Monday, November 25, 2013

Undertakers of Rain: Passing the Rubicon.

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The Rubicon is a short river in Northern Italy. Caesar made this a part of our speech today when his army crossed this river in 49 B.C. His action created civil war. But we know it today as to pass the Rubicon, this means we reach a point of no return. We've set a course of action that cannot be changed.

I think in the construction of a novel, there is a point of no return. The opening days of work are days filled with excitement, with endless choices. But after a number of days when the material is accumulating there comes a point when the project just has to grow and become finished. Flowery comparison, I know. But I do feel like writing is war, and some days the writer wins and some days the writer loses.

There is also a Rubicon in the manuscript itself. There is a point, and I think this is in any good piece of fiction where the main character changes, and must go forward, transformed, new, different. This is the defining moment in the story. The defining moment in Undertakers is the night in the bar. We know that John has hang-ups with hippies from the first page. Of course, we don't know why, and the night in the bar he really makes it clear how much he hates hippies.

Any course of action in fiction, as described by John Gardner in chapter seven of the The Art of Fiction has reactions. Under the model of the Fictean Curve, there is the event and what the character should do to resolve the event, but we know that what a character should do is not always what a character does. This track of what the character does is what makes mini climaxes within the course of the plot. I know we've all read books, or seen movies where we (as readers or viewers) know what the character should do. We sometimes will even voice aloud what the character should do and we're somehow appalled that the character chooses another, less obvious course of action.

The bar. In the bar a fight ensues. It isn't like John is xenophobic, although Maria calls him out as such. The fight goes one way, and the course of the story changes.

I shared this particular scene with a few friends during the early drafts of the book. I had spent almost 20 pages letting John and Sam beat the bejesus out of a group of hippie kids. 20 pages. I must admit, it was cathartic, in a way. I don't really have a problem with hippies, or hipsters, or cowboys, or any other sub-group of mainstream people. Perhaps it was just that by the fall of 2009 when I was writing this story, I had not been in a fight for years. At any rate, I was told that the scene was excessive. I was told that the scene was a little too brutal compared with the rest of the text. I was told that the scene was in desperate need of revision. Begrudgingly, I acquiesced. I could not remove the scene. Not entirely. I paired it down to about three pages. I had to keep that much.

This is the event: John and Sam and their bartender Josie fight a group of kids. John's girlfriend Maria looks on. She's horrified, and rightly so. This event is the reason why she breaks up with him, and this break up causes John to become introspective.

Have you ever noticed that when you learn about yourself, it's generally not the learning of something good?

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