Friday, January 22, 2016
Like chaotic systems, novels are highly sensitive to initial conditions. But it's often a mistake to think that you can fix the one you've just started to write by reworking the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence. The initial conditions of a novel, the warm little pond where it was first nurtured, precedes the first word. The tone of the novel's narrative and the sequence of its story are shaped by decisions made before you start to write. The history of the characters and their place in history, the privileges they possess and those they lack, so on, so forth, determine what might happen to them, and the decisions and actions they make in response. Sometimes, when the novel you think you were writing starts to become something else, it's because you haven't been true to to its characters and their situation, and you can retrace your steps until you find the place where you went wrong, and start over. But sometimes the novel you're writing becomes something else because that's what it was all along. And then you have two choices: either step up to the plate and own it and have fun finding out where it takes you next, or run away and try to fix the initial conditions so they'll come out the way you want. I know which I prefer.