I have written the first paragraph, and the last chapter, of ‘Tider’ about fifteen times. There were no fewer than five attempts to get these vital parts of the book right during the course of yesterday alone. Soon my back garden is going to look a bit like this:
I’m starting to wish I lived in an era of candlelight and scritchy quill-pens, because back then you had to make every single word work for its place in what you were creating. There were no conveniences born of technology, no handy ‘I’ll just print out these millions of sheets and then recycle them’; if a word went down, it stayed down.
Then again, if I had lived at a time like that, chances are I wouldn’t even be literate, let alone be allowed to create something like a book. So, scratch that. But you know what I mean, I hope.
Beginnings and endings are hard.
The beginning of a book, of course, has to be snappy and engaging and attention-grabbing and interesting, as well as hinting at what’s to come and flinging the reader, in medias res, straight into the fictive world you’ve created. It has to do a lot, and be a lot, and carry a lot of responsibility. Then again, so does the conclusion. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you may already be aware that I have trouble with endings; ‘Tider’ is no exception. I find it difficult to tie up short stories well, and I often agonise about the conclusion to my blog posts, too, which – now that I think about it – may be the reason why I usually sign off with a salutation.
Why, then, would concluding a novel be any less difficult?
I think, however, after a long and hard struggle yesterday, that I’ve finally managed to carve out a beginning and an ending for ‘Tider’ that I’m happy with – or, at least, it’s the best I’ve yet come up with, and that will have to do. I think, as the book stands at the moment, I might have erred a little on the side of schmaltz, but at least it’s genuine, and meaningful.
To illustrate how bad I am at wrapping things up, here’s an example of a pair of concluding sentences so cheesy that you could chop ’em up and put ’em in your sandwich. They’re based on the original finishing flourishes of ‘Tider’, and even though they’re not exactly accurate, they’re close enough to give you a flavour:
Without warning, the police – huffing and puffing with exertion and doing a lot more yelling than was strictly necessary – burst through the door. As they surveyed the scene, probably wondering what on earth had happened, Jenny, Buck and Vincent could only gape at one another in amazement, before exploding into laughter.
This is a pathetic ending. I knew it was pathetic when I wrote it, and I wanted to put my fist through the computer screen yesterday morning when I re-read it. It was such a poor, lacklustre, wrong conclusion; just before this, there’s been a scene of high emotion, and so laughter – even relieved, slightly hysterical laughter – is not a true or authentic emotional response. Truth and authenticity are important in fiction writing – characters have to act logically, and in accordance with reason, and it irritates me when a character is brokenhearted in one scene and five sentences later has carried on as if nothing has happened, or something similar. Of course there are occasions when these rules can be broken for narrative effect, but overall I think characters have to act like people, with ‘real’ responses to what’s going on in their lives. Otherwise, how can a reader relate, or respond, to what they’re reading? How can a book make sense, or seem believable?
So, I’ve taken away that tooth-grindingly bad ending and I’ve replaced it. I’ve rejigged my opening paragraph so much that the words are getting travel-sick. I’ve done my absolute best to make ‘Tider’ as good a book as I can write, and so I’m sending it off to an agent, and that horrifyingly scary event is going to happen today. I have no expectations and I have no hope of success, which might be for the best.
Despite all this, maybe you’d like to send me some good vibes, anyway, and perhaps even a prayer or two if you’re so inclined…