Recently, I had the great luck of coming into contact with a well-established editor and professor, who was gracious enough to take a look at the first chapter of my novel. Surprisingly, he said that the tone of it sounded like “it was written like, fifty years ago,” that it was “refreshingly old-fashioned.” While it was not exactly a conscious effort on my part, the tone could be an effective device considering that an undercurrent of my novel is an examination of the old-fashioned soul.
I eagerly ate up the rest of his commentary. He told me that it was pretty good, and that he wanted to know what it was that Mark was doing. A friend of mine echoed the same sentiment, saying that she was a bit frustrated that it was not clear even in the second chapter what exactly it is that Mark does for a living. My writing, then, had its desired effect. Of course, the question arises: Is the desired effect the right one?
In my first chapter, I plant the reader in the middle of a scene where Mark wins over a grumpy Polish immigrant who runs a diner. One understands that Mark is there to sell something, but I leave the reader in suspense at the end of the chapter, denying her the knowledge of what exactly it is that Mark is selling. In the second chapter, we cut to Mark walking along the streets of SoHo and taking a train back to Queens. In the beginning of the story, I build up Mark’s image: he appears to be a financially successful professional who dresses in expensive suits, possibly a banker or a lawyer. A bit later in the novel, I reveal that he is nothing but a bakery salesman. The meaning behind this? Namely that appearances can be deceiving.
I also mean to say that what Mark does for a living does not define his character. I make it clear that we are following Mark, that the story is about him. As such, the reader wants to know who he is and wants to figure him out as quickly as possible. Withholding the knowledge of what exactly it is that Mark sells achieves two things. Firstly, it increases the reader’s desire to know the character and to see what he does for a living. Secondly, in terms of artistic intent, I am hoping to make the statement that what we do for a living does not define who we are.
But I feel that withholding Mark’s occupation for too long would serve only to frustrate the reader. And so there is the question of whether or not the desired effect is connecting with the artistic intent. I intend for the reader to understand that Mark’s identity is not defined by his job, but is the method effective? I am not sure. Perhaps not. My feeling is that there might be a better way to convey my artistic intent more rapidly and without frustrating the reader. Alternatively, I might achieve artistic success if I successfully get the reader to forget about Mark’s job and to examine his other characteristics to learn about him.
And so now I have come to question the efficacy of my desired effects. Over the course of the last eight months or so, I have seen that I have the writerly chops to affect people in the way that I wish to. The question now is whether or not I am choosing the right effects. Over the next couple of months, I hope to develop a working relationship with the aforementioned editor and professor, so that I can gain a better understanding of people’s reactions to the novel. And, with any luck—and with lots of hard work—I will see to it that my novel is published.