You’d think by draft seven, my novel would have reached a place of repose. You’d think after two and a half years of writing, I could wipe my hands and say, ‘This is finished.’ You’d think that by now, every plot connection would be in place, every character would justify her presence in the narrative and the beginning and the end would be singing hymns to each other.
You’d be wrong.
This process of learning how to write a novel by writing a novel has not ended. It has been a long and trying test of my patience, but it has also been a time to learn the craft. And the learning is not over yet.
I’m at the place in a manuscript where I know what happens to whom and why. I know my protagonist and her antagonists very well. I have a narrative arc, a beginning, a middle, a crisis, a climax and an end. I have a setting. I may even have a voice.
Now I’m at the point where every part of the story has to work for its place. I’m threading the connections together, trying to make them clear. It may be a mystery but nothing can be murky. At every juncture, I’m asking myself, ‘Why?’ Why does he say that? Why does she do that? Does this character move the story forward? Is that character just a nice piece of furniture or does she have a role? What makes the protagonist suddenly decide to do that?
Last night, I met my agent for the first time. She’s in Frankfurt for the Book Fair and I drove up to have dinner with her. She said writing a novel is like carving a statue. You start with a block of stone. You take a chisel and make a shape. When you have a shape, you stand back and look at it. Then you start again. Then you stand back and look. Then you start again. Each time you carve, you make an area clearer. Sometimes you have to go away and rest. After that, you come back with a new vision of how it should be and you start carving again. But it’s still not finished.
You keep chiselling until the planes are clear and crisp, until the piece of stone in front of you matches the vision in your head.
That’s where I am. Chiselling. Making sure the planes are crisp. So that one day I can sit back and say, ‘That was what I was trying to do.’