For a good page turner, you have to do more than a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are our scapegoat for suspense. Avid readers catch on to that real quick. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors on suspense, Donna Tartt, “Suspense is when two people are having a conversation and there’s a bomb counting down to explode under their table.” Oh the many factors to consider… Do the characters talk about the bomb? Are they oblivious? Is one character beating around the bush about the bomb? Does the other character understand the other’s subtext? Is the bomb noticeable? Is the bomb ticking loudly or silently? Is the timer for the bomb a good amount of time or minutes away from going off? Who planted the bomb? Considering the factors needed for a suspenseful page turner is all about context. If it isn’t rich enough, the audience will assume the predictable: the bomb will go off, the characters will die and that means the characters weren’t important in the first place. In other words, lack of context makes the audience apathetic and cliches make them cynical. All interest dies. So, while I was thinking about the resolution for the first part of my novel hoping to make sure I don’t emotionally shutdown my audience, I did my best to keep it like a chess game and maintain the captivation through a series of power plays.
“For unknown reasons, the gust of energy that had swept me up and fizzed me around all summer had dropped me hard, mid-October, into a drizzle of sadness that stretched endlessly in every direction: with a very few exceptions…I hated being around people, couldn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying, couldn’t talk to clients, couldn’t tag my piece, couldn’t ride the subway, all human activity seemed pointless, incomprehensible, some blackly swarming ant hill in the wilderness, there was not a squeak of light anywhere I looked, the antidepressants I’d been dutifully swallowing for eight weeks hadn’t helped a bit, nor had the ones before that (but then, I’d tried them all; apparently I was among the twenty percent of unfortunates who didn’t get the daisy fields and the butterflies but the Severe Headaches and the Suicidal Thoughts); and though the darkness sometimes lifted enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying the bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark.” – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Tartt has such a particular diction that drowns you in sensory detail. I had to share this because it’s a very modern take on depression; our medicines don’t work, the people in our lives aren’t enough, our occupation doesn’t help, our environments become warped and formless even when the most substantial and solid things are crystal clear visually. “…Guttering around in the dark.” Damn. It really is a directionless stumble, an unexpected drop triggered by the cycles of nature that ironically have a more direct path of living than most of us do. When things become pointless and incomprehensible, it is difficult to ground yourself. I remember feeling so heavy during my depression; chained to the bed involuntarily and when I tried to remember the world around me, it seemed so pointless I would dissociate. I wanted to blend with the nothingness surrounding me; vanish. To ground yourself in the midst of this sensation leads to the feat of reaching out. When any of us stumble in the dark, we’re forced to depend on our other senses and often resort to touch. Clinging to walls or railings is the same as clinging to a book, a video game, a movie, a blanket, a pillow, our phones, or we may even touch ourselves. That sensation can become a “squeak of light” acting as a reflection, giving us a glimpse of who we are and what we need. It takes a very vulnerable and honest perception to peer into that reflection, understand who you are, and press on. It’s not easy. It’s just possible.
I’m determined to finish this book and see the movie soon. I really do hope it will do this wonderful work of literature justice. I don’t think I’ve read anything this human.
The seven hermetic principles are very important to study in the field of metaphysics, so I’m assigning myself to do a more thorough study of them.
I tried to write about Hermeticism before and it was…just messy haha. So I’m going to follow through with this for my own sake because I’ve been hoping to incorporate these principles in my novel series somehow.
Additionally, I have another literature article in the works. The reference material is going to be The Secret History by Donna Tartt. More on that soon…
While writing my novel, today I realized that I’ve been working on my first draft for almost a year now (April 11th is my anniversary…write-iversary? I don’t know…). I feel I’m near the end of my second act, hopefully getting closer to the climax and resolution (but it’s like pulling teeth, I swear!). I ended up wondering about some of the professional novelists right now who bust out novels every year or two years, which put me in a weird, hypothetical shock. What if I publish my novel, it turns out to have decent feedback with expectancy, and I can’t finish the second novel within a certain time frame?
Again I’m doing that stupid “reach these expectations” thing. I would’ve hoped I learned by now, but it still eats at me. It’s a trait of perfectionism I wish I could kill. At the moment, I can’t kill it, but I did counter attack by googling some authors I look up to and wondered how long it took them to finish some of their work.
Neil Gaiman started thinking up ideas for American Gods in the early 1990s, starting actually writing it in 1998, then had it published in 2001.
It took J.K. Rowling six years to write the first Harry Potter book. (I know she’s going through a lot of heat right now, but she was a mom and had many other things going on back then and that’s still admirable)
George R.R. Martin takes about five to six years for each installation of his Game of Thrones series too and I’ve heard his fandom is very impatient.
There are many other writers who punch out novels faster than them or slower than them, but doing my research gave me some peace about my own writing. Especially since I’m writing a scifi/fantasy work, I don’t just have setting, characterization, and plot to think about. I have cultural history, magical lore, old languages, futuristic weapons and probably way more to think about. I took this on so I can spend years enjoying it. Not race through it.
Why am I so goddamn hard on myself? I need to chill.
By the way, reached 300 pages today. *pats self on back*
explication de texte: “The detailed analysis, or “close reading,” of a passage of verse or prose… a method of teaching literature in French secondary schools. Such explication seeks to make meaning clear through a painstaking examination and explanation of style, language, relationship of part to whole, and use of symbolism.” – The NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms
My Take on Explication de Texte
So, this is basically hardcore literary theory or literary criticism for obsessors or borderline masochists? Perhaps, but I think nerds like us may find it fun. However, it does suck some of the fun out for me because explication de texte focuses more on the literal aspect of a poem or a piece of prose rather than the figurative aspect. This definitely takes me back to my undergrad days studying literary theory, but my favorite forms of literary criticism were deconstructionism and psychological analysis. New Critcism…is something I don’t think I paid much attention to. Britiannica’s definition of New Criticsm is: post-World War I school of Anglo-American literary critical theory that insisted on the intrinsic value of a work of art and focused attention on the individual work alone as an independent unit of meaning. It was opposed to the critical practice of bringing historical or biographical data to bear on the interpretation of a work. (Britiannica).
I know explication de texte basically comes off to me as a very painful book report, but I’d like to hear what you think. Have you done it before? Technically, I have in many papers, but I don’t think I’ve reached the extensiveness this definition implies. I do think you can gain a stimulating understanding of the text itself in its autonomy, but chopping out the essence of the author, their history and life basically, completely out of the criticism seems…cold. Whenever I read something and the author hooks me in, I want to know who the author is, what their life is like, and more. My current example would be Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. After reading halfway through the book, I couldn’t resist listening to a couple of her interviews. I’m also reading her novel The Secret History simultaneously.
If there’s a book you’ve taken the time to break down before explication de texte style, but you want to find an edition of it that’s rare and beautiful, go to abebooks.com. I bet you anything they have it and it looks gorgeous.