Jorge Luis Borges.
I’m getting close to finishing the first draft of my next Silas Quinn novel. I reckon I have just two or three more chapters to write. The momentum builds as you reach the end of a writing project, although writing THE END won’t be the end of my work on this book. With this book more than any of the previous ones, I have written the first draft quickly, knowing that there’s a lot I need to go back to and either refine, reconstruct, add in or take out. Especially take out.
The way I write is that I work out a fairly detailed outline and pretty much stick to that. Even though I’ve just described it as ‘fairly detailed’ in many ways the outline is still pretty sketchy. It often tells me what needs to happen, but doesn’t tell me how what needs to happen will happen.
That’s what I wrestle with day by day over the computer.
This sketchiness means that sometimes, as I work out the detail, the outline changes. It’s a constantly evolving beast. I realise that that thing a character will do in chapter 32 is actually not something they would ever do, so it has to go. Either they do something else, or someone else has to do the thing. Sometimes I realise that I need to create whole new characters, and whole new scenes. The accumulation of evolutions builds over the course of the writing, so that by the time I get to the end, my original conception for the denouement of the book is radically different to what the ending has turned out to be. For example, the person I originally thought did it may turn out not to have done it after all.
Set piece scenes that I have been working towards because once I thought they would provide me with a great dramatic ending turn out to be no longer relevant.
You have a sense that things are changing as you go along; you know that you’re building up unresolved issues that you will have to sort out at some point.
Now is that point, as the ending looms.
In some ways the original plot has completely fallen apart. You realise, as I did yesterday, that the ending you had in mind doesn’t work at all. You need to come up with something better.
And then you discover that you have subconsciously laid the seeds to a better ending in what you’ve already written. And those seeds at the time felt like you were extemporising with no clear idea where you were going with them.
But it turns out they add a whole new twist that you hadn’t thought of. Except you had.
I am reminded of something that Borges said about dreams in a talk he gave in Buenos Ares in 1977. About how the dreamer is both the creator and the spectator of their dream. The dramaturge and the audience. He related one of his own dreams in which he encountered a mysterious friend (someone who was both familiar to him and a stranger) who was holding his left hand under his cloak. Borges experiences a terrible dread about the hand and asks to see what has happened to it. Slowly, the friend reveals his hand – and Borges is astonished and horrified to see that it has turned into a bird’s claw. This was totally unexpected – and yet it was he who came up with the image which he found so shocking.
Writing is dreaming.