I recently worked on the ending to my latest novel, Music Box. The original ending had a new music group preparing to go on stage for the first time. They were worried about the size of their audience and whether their loved ones would show. It did many things that you want an ending to do. It was upbeat, and it suggested a new beginning, while still leaving a few unresolved issues to keep the reader interested. (Always leave the reader wanting more.) It reminded the reader of the journey the main characters had made. It suggested a future while leaving some ambiguity and room for doubt. Since this was a romance, it was optimistic. All in all, it was not bad for a first draft.
Somehow it fell flat. What I’d failed to do, I finally decided, was to get into the head of the main character, Jonah.
Jonah has been a challenge to write. He’s a teenager. I’m a middle-aged man. He’s just coming to terms with his sexuality. I came out in the mid-eighties. Jonah is forced to deal with his attraction to men by bullies who are certain of his sexuality before he is. He tends to go into denial, to not think about his problems until events force him to play the hand he’s been dealt. Jonah has never been one to delve too deeply into his own head. If I simply had him think about his new circumstances, I would risk taking him out of character.
I needed to show Jonah’s reaction to his new circumstances. My solution retained the basic scene and added some interior monologue, but I also used Jonah’s perceptions to hint at his interior state. I placed the image of two older men who have recently entered into a relationship into juxtaposition with some innocuous dialog. Jonah’s comment, “I’m ready,” is given greater import by its context. It’s not exactly subtle, but I hope most readers will get the message without noticing the mechanism.
I’ve just rewritten the ending to my new novel, Music Box. I have been thinking of this book as a romance, however serious the subject matter of bullying. In the romance genre, of course, there are two main protagonists who fall in love, and there is a happy ending. However, Music Box diverged from this model early on, when I decided to have three main protagonists and three point of view characters:
- Jonah, a boy who is being bullied in school;
- Paul, the high school music teacher; and
- Davoud, the owner of the local music store.
Originally, Paul and Davoud were to come together over their mutual interest in helping Jonah. Things went somewhat afield when Jonah managed to develop a crush on another student, Billy. While Billy isn’t a POV character, he’s now a more prominent character, and his relationship with Jonah is now a major sub-plot.
Still stuck on the idea that I was writing a romance, my original ending had Paul and Davoud happily engaged, Jonah and Billy at a point of mutual understanding, and the bullying situation more-or-less resolved. However, once I had a complete draft of the novel, I found that I was not satisfied with the resolution of the bullying issue. That is what I just changed, for the better I think. One thing is clear, this is no longer a traditional romance. Hopefully, it is a better novel for all that.
Last week, I finished the first draft of my new novel, tentatively called Music Box. This week, I’m working through a preliminary edit. I like to do it in passes. The purpose of the first–already done–was to break the scenes into chapter groups. I also did a little mark-up as I went. My second pass involved mostly adding or expanding description where it was thin. (My first drafts tend to be heavy on dialog and light on everything else.)
I noticed a few places where I need more internal dialog and will work on those this week. When that’s done, I plan to go back and look at the first appearance of each of my characters. I recently read Michael Chabon’s novel, Telegraph Avenue. The man writes amazing descriptions of people in his novels. I’m inspired to move away from physical description and try to find something more evocative to say about each person.
Next week, I plan to send the draft to my brother for a look from fresh eyes. Thanks, bro.
I’ve been on a bit of an unplanned hiatus due to work pressures and personal issues. But I’m writing and hope to rejuvenate this blog in the coming months.
This last week I’ve been reading The Door Behind Us out loud as part of a polishing edit. It’s amazing how well this technique works as a means of finding awkward constructions, missing words, and the like. I’m very pleased with the results!