I’ve just posted the first section, and it’s a doozy. Read that first, if you haven’t already, and let’s get discussing. In these commentaries, I hope to address what I wanted the section to achieve, any interesting aspects I’m proud of, and what I want to change for the final draft. I wrote these sections almost a year ago, and the story has advanced beyond them. I’ll rewrite these beginning chapters entirely eventually. That’s just the way it goes!
The first pages of a novel are important. They can set the tone for the whole piece, and color the reader’s expectations for the rest of the book. To that end, I begin with an atmosphere of, I hope, dreamlike unreality–a tone I want to maintain. The characters discuss a mysterious journey with a matter-of-fact style which not only reinforces that surreal atmosphere, but presents the reader with new names and concepts at a reasonable pace. There is not too much to absorb in one section, and it outlines our character’s goals and concerns.
The subject of the first line of the novel is Virgil Blue. He walks “like a mist,” which is the first of many cloudy images in the book. In this book, people look at clouds, some characters are clouds, and some characters are clouds, but in a different sense. It makes sense to begin by describing someone as a cloud of mist.
I debated including the reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe it won’t be in the final draft. When I read this at Seance, my campus writing club, a friend said they thought the washcloth was referencing HGtoG, and wanted to bring it up when I had finished the piece, but I had preempted him by mentioning it in the piece itself. I hope it got a laugh out of you, because I sure giggled when I wrote it. That’s generally a good sign.
In the moments before I upload this, I changed the name of the deity these monks apparently worship from “Mala” to “the Mountain.” As you may have guessed from the sidebar, mountains are another recurring image in the book; I feel as though you really can’t be too blunt with your imagery, especially in the first pages. Changing the name to “the Mountain” reduces the complexity of the system I’m teaching to the reader. It also hammers in the images I’m going to bring back again and again in stranger and stranger contexts.
I’m quite proud of how the ending comes as a shock even though it’s spoiled by the title of the section. We know Dan is to be immolated in that furnace, but the speed with which it occurs, and the lack of reactions from the characters, can come as a sucker-punch. When I read this aloud to my writing group, there was panicked laughing, which I thought was the perfect reaction. My favorite line is Virgil Blue’s “I have never been good at saying goodbye.” To know that Dan is to be burned alive with little more fanfare makes me think “wait, really?” each time I read it.
When I rewrite this, I want to describe the monastery in more detail. It is a setting we revisit before the end of the book, and I want to make sure readers remember it when they see it. In a story involving time-travel and epistemological concerns, readers need landmarks by which they may orient themselves spatially. If I include a few memorable details about the monastery (say, a peacock, or a specific tapestry), we’ll recognize this monastery in an instant when we see the peacock again. In this draft, I wanted the monastery to be more vague in the reader’s mind to heighten the mysterious atmosphere, but I can do better.
Until next time!