Friday, February 11, 2005

The Story That Doesn't End (Again)

I've been writing the Joshua Wander serial since the beginning of November, playing it by ear as usual.  I don't plot ahead, although I sometimes have a vague idea that certain characters will interact before it's all over.  As I write each week's entry, interesting, unplanned things keep happening, providing that week's cliffhanger. The part of my brain where JW and my other characters reside is in the habit of surprising me every Saturday night, or every few pages of handwritten manuscript, written midweek while eating tuna at Austin's or standing in line at the bank.  Those of you who have been reading the serial get to come along for the ride.

the JW notebook The problem is, the cliffhanger-generating part of my brain seems disinclined to wrap things up.  I've been near the theoretical end of the serial - not the novel, but the serial - for several weeks now, but the goal keeps getting farther away. Every time I think I'm within a page or two of the end, a character says or does something surprising, starting a new plot twist.  It's like the time I read through all of John's Doonesbury books in a day.  For hours afterward, my brain was dividing my thoughts, my experiences, my life into a four panel sequence of set up, development, punchline, tag. Now my brain's stuck in a different pattern.  It's served me pretty well so far, but I'm starting to worry that it's just not going to wrap up at an appropriate point in the narrative. 

I tried to wrap it up. Really, I did. I even wrote the words "The End," nine handwritten pages beyond the close of last week's installment.  But then I remembered a minor plot point I'd failed to work in, and a great line that Josh says that he hadn't officially said yet.  So I wrote all that up, intending to cram it somewhere in the stuff I'd already written.  That was four pages ago. My little leftover snippet now is too long, among other considerations, to fit before the sequence I'm not going to mention here.  It has to go after  "The End."  Worse, Jerry, of all people, just said something surprising in it, which points the way to further scenes, or possibly the next part of the novel. Those four pages and counting really aren't quite suitable to be "the end" of anything.  Darn it.

I don't know whether to be annoyed or amused.At at least two of you - which for all I know, may constitute the entire readership of Meet Joshua Wander - are in no hurry for the serial to end.  Well, kids, you're in luck.  I'm not. This latest tangent is extraneous, like (to quote Douglas Adams) "a man saying 'And another thing...' twenty minutes after admitting he'd lost the argument." It's after the story's climax, even after the denouement.  It doesn't fit into the story structure.  But I can't help it.  I have to keep writing it, lurching from cliffhanger to cliffhanger.  You'd think I was being paid by the word, instead of not at all. So far.

Really, though, I should have expected this.  Something similar happened in the early 1990s with a supposedly four-part fanfic serial, eventually published in eight parts. A decade after that, when Mages of Mâvarin threatened to stall out around page 300, I discovered that there was an alternative version of Mâvarin.  This solved my immediate plotting difficulty, and promised to get my characters into all sorts of trouble.  By the time they worked their way through most of that, they had other problems, inherent in the premise but a surprise to me, and thematically important. Within two years I found myself with nearly 1200 pages of doublespaced manuscript, with very little that could reasonably be cut. 

Fast forward two more years. School is over, study for the CPA exam has not yet begun, and I finally have some time for my fiction. Instead of finally getting the Mâvarin books cleaned up and submitted somewhere, as I'd planned to do, I'm following JW around as he and his friends drive me crazy with their creative responses and resulting cliffhangers. 

I'd hoped that just this once, I could write a fairly contained, fairly short story, rather than be dragged along through an ever-lengthening novelette.

Guess not.



1 comment:

ryanagi said...

Heh heh heh! Woo hoo!