I started in on my writing class’s final project this weekend. It’s to write the opening of a novel. Ten to twenty-five pages, or 6,250 words. I wrote 1,330 words. Then I threw it all away. They were all garbage. But they were productive garbage because, in my mind, they helped reinforce Betty Flower’s ideas of the writing process that she laid out in “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge” and Thomas Pynchon’s advice about not starting from themes when crafting a new story (from the introduction to Slow Learner). Here’s where I went wrong.
The story I’m trying to write starts with a supernova. I discovered that, in embryology, the “corona radiata” is one of the final protective layers of an unfertilized egg. (It’s also a crucial part of the brain.) Well, in astrophysics, a star’s corona is a plasma region surrounding a star that can be thought of a bit as though it’s the star’s upper atmosphere. Ah! A symbol I could, and did, abuse the hell out of!
Then, I remembered that when a star starts burning higher elements as it jumps off the main sequence, it produces shells of “ash” of each burned element, surrounding the star’s core like onion layers. Somehow I connected this back to Dante’s Inferno and the nine circles of hell. Well, I’ve got more symbols to abuse, and now themes, too. Also, this got me rereading the first couple of cantos of Inferno.
So next thing I know, I’m struggling to write an opening that has the narrator in the role of Virgil as he guides the reader into the heart of a dying star. Those things mixed together made for some pretty strained writing. Not cool.
It was only 1,330 words, so it’s easy to throw it all away and start over. But I wonder: what do you do when you have 50,000 words? Canelli, how has your revisioning process gone so far?