Read any good Valium lately?
Up close, and impersonal

Knitting up the nuts and bolts

Today I've been working through a long list of notes and revisions for my new novel. I've tidied up some loose ends, knitted various thematic threads in a bit tighter, and made various other fiddly improvements - loosened, plaited, darned - best expressed by metaphors to do with needlework. It's fiddly because after many minor operations and one bout of major surgery (note change of imagery), even with my big longhand plan taking up half the desk, and the search function on the computer, I can't always track things down. How should I 'check whether out-of-chronology flashbacks work in Anthony's narrative,' or find the best place to 'insert conversation about Malory names'?

In the end, you can't carry every detail of a whole novel in your head at once as you can, arguably, a poem. And yet that's what a novel is: a big thing made up of little things. There's no equivalent of loading your paintbrush with crimson lake and sweeping it across the breadth of a canvas. A scene can feel like a single sweep when it's going well, but even then you have to go back and pick at individual microns of paint in the revising. Maybe the analogy works better with performing music: I may hear a tune as a single arc, but I know my singer sister has thought, or engaged her highly-trained instincts, to decide every interval, every micro-second of the rhythm, every vowel and consonant...

Most people reading a novel read it for the arc, and that's what we remember: that Jane Eyre went on loving Rochester, that Elizabeth Bennet changed her mind. When I'm writing a novel, I must shape that arc and make it irresistible, but there needs to be pleasure in individual notes, the texture of the voice, the fall of a phrase, along the way. As the Impressionists discovered, if the brushwork is rough and original enough (it seems to be my day for changing metaphors), some people can't see the picture at all. If it's too smooth, too perfect, for other readers the picture loses its compelling individuality, its sense of being created by a human with a human hand and eye controlled by a human mind.

Words are our medium for the story, but they have their own individual natures: they create their own texture. It's particularly obvious if, like me, you usually write fiction in a voice that isn't your own. As a writer I can't second-guess what proportion every (or even any) reader will like of medium and texture, so I can only try to get it right for myself. Finding one's own particular balance between the pleasures of storytelling and the pleasures of words is perhaps one of the fundamental things a writer has to discover.

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