I am working on my third novel in a series and it can feel like driving in a snowstorm with no headlights. I often don’t know where my characters are going but I have a vague idea of the final destination. I went through a period where I was obsessed with Joyce Carol Oates, and one of the things she said about writing is that she often thinks of a single image and structures an entire book around getting to that image.
In Bellefleur this image is an eagle or a vulture swooping down out of the sky and snatching a child at play. When this scene comes in the book it is shocking, utterly unrelated to the structure of the rest of the book. Bellefleur is a complex family drama, each individual character struggling against the others to change themselves, to grow. When you create a plot structure for the book everything follows a logical western model of conflict, apex and resolution, but instead this crazy scene cuts the structure vertically and totally disorients both the characters and the reader.
Books are like music, they play with patterns. When we are listening to classical music we feel an emotional reward, maybe a dopamine reward, when we anticipate the pattern before it is fulfilled. We know where it is going and can sing along. Bellefleur sets up a beautiful, intricate composition and then destroys it. It is far more than a plot twist, it’s a deus ex machina that does nothing but raise havoc. This moment exposes the very act of writing fiction, can anything truly be unplanned? Does the author really have control? Is the author responsible for setting the pattern or for breaking it? This is what Oates has done that no other author has achieved, the aesthetics of her stories bring up philosophical questions about the practice of writing without directly asking them.
Gray Fox Walks: an artistic children’s book celebrating the natural world
Good comments I like that headlights in a snow storm, glad to hear you are working on your next book