Ladies and gents, it has been done: progress on my novel has been finalized, and my exams, thank god, are over. Results of both endeavors are yet to be received—for my novel, I am waiting for my editor’s judgement, and for my exams, I assume my professors are still grading. But for now, I am content. It always gives me a curious feeling, completing something: on the one hand, I feel great satisfaction. My personal motto is “if you do something, do it well,” and completing the task is certainly a part of that commission. And while in terms of quality, I have doubts about both endeavors, it is usually a good sign when during the aftermath, you feel justified lazing around all day, rather than fretting about the results. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t feel the need to make some kind of assessment of the (now finalized) process. This goes mostly for the novel; I have taken quite a few exams by now, but this is the first time I wrote a novel, and I feel like lessons should be drawn from it. And in many ways, I already have; I feel like I have learned a tremendous lot already in merely writing and rewriting the thing. But during the last rewrite some new considerations and ponderations flickered up on my cognitive control panel, and these, I do feel the need to weigh consciously. And thus, I am thinking, and writing, and thinking about writing, and writing about writing, and writing about thinking about writing—and, as one may expect during these mental peregrinations, getting hopelessly lost in the process.
The literary-minded amongst you might recognize ‘denouement’ as ‘the final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.’ This is the primary definition, and, as such, it is predominantly used as a term which refers (in one medium or another) to storytelling. However, there is also a second definition, which, more generally, defines ‘denouement’ as ‘the outcome of a situation, when something is decided or made clear.’ The etymology in this case is probably clear: it is a word which was taken from the French ‘dénouement’ (‘an untying’) wholly unaltered (except for the diacritic, if we’re being finicky about it). To unravel this thing further, the noun derives from the verb ‘dénouer’ (‘untie’), from ‘des-’ (standard negation prefix) and ‘nouer’ (‘to tie’ or ‘to knot’) from the Latin ‘nodus’ (‘a knot’). Absolutely riveting, I know. Speaking from experience, I know that linguistics can keep you tied up for weeks on end.
It has been about a week now, since I finished it, and during the denouement I have been putting some things in perspective. Sadly, I have to say that my novel as it is now, is not the epitome of awesome I would have wished it. For one, because it isn’t perfect (lol), but more than that, because some of its premises don’t rhyme anymore with what I consider to be ‘good literature’. Which is regrettable, but I don’t think it could have been helped. Since I started writing my novel back in 2013, I have thought a lot about what I consider ‘good literature’, and, more specifically, what kind of fiction I myself want to write. This mental odyssey has yielded some results, although I find to my annoyance that I still have doubts on a daily basis. But however my literary aspirations might fluctuate, there are some conclusions which have remained stable. As such, I have used this week of denouement to pen down a sort of manifesto, to remind myself of what I really want, and to make sure that I stick to it; during the writing process, all kinds of temptations pop up, luring the unsuspecting writer into making some decisions which they might regret later. Things which, during the kill-your-darlings stage of the process, become one hell of a nuisance.
I regret to say that I have given in to several of these temptations, some of which are difficult (if not impossible) to fix without bulldozering most of it. Feeling more than a little reluctant to do this, I have decided (uncharacteristically) to accept the novel’s flaws, rather than rewrite it again, and consider it a lesson for next time. Just to give you an example, here is one of my conclusions: “Your most important concern is always the story. You want to write fiction because you want to engage with real-life people, and realistic, detailed characters. Writing with abstract ideas is okay, but will only ever be secondary to writing believable characters. Fiction writing is not a way to make abstract ideas concrete, but should always stem from a desire to tell a story. It is a way to give shape to real lives, with real, contradictory, messy, incongruent people, who would only be reductions of themselves if they merely represented abstract ideas. Care of your characters should always be your first priority. People over ideas.”
Sadly, this is something I lost sight of at several points in my story. I wanted to write with a theme, for my book to have a message, but if you shoehorn your characters into a thematic mold where they become representations of the message you want to express, that doesn’t do the character justice. Too often I found myself luxuriating in my own cleverness for thinking up complex patterns of abstract ideas which might be represented in such or such a way. And I like abstract ideas; I like playing around with them. But while you can play around with abstract ideas without getting people hurt, you can’t play around with (fictional) people and expect the same result. So I’m letting go of that by reminding myself that I want to write fiction in the first place because I love people. If you want to write about ideas, you can write an essay. If you want to write fiction, you should write about people. There are many other conclusions I wrote down, but this is number one. It is a mistake I sadly made, but one, I am glad to know, I apprehended during the denouement of this project. It is, I hope, not one I will make again. In the mean time, I am happy with the experience, and hopeful about the future. Let’s hear it for denouement...