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.