And finally, it happens. You’ve dotted the last sentence, you’ve killed the last bad guy, you’ve pumped your protagonist with enough trauma and story-juice that they’ll never forget agreeing to go on that adventure with you again.
The beast has been slain. What do you do next?
Finishing The Novel of Great (and shiny) Worth (Which Will Probably Kill Me) happened at about half-past midday, today, the seventh of October. Did I hear the sounds of heavenly choirs? Did I hear the rumble of fanfare?
Did I balls. Instead, two things happen: the manic ermigahd-ermigahd of “Ha, I did it! I summoned that dragon and I bloody well laid it rest, too!” Bwahahahahah! [check blood pressure now, please]. And in the next breath comes the dreadful realization that it’s gone. It’s no longer a constant psychic presence in the back of your head, no longer a thing waiting to be born, but a thing which has its own two, four, twenty-seven tentacle-legs that has to handle itself in the playground now.
I feel a bit sad (alongside the fits of manic laughter) that I won’t be sharing my imaginative toy box with it *quite* so much anymore. What a weird breed writers are. Maybe it is a shadow of that awful doubt that this thing might stumble. It might be a mess. It might not even live long enough to take a gasp before it collapses into word-goo before my very eyes.
Long Live The King
Of course, the narrative melancholy is tempered by the other story gremlins that have been growing louder over the past few months. I think they can sense when one of them is about to flee the nest, and so start vying for the best space to screech for attention from the front-brain. That obsessive, glorious cycle is starting up once more, picking on one of the new breed. Which one to feed now?
There’s an old tradition that when one monarch dies there is an immediate celebration of the new one. The King is Dead, Long Live the King. I’ve always thought it to be the desperate need for continuity – don’t let the oiks realize that we’re technically an anarcho-freestate right now, quick, get the crown on some other poor schmuck before anyone notices…
Maybe us writers are a little dictatorial. In the same way that a state cannot not think in terms other than leaders, a writer cannot not be pulling the guts out of a story idea, injecting different parts of it with story juice and making it walk. Perennial Dr. Frankenstein’s.
What do you do After the Novel?
Ultimately however, arting isn’t as organized as the above ramble suggests. The Novel can feel complete – all the plot bits are in the right place, the characters have done what they came to do, and there are no embarrassing wobbly bits hanging out everywhere – but that doesn’t mean that it is anywhere near the galactic coordinates of finished. In no particular order:
Another great piece of advice from Mr. King. Put it in a draw, save it onto a memory stick, move that damnable folder and leave it. Let it rise for a bit, until you can’t bear to not have a peek.
I actually like editing, I know – call me insane. Yeah, sometimes it’s like pushing treacle uphill, but on the whole, editing is a great experience. Not only cleaning up all of those broken sentences and misplaced words, but it’s like dialing-up the focus on what you already have. You can see the bits where the dust and crud are getting in the way of the emotions underneath, and editing is a chance to hack all of that away.
Personal tastes, money, and hedonistic requirements differ, but there should be some small celebration. Even if it is only a toast and a cheerful wave.
This is my method, anyway, and usually occurs around the edit stage. I like to go through the document again after enough time has passed, only looking at word choice. Is there a way that emotion or event could be expressed better? Does the word choice reflect the characters, the scene, the mood of the book? This also, is fun. What are my go-to words that I use a billion times more than is strictly necessary? Thesauri at the ready…
The novel might be written, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s not over by a long shot yet…
The Novel is Dead, Long Live the Novel