Versioning

Every day I write. Since secreting myself in this remote neck of the woods I’ve been more productive than I expected. At times it has been tough – writing is not easy – but at other times it’s flowed confidently from me onto the screen. The story has developed and moved forward, the writing of a good standard, and the direction set.

In the last couple of days the output slowed. I had come to a tricky section. I knew what I had to put down, but putting it down in the right way was the issue. I inched forward on that, putting things down and then deleting them again, two steps forward, one back. This is not something to be discouraged by. Sometimes it takes a lot of brainpower to get it right. Eventually you get through.

I’ve come to the third act of the novel too. This is the important bit I have to get right, where everything comes together, the loose threads tied, and hopefully, the big ending. I knew approximately what I wanted to write, but it needed to be organised. That was another reason for delay. Rather than rushing ahead I took time out to plot the last third of the book in my head.

Ever since I started writing this book, and probably a long time before, I knew how it ended. The last chapter has been in my head for years. I knew how I wanted to make it happen too, one long, breathless stretch of increasing tension and deepening mystery until the fiery conclusion. That’s how it was always going to be, until last night.

I was sitting down watching TV. It was one of those nights where half my mind is on the book. I’ll get up sometimes to make a note, or adjust something on the page. I’ll be thinking of what comes next, and how I want to manage that. It’s all happening.

I don’t know why it happened, or when, but a different way of writing the last act came to me. I had a tough switch I had to manage, and I couldn’t quite resolve it too my liking in my head. When it’s like that it’s worthwhile turning the problem over and looking at it from another angle. I did that, and saw a way of managing it that was different, but might just work. Doing it that way opened up other options to me I had not previously considered. One thing led to another and I realised there was a whole different way of writing the last act, and that it was pretty good. I went to bed with that in my head, my mind buzzing, scenes unfolding in my mind, and listening to the dialogue in my head.

The difference is this. The original was a long sprint, a maze that narrows the further you go into it until the final denouement. In the alternative version it’s like that for two thirds, then it abruptly changes. There’s a shock, an event that changes the landscape altogether. This is in both versions, but in the first the challenge was in managing that and then continuing on credibly to build to the ultimate shock. That’s resolved in the alternative version by the initial shock dying away, dwindling to almost nothing. In that silence things begin to stir again, haphazardly, the investigation, the journey, becomes more personal, more explicitly about absolution and rebirth.

Think of it like a piece of music – and I think a good symphony has much in common with a well written novel – the music ebbs and it flows, it swells to a crescendo and falls away. There are slow movements and quick movements, both serene contemplation and dramatic event. In the original version the music was roughly linear, mini crescendos building towards the ultimate crescendo. In the alternative version there is a build-up to a great crescendo, which plays itself out, exhausted, the music picking up again slowly, then with more intent, building momentum and purpose until it rises again to the mightiest of crescendos and crashes down like a great wave.

There’s not a lot of difference in how the story develops, though the differences, small as they may be, are critical. The greater difference is how I go about writing it – the same material basically, but presented differently.

I have to make a decision on it soon because I can’t go much further without one. It’s not final yet, but it’s likely I’ll go for the alternative option, which makes for a more sophisticated, more novelistic version.

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