, today. I did this in part by truncating it sooner than I had originally intended, moving the unused material to the next chapter.

This is the fateful chapter. It is the one in which my protagonist acts, as a free man, and seals his fate. It has the hallmarks of a traditional Greek tragedy at this point (though with my story-behind-the-story, that transforms into a post-modern tragedy). Given the importance of the events in the chapter, I decided not to dilute them by continuing the narrative once the critical work was accomplished. Thus some related but separate actions that result from the fateful act are now pushed to the next chapter. There they can be given their due attention and not interfere with the import of Chapter 17.

As a result, Chapter 17 comes in at about 4,200 first-draft words, which is a little short for what has become the standard for this novel, but a) I’ve never considered chapter word count to be important at this stage of the writing, and b) the crisis is better served by a shorter chapter. There is more punch to it.

Curiously, though I know (in some obscure compartment of my little mind) that I’m going to have to rewrite every word of this novel in the third-person narrative, I’m not letting that awareness interfere with the first-person narrative writing I’m doing now. That is, I’m not questioning how I should phrase something so that it will lend itself to the coming rewrite. I’m simply roaring along with the protagonist as the narrator, and I think that is good for the integrity of the story telling. I’ll finish the story in the same manner as I’ve told the four-fifths already told, and then I’ll worry about the re-telling.

Chapter Seventeen progresses

May 24, 2009

I’ve made satisfactory progress on writing Chapter 17 of my novel, The Sleep of Reason. It’s now up to 3,500 words, and I expect about 2,000 more will finish it.

This is a fateful chapter, and I mean that literally. The protagonist chooses his fate in this chapter. Some months ago I dithered in this post as to whether I should make my protagonist a classic tragic character or a post-modern tragic character. With my recent epiphany about the story behind the story in this novel, I find that I can have it both ways.

It’s odd to me that the fateful act in this chapter is so much like the act in my short story that I just learned this week will be published in a fantasy ezine. That wasn’t intentional though I suppose it is more than merely coincidental and shouldn’t be a surprise. Though a fantasy magazine will publish the short story, I think most people would categorize it as a piece of crime fiction. The fateful act in the novel clearly is a crime. Yet I am not a crime writer and have no practice or experience in that kind of world. Thus I suppose it is not surprising that I would use a similar act of crime in each case. In the short story, the act is only (strongly) implied. In the novel, it is graphically depicted. In both cases, though, I am in strange territory, at least in terms of my writing and my life experience.

The novel is now fully into the endgame. I still have at least two chapters more to go, but all of the preparation work in the narrative is finally being realized. I feel a momentum now that I hadn’t felt before. The trudging of the writing is giving way to an almost breathless chase to the end. Cheers to all!

In a bit of serendipity, I find that I will be spending a week in New York next month. It happens that several important scenes in the novel take place in New York, especially in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I plan to include a visit to the Museum in my itinerary, and while I don’t think the parts of the novel that take place there need much in the way of specific detail, I’ll be glad for the opportunity to soak in any impressions that may help.