Who Lives on the Other Side of the Wall?

October 14, 2008 at 1:50 am (Uncategorized)

It’s a hell of a thing to have written five drafts of this manuscript only to realise like a dummy – and I’ve realised it only because I’ve been told – that there’s no narrative arc. Huh? What’s that, you say? No narrative arc? Whaddya mean? It’s right there, isn’t it? Character moves through time, shit happens, more shit happens, character takes a multitude of wrong turns, falls over in the shit, rolls around in the shit, pulls herself out of the shit and, finally, yep, gets her shit together. How, I wondered, was this not the narrative arc??

Well, since beginning to think about this in earnest late last Friday night, when I got my latest round of professional feedback, I’ve finally come to see the point, or at least I’ve begun to, because doing something to address it isn’t going to be such a cinch. And I’d like to stress that it was actually something I consciously resisted. I wanted my fiction to be true to life. Life doesn’t throw up those helpful literary signposts that alert the reader to the fact that, eventually, everything will be okay. Life’s just a blind bunfight, from what I can see, and I really instinctively wanted my fiction to reflect that. Ironically, that very desire has now created a classification issue of some magnitude, because some people have read the resulting manuscript quite definitely as non-fiction. As I’ve already explained, it’s at best a hybrid, but I’ve made up so much of it (characters, dialogue, events and places) that I couldn’t make a non-fiction claim for it without all sorts of qualifications that end up making it sound more like… fiction, which, let’s face it, is what I thought I was doing the whole time, right up until I got to Varuna. But the thing is, I have to make a decision about which it’s to be. There has to be a clear classification. It’s unhelpful to say ‘Oh, it’s a bit of both,’ and no one is going to welcome that with open arms and a publishing contract. 

The other reason I need to make a specific claim for the text is that at this crossroads, the issue of whether it’s fiction or creative non-fiction needs to be decided in order to help me determine the changes that remain to be made. The narrative arc I keep hearing so much about is thoroughly dependent on which way I go. If I were to make it more of a creative non-fiction text, I’d go back and probably start replacing some of the fictional elements with non-fictional ones. This would take some doing, and I’m not at all sure my manuscript would benefit from my making it more my story and less the invented character’s. That wasn’t the idea at all, and in fact I was interested in exploring the road not taken; that was the whole point when I first started writing it. 

If, on the other hand, I were to make it quite clearly even more of a fictional text, I’d have a different remit. One of the things I’ve found curious about this process thus far, and which I’ve mentioned before, is that when I first started writing, there was much more thinly-veiled (or not so) autobiography, but less of me. As it went on, and I gained a bit more confidence and a better clue about what the hell I was doing, there was much, much more invention, but, oddly, concurrently much more of me. Not “me” as in the facts of my life, of which there were fewer and fewer as I gradually edited them out, but “me” as in my  voice, my personality, sense of humour and beliefs. It was fascinating to experience, and it remains a fascinating part of the process. So in order to place it firmly, once and for all in the fictional realm, I need, I think, to imagine a forward story for my character, rather than a back story. A forward story that is not mine. And that forward story will help, I think, shape and control the story I tell in the manuscript, which is this forward character’s back story. Does that make sense? It sort of does to me, although these are new thoughts and I am still thinking them through even as I write this. I was making like Murakami yesterday, running and thinking, thinking and running, and sure enough, an idea came to me that I think may be if not the solution to my missing narrative arc then at least a way in, a hole in the wall through which I may just be able to crawl. I may graze my knees on the way through, but I do so want to know who and what’s on the other side.



  1. JW said,

    Hi Di, stumbled across yr blog when searching for the phone number for Mortar and Pestle Manly..(live close by and wanted to see if i could book..gotta love the freaky net world, of all the things to find)…and have been laughing so hard at some of your tales. You write so well, usually I would have just moved on but i kept reading and reading…..anyway, just wanted to say don’t be disheartened, sounds like your on to something with the forward story, best of luck look forward to buying it one day.

  2. doctordi said,

    Gee, JW, that is seriously so nice of you to say. Thank you. It’s incredibly heartening to have you, a complete stranger, take the time to wish me good luck. Cheers! And as you no doubt gathered from the post, I thoroughly recommend Mortar and Pestle. It’s very, very yummy, and a fun place to boot. Oh, totally BYO, though, so tuck a bottle of vino under your arm before you get there. I hope you’ll stop by again!

  3. Pete said,

    Yay for running and thinking, and crawling through metaphorical holes in the wall (knee-grazes or not)! I like the idea of the hybrid but I can see that fiction (thinly disguised or not) might be the way to go here. Good luck with your narrative arc and I liked the part about finding more of yourself and your voice in the story as it unfolds. Sounds exciting.

  4. doctordi said,

    Thanks, Pete – truth be told it’s all VERY peculiar. Let’s hope it all works out – I’ll keep you posted, no pun intended!

  5. kate said,

    It is bringing up ‘Alice through the looking glass’ imagery for me!

  6. Jenny said,

    It makes perfect sense to me Hybrid. Writers should always know their characters future. I’m not even sure what a narrative arc is, but Peter says I have a well-defined one in Tiger Pass so I suppose I’m alright. I like the idea of exploring more fictional apects of the story, and thereby finding more of your true self. BTW, how cool is it to have a stranger drop by your blog and become so involved.

  7. doctordi said,

    I know – it’s extremely cool! I was so chuffed when I saw JW’s comment! And also it took me a moment to remember I don’t actually know Pete from http://couchtrip.wordpress.com in a conventional sense either. He was somehow directed to DoctorDi a little while ago, and he sort of feels like part of the family now we’ve started reading each other’s blogs. That’s the web for you.

    I guess the arc is the reader’s journey, the narrative impetus that drives the story along (lovers overcoming obstacles in order to be together; the killer being caught and brought to justice for the crime; the race against time to save the thylacine from extinction). Life lessons being learnt is another common arc, and this in particular is a narrative test my MS currently fails. E makes the same mistake over and over again without any apparent insight or maturity, which isn’t a positive when it comes to a reader deciding whether or not they’ll stick with it. Also the character needs, I’m seeing now, some small victories along the way to this eventual personal growth, and such victories, however modest, also act as a reward to the reader for persevering through the tough times.

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