Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel (Day Thirteen)

Image by Jonathan Moreau

In my last blog, I admitted that I’m moving out of the middle of the novel. What does that mean, really? It means that I’m starting the drive to the finish line and there are a number of plotting details I need to be clear about before I go there. So I’ll be taking time away from the blog to think through different scenarios and see which ones are going to work best for my story. And then I’ll report back here on how it’s going.

Meanwhile, I’ll be reminding myself of Alberto Manguel’s axiom: what the story needs is the first law of fiction. Not which of my favourite passages I want to keep. And not the ending that I had my heart set on but the passages and ending that move my story forward. So I may throw away some of the triggering ideas that started me writing my story–if the story asks for that sacrifice.

But most of all, I’ll be dealing with plot, or the lack of it. The late Hugh Kenner (who borrowed the axiom from another writer) once explained plot to me this way: the king dies, the queen dies–that is not a plot. But the king dies and the queen dies of grief is a plot because there is a causal connection between the first event and the second.

Manguel and Kenner are both critics and neither of them would be foolish enough to utter a rule that’s set in stone. Most axioms about writing are only guidelines because fiction writing is an evolving tradition. Many younger writers are moving away from plot and giving the reader instead the experience of being closer to a self, as the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard put it. And the New Yorker critic James Wood claims plot works like a burdensome and predictable caravan in most contemporary novels. I know what he means. The last thing I want to do is freight my story with a creaking plot line.

So I’m really talking about my story’s trajectory. How will it evolve? There’s something exciting about the last part of the novel writing process. The uneasy, doldrumish feeling of being in the middle of the novel is shifting into a faster, more thrilling sensation. The joy of finishing is like plunging backwards over a fizzing waterfall. Or maybe it’s more like the rush of spring light that starts to brighten our lives. The momentum brings with it the gathering up of confidence as characters and events coalesce.

There will be time enough when I’m revising to start eating anxiety pancakes again.

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