It all might have been so different.
Writing a novel is a strange process. It’s a sort of self-induced hypnotism- getting your mind into a daydream state where you can tap into all those ideas and images we all have already stored up somewhere in there. I usually start at the beginning of the story and work through it, but events can change radically as I go along, so I often have to go back and revamp earlier sections. The worst dilemmas occur at places in the story where several equally interesting but different things might happen. Only one can be chosen, and so the other options are ghosts of stories. Echoes and shadows. As I go on they fade away, and the book becomes slowly more solid. The whole process of writing and rewriting and editing takes about a year. By the end, I’ve forgotten all the doubts and vagueness of the beginning, and most of the indecisions and worry. Like the reader, I tend to think this is how it was always going to happen.
So it’s fascinating to be reminded how far changes can go. The other day I came across one of my notebooks (I have lots!) with early notes on what would eventually become Incarceron. I had thought the Prison’s name was there from the start, but no, here was a list of scribbled titles. /Captivia? Incarcerax?/ Lots of irritated variations on/ jail/, and /wing/, and /chain/.
Then, who was the prisoner? My notes suggest things. /Girl inside/ boy outside?/ I do remember that was my first idea, that the one trying to escape would be a girl, and the one Outside, the privileged one, would be the boy. Obviously it didn’t work, because a few pages later there’s a sentence in large underlined letters. SHE IS THE WARDENS DAUGHTER!! That was a big decision, and totally changed the shape of the book.
Finn was sometimes called Giles. Claudia was always called Claudia. Her tutor, Jared, also always had that name, but he was meant to be a very minor character. That soon changed. And the Warden, Claudia’s father, became, as soon as he stepped out of his carriage, far more interesting and challenging than I had expected.
I suppose my point is that stories are not fixed until the last word is written. They are not inexorable. There might have been, very easily, a novel called Incarcerax about an imprisoned girl which would have turned out wholly differently.
Maybe better, maybe worse.
Maybe somewhere, in some other dimension, you are reading it.
*Brenna here—Thanks for the wonderful post, Catherine! I relate to this so much. I have countless notebooks full of directions that stories never went in—but could have!
Once again, I have two finished copies of Sapphique to give away. All you have to do is comment (make sure to include an email address if you don’t have an lj account) and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Sapphique. You’ll also have a chance on Friday, when I post my interview with Catherine, so stop by and comment on Friday too, if you want to increase your odds!