It’s been forever since I first started writing my novel. It’s been so long that I can’t quite remember just when I really started. Do I start counting from the day that I started the screenplay? OrdoI start counting from the day that I even thought about the basic story?
According to my blog, I was up to around 74,000 words in the summer of 2010. I suppose that I was probably at 83,000 words in the summer of 2011. So that means that it’s been a year since the last time I really gave my novel a good looking over. Now at 88,000 words, I’ve printed it out and have started to go through it with a red pen. And during this process, what I read horrified me.
I realized that I had pulled an amateur move and added one particularly disparate element: magic. Mark is seen doing magic tricks only two times: once in the beginning, and once in the end. Aside from those two instances, magic only shows up as a theme once more, when Mark goes to a magic show.
The original purpose of the theme of magic was to signify Mark’s desire to return to childhood. In childhood, we are amazed by anything and everything, discovering things for the first time and delighting in these discoveries. As we age into adulthood, we lose this delight because we have seen the world, we have seen everything; nothing surprises us, delights us, or amazes us anymore. Magic, however, allows us to be amazed once again, to recapture those feelings that we once felt in childhood. Magic is also usually associated with children. Adults do not usually think of magic as something for adults: they think of top hats and rabbits being held up by the ears, and of magic wands and saying ‘abracadabra’. Thus, magic is one way for me to express Mark’s desire to access childhood. In the same way that religious man has a desire to access God the sacred, Mark deems childhood sacred and wishes to access it.Because my novel is somewhat autobiographical, I also made Mark into something of a magician as well. In the first chapter,he does a simple but amazing magic trick that is something that one might see at a kid’s birthday party. In the last chapter, he goes to a bar and performs an illusion involving a burst of flame, something that’s more geared towards adults. The meaning is that he has grown up a bit. It’s a good concept, and I like it very much. The only problem is that it is not well integrated into the story. Mark is a salesman. What is he doing performing magic tricks? Sure, it could be a hobby, or even a side job. But it just seems a bit odd and misplaced. I took into consideration that it could be interpreted as a sign of his inherent lack of coherent identity, but the more I thought about it the more it sounded like a copout. I also considered making magic a more prominent theme in the novel. Considering that magic is an art to be practiced in secret, it could be a lonely hobby. However, one could argue that, what with him living in New York City, he could easily join a magician’s group or organization. Thus, there is little practical use for Mark to be able to perform magic.
After some further thinking, it occurred to me that I could remove the disparity simply by making it so that Mark does not do any magic tricks. Instead of performing magic tricks, he simply retains his interest in it. I realized that actually performing magic would mean that he would understand the workings of magical illusions, and that it would destroy his child-like amazement, even if he were able to ‘forget’ that he knew how things were done for a second.
So there. I’ve committed an amateur mistake. Luckily, I was smart enough to correct it. In this mistake, I am reminded of my own rule that themes and symbols should occur in threes. For something to really have any real meaning, I believe that there must be three or more instances of it. Otherwise, it might just be some kind of fluke. Mentioning eagles twice isn’t enough to make it a symbol, I feel. Or at least, it isn’t enoughunlessthe context of it is strongly hinted at through any variety of literary devices.
The truth is that time is what gave me the clarity to catch this mistake. I remember reading my work shortly after I finished it, and everything seemed just fine and dandy. Only six months to a year later was there enough time elapsed for me to lose the familiarity I felt with my own words. When the words were freshly typed, re-reading them was simply an exercise in reciting what was in my head already: everything sounded right to me at that time. But now that I’ve let some time pass, I have gained some perspective and distance from what I wrote, allowing me to judge my writing more objectively.
And with that perspective, I’ve come to see that there are quite a few underdeveloped themes and a thorough lack of literary adroitness that I require in order to achieve the subtle effects that I desire. In order to avoid the unfortunate fate of being too underdetermined, I need to work harder to write with more sophistication—though not just for sophistication’s sake. As it stands right now, the first half of my novel still lacks the emotional impact and literary polish that is in my second half. I suppose that the reason for this is that I had to write the first half to get good enough; writing the first half built the skills that I needed to write a better second half.
All in all, I can see now that I’m not the sort of writer who bangs out great novels in two or three weeks. Rather, I need time to reflect and to refine. I once thought time was the enemy, because I feared that my novel would become irrelevant by the time I finished it. But that fear drove me to strip the novel of anything that was attached to a trend of thought. That fear drove me to develop themes that are more or less timeless and universal. That is why my novel is about the loss of innocence, the dangers of nostalgia, and the question of how to find one’s identity in the face of a world that refuses you.¶