Thursday, September 02, 2010

When a Novel Begins to Write Itself

I thought I was writing a simple book. Straight-forward with a single point of view, taking place over a single afternoon and evening. Yet, as I brainstormed last night about what was left to happen in the novel, it became apparent that the book wants to be more than this.

The premise off which I was writing was this: When a man learns that his neighbors are having an affair, it shakes his own idea of marriage and of himself. But after last night, maybe it’s more like this: When a couple learns of cheating neighbors, their marriage is shaken, identity is questioned, and pasts haunt the present. Something like that.

The current narration is so close to the husband, Darren (though I’m reserving the right to change it; men’s names are so difficult to choose), that we can only know the wife through his eyes. Her character, though, is begging me for a chance to rebut. She is more than he thinks she is, her troubles more complex.

While Darren’s narration is extremely close, nearly stream of consciousness with plenty of questioning and jumping from one topic to another, the wife’s (Nicole) would have to be different. It would need to be as detached in a way as she is, trying to occupy herself in the domesticity of her daily life. Her past, though, pesters her and deserves some time on the page as well. Instead of flashbacks through memory (my standard way of revealing scenes from the past), whole sections taking place in the past may be more effective.

Darren’s issues are more with the present, who he’s become, his feelings of anonymity. He is waking up to his feelings of unhappiness. Part of it, obviously, has to do with his marriage. Another part comes from his not turning out as he had hoped. There is also, for him, a large issue of morality which also comes into question after learning of this affair between neighbors.

It is to be a suburban novel, with the influence of Richard Yates, John Cheever, and John Updike, but it is also about identity and existence, with the required hints of Sartre and Camus. It is not meant to skewer suburban life, or ridicule or demean suburbanites, but it should examine how one maintains, loses, or finds identity in the anonymous suburbs. It is in this line of thinking last night that I may have also settled on a title: Another Blade of Grass. It’ll work for now.

My recent reading of William Faulkner’s Light in August has opened my eyes some to what is possible in a novel. It is not necessary to get locked into anything during the writing process, not a single point of view or a particular course of action. As I sit here now, trying to do other work, the new possibilities fill my mind and the story gets richer by the moment.

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