November is National Novel Writing Month. Individuals pledge to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.
Election (yes, I know it’s not a new title but you can’t copyright a title) is about a woman who talks a man out of killing himself, and what happens afterward. It was based on nightmares I’ve had while doing phone work.
It’s a bad novel. I admit that. The writing is pedestrian. The plot is histrionic, although unlike the last time I did NaNoWriMo there is a more or less coherent plot. The chapters are disjointed, often seeming more like a series of related short stories than a novel. The characters are two-dimensional; characters appear and seem to be blossoming into significance, only to disappear and never be heard from again.
The two major characters are independently wealthy, in ways that are totally unrealistic. There are two suicide attempts, not one but two cop shootings, the death of one major character’s mother, and a lot of alleged lawyering that I think borders on malpractice, and is based on the fact that I can’t remember any of the civil procedure I learned a quarter of a century ago. The timelines are completely ludicrous. I mean, not merely improbable but completely, totally impossible.
One redeeming feature is that the most sympathetic lawyer looks like Louis C.K. Another one looks like James Earl Jones. A third looks like Steve Carrell. The fourth one doesn’t appear, one of the major characters says he’s retained this guy, but he stays offstage. Interestingly enough, I don’t have a mental picture of any characters but the lawyers. Oh, I take that back. Another important character looks like my friend Jane. This character is not a lawyer, but Jane is.
All of this is the result of me doing only a little outlining and no research before starting this project. What can I say? October got away from me.
However, unlike the last time I did NaNoWriMo, this novel has an idea underneath all that crap. I’m trying to decide if I find it compelling enough to toss this attempt and do the research and rewrite it properly.
I did NaNoWriMo years ago: the novel I wrote, Pursuit, was a roman-a-clef that I could never have written as a real novel because half my family would have sued and the rest would never have spoken to me again. I knew that as I was writing it: it was as much an exercise in catharsis, a primal scream in pixels. I no longer have it even in electronic form: it got lost in some transition between desktops years ago. I looked for it not too long ago, with no luck. I used to say that doing NaNoWriMo proved that, if nothing else, I could type 50,000 words in a month.
There was no idea behind Pursuit, even if I did like the silly opening sentence: “On December 22, 2000, standing in the living room of an acquaintance of her husband, Debbie [last name — I can’t remember] realized that she had become completely invisible.”* There was no philosophical underpinnings, just 50K words worth of wandering.
I feel differently about Election. The question is, what responsibility do we owe to one another? Once you save someone’s life, to what extent are you responsible for what happens next? How do you make the decision to live in the face of great pain, and why should you?
These questions may not interest anyone else, but they do me. Whether they interest me enough to try and write a decent novel, or even whether I can write a decent novel, remains to be seen.
For now, I have written my novel. I rock.
*Pursuit came out of my experiences as a stay-at-home mother. The opening sentence was based on an interaction I had with a woman at a Christmas party. She was quite tipsy — I wasn’t — and the two of us were talking about tax law. When she heard I was a lawyer, she asked me what area I practiced in. When I responded “Well, right now, I’m staying at home with my kids,” she answered haughtily “I could never do that,” and without another word turned and stomped off, leaving me standing all alone in the middle of the living room. I wanted to sink through the floor.