In Which the Narrative Fights Back

It is nearly two months since I wrote the previous post. Where did the time go? Well, where does it ever go? Is that not the whole problem with life?

I suppose  that I should be excited. In the weeks since my last post I have had an experience I have often read about happening to other novelists and would-be novelists but never quite believed possible, when the characters revolted and refused to behave as they were told, instead rendering the narrative lifeless, stranding me in repeated blind alleys, until I relented and gave them what they wanted.

There was a character I meant to kill. I have intended all along, since I was first planning this novel in early 2008, to kill this character at the end of the book. The death had an important narrative function, or so I thought. It was supposed to be all about what we sacrifice for love and art. The death was supposed to make everything that happened after that, the tidy resolution of the various plot points, possible.

Except it didn’t work that way. Killing the character suddenly created a number of serious, seemingly unfixable problems. Worse, it suddenly halted the forward momentum of my narrative. As in real life, when someone important dies, everything stops, everything changes, and you are left gasping and paralyzed. How did I fail to realize that would happen?

I myself was devastated by the death of my character. It wasn’t supposed to work like this. They are, after all, fictional. How can I entertain such tender feelings for them? It seems the height of self-indulgence.

And I have to wonder, did Jane Austen have such problems?

Did she ever struggle, for example, over the question of whether Henry Crawford should come to his senses and not elope with Maria but persist in his love for Fanny? Actually, that is not a very good example. Did she ever think about having Willoboughy repent at the last minute and leave Sophy at the altar to reunite with his beloved Marianne, and marrying Elinor off to Colonel Brandon instead?

I have to think that she did not. And that is the difference between Jane Austen and me. She knew what she was doing. She never let the seams show. If she lived today and had a blog, it would probably be about needlework and fashion, but never about the struggles with her art.

On the other hand, thanks to the canceled Chapter 10, we do know that while she never doubted that Anne would end up with Captain Wentworth, there was some confusion in her mind about exactly how to make this happy event take place in a way that was dramatic and yet natural.

So maybe Jane Austen wasn’t perfect. I take only the most moderate comfort in this reflection, however.

I am still waiting for the other fabled thing that supposedly happens to novelists, when the characters rise up and push me to the finish line, when the force of the narrative propels me to the end, breathless but effortless. Yeah. I am waiting for that.


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