I am writing a novel. That is, I have been writing a novel for the last fourteen years.
Two and a half years ago, I finally gave up on modifying the prototype I had from when I was twelve or thirteen. Realising that poetry was still my best form of expression to date, because I could say everything I wanted to say and actually complete an entire piece, I decided to do a collection of short stories set in the same world and time period which, together, paint a fuller picture of an overarching, but not quite explicit, storyline. It was a way to not only be a bit original (at least, so I thought), but to also make a novel manageable, do-able, for me.
I never did it. I roughly outlined the prelude, epilogue, and eight chapters and the perspectives I wanted to write for each one. I began composing the first paragraphs of a few chapters, then realised I still didn’t have a Point. I had themes and notions and ideas I wanted to express and explore, but I didn’t have a unifying theme. One of the issues I had was not wanting the unifying theme to be the gospel in disguise. In a fantasy novel touching on metanarratives and existentialism, it’s really hard to do this without being blasphemous.
And then. Out of nowhere, one night lying in bed, a first line surfaced: It was on this day eighty years ago that our gods fell to their gods. I have no idea why it came to me, or why it seemed like a brilliant idea to me. Needless to say, I got good vibes about it and knew I wouldn’t sleep until I had squeezed out and jotted down every last trickle of the idea that had somehow sprung up in my mind.
When you’re groggy with one foot already in dreamland, your brain spews out these wacked thoughts that seem awesome to you, then you wake up, forget them and kick yourself for not recording them. Most of the time they weren’t really awesome to begin with. Sometimes things that seem cool right before you go to bed, aren’t cool at all once you’re out of bed.
But I had a really good feeling about this, and worked pretty solidly on it for the first week or two. I decided I wanted it to be a succinct but epic fantasy novel. For the first time, I had a Point – not just a sense of how it would end. I laid out a summary of each chapter, and each served a purpose to the story as a whole. I wrote the first chapter, then the second, and then the third. All brief. All with an eye to the story as a whole, and the chapters to come.
It crossed my mind, then, that my life should be a bit like that. I’m good at short-term things, when I can get my head around each task. I can even see and understand how my faith – and God’s hand – runs through it all. But when I try to think about what the rest of my life will look like, I just can’t picture it. One thing I realised about myself when I was serving in Ecuador is that I lack Vision. I tried to explain this to my sister the other day, and she didn’t quite understand how, knowing me as she does, I can possibly lack vision.
I wished that having a Point to my story would be a sign that I would soon have a Point to my life. I mean, I want my life to be all about Jesus – but I don’t want it to be as obvious as Aslan. I don’t want my life to be a long and descriptive fantasy novel with the usual trappings, simply because that’s what fantasy novels are supposed to be. I don’t want my life to be a series of short-term projects as different expressions of my faith. That’s not such a bad idea, really – but I would much rather each stage of my life be a tight, effective, fluff-free, chapter that builds into the next, with later chapters seeing the fruit of preliminary chapters, and all of them forming one Great Story, not just a pretty mosaic or collage.
I’ve since let my novel (novella?) sit and have come back to it, still enthusiastic. Looking back a month later, I no longer think this is an amazing first line of an epic novel – I’m definitely open to exchanging it for a better one. I’m thinking about changing the perspective of the narrative, and I know different and unexpected details will find their way into the plot. But the story itself I have down.
And the corollary in my own life? I’m still getting there. I’m still praying over the Point. But somehow getting a grasp on this novel business is giving me hope.
PS: This isn’t even the post I initially meant to write, but it’s the one that came out when I sat down at the computer. Funny, the unexpected turns life takes sometimes …
PS: So sorry about the post title – I couldn’t help myself with the pun!