SEEKING THE INEVITABLE
According to the French writer and literary critic, Helene Cixous, "The book you 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 Cixous's theory.
For one thing, during the final months of writing Nights In The Asylum, there 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 taken.
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. Felicia's Journey 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 ever read.
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.