SEEKING THE INEVITABLE
According to the French writer and literary critic, Helene Cixous, "The book
write...is only a version of the text that has survived. There are numerous
other versions you might have written that have not survived." Having sat with
that theory for a time, all the while wondering what those other, still-born
versions of my novels might have looked like if they had survived rather than
the drafts that were published, I have begun to doubt the truth of
For one thing, during the final months of writing
Nights In The Asylum,
arrived a point at which all the story strands I had deliberately set in motion
at the beginning began to come together, seemingly of their own volition.
Writing the last thirty pages felt like fitting the final jigsaw pieces into a
particularly difficult puzzle. Everything that happened on the page then became
inevitable, just as it should if fictional characters have transcended the
writing process to become 'real' people who are properly motivated.
This sense of the inevitable at work in fiction operates when the plot develops
as a result of the characters and their desires, for it is desire
that drives narrative. Sadly for writers, the formula must be re-invented with
each new novel, for there is no one-size-fits-all with desire, and what will
drive a character to dramatic action in one novel will leave him sitting like a
cardboard cut-out in the next. Sometimes, the correct formula is never
completely discovered, and then there is a sense of the narrative being forced
in one direction or another by the author, and this, I suppose, is where
Cixous's theory might be said to lead to the fictional road, or roads, not
Experiencing the inevitable at work in fiction is the reason I adore the
novels of William Trevor. In
The Story of Lucy Gault,
a single act of truancy
by the child, Lucy, destroys her own and her family's happiness and forever
alters the course of all their lives. In
Death In Summer,
it is the collision
of very different characters that causes those memorable 'Ah!' and 'Oh No!'
moments, as the reader recognises tragedy inexorably looming.
turns a similarly inescapable meeting between the young, pregnant Felicia and
the sinister Mr Hilditch into a narrative as dark and nail-biting as any I have
It has been said of William Trevor that no one better understands the quiet
working of fate and time on an individual life. It is this 'quiet working'
that, as writers, we need to identify at the beginning of the writing process.
But seeking the inevitable and not finding it is one of the frustrating
states a writer must endure in the early stages of writing a novel. I suspect
it is often the reason why some writers take five years, or even ten, to write
a book, and perhaps the majority of that time will be spent identifying the
elements that will make the final narrative appear effortless and fated.
Certainly, I have come to believe that without the formula of inevitability
anything I write will be a waste of time, a novel of unsatisfied ghosts, of
Cixous's other possibilities.
Luckily, the beginning of a new year is charged with special energy, and I plan
to channel as much of it as possible into seeking that Eureka! moment. Then the
fun part, the writing, can begin. Aside from being engaged in this avid search,
I have been looking forward to taking part in
Adelaide Writers' Week,
which began on February 28th, and to leading the SAWC Writers' Cafe Workshop
sessions in and around the city.
Other musings on the Writing Life ...