What was happening became clear to me when a friend mentioned a curious phenomenon. Apparently somebody had declared November as a novel writing month and created a software that mapped your progress through the month. It brought home to me that there really was no ideal time to write a novel, and November was as good a month as any other. I had been giving myself a pretext to defer the enterprise, and now I could cling to the pretext or drop it. With some discomfort, I chose the latter.
Not that I was quite unprepared for the business. I had been writing other things assiduously the last several months. For years I had been writing reports and memoranda. Lately I had reduced those, and started writing fanciful things, personal essays and short stories. But these were short pieces and rarely extended beyond a thousand words. A novel was a very different proposition. I had decided on a short novel of 50,000 words.
I took my cue from DH Lawrence who said he let his ‘daimon,’ an inner spirit, write his novels. Let alone planning the plot, he did not even care to edit his work. If dissatisfied with the result, he simply wrote it all over again, in order to give the daimon another chance to express itself more fully. He would have been horrified at the idea of a story plan.
I simply had the basic idea of exploring the interrelationship between two men and a woman, by moving them together through time and place. The conventional notion is that such a triangle cannot persist, and the relation between the two men have to be of hate and jealousy. I wanted to question that simple assumption, for I believed it could be a more complex affair. I had twice in my life found myself in a triangle of some kind, and, while I felt very adversarial and venomous in one case, I developed great affection and admiration for the other male in the second case. I felt I should place my three protagonists together and see how they work out their relationships, without trying too hard to force them in a certain direction.
I also didn’t want a hero or a villain in my story, people who act in a decidedly heroic or villainous way. I wanted them to be like me or like people I have met, people I could expect to meet in a party or in a restaurant, people whose behavior I could understand or guess. Perhaps I am a writer of limited imagination, so I chose the kind of people I know and I also chose cities, and places in those cities, that I am familiar with.
As I proceeded, I discovered something that was a genuine surprise. Once I had created the three protagonists of the story, they started acting on their own, and I felt I could not fully control them. They would not do things that did not go well with their nature, though I might have wanted them to act in a way that would help my narrative. I suspect some readers may not like a couple of things they did, but those were things they did and I had to concede them the freedom to act in their own way. I suppose I should be relieved that they did not do anything dastardly.
Like everybody else, I have met some toxic people, in offices and hotels, planes and trains, law courts and tennis courts, but I haven’t really met truly odious people like hitmen and gangsters. They don’t appear in my novel. Nor do huge events like wars and revolutions occur in the book. Few things really happen in my story, and much of the time things that happen are pathetically small. Yet the truth is that those small things seem to make a great difference to the people whose life they affect. I dare say this is not unlike what occurs in many of our lives. Small events that few notice and others think trivial seem to create troubling waves in our existence.
I had planned to write my novel over the entire month of November. I was astonished that I wrote at an unexpected clip and the book of 50,000 words was done by mid-month. Doubtless I will go back to the manuscript some day and edit a few words. But I am glad that the story is told.
My three protagonists will shortly be ready to take a bow on the stage.