Wednesday, October 17, 2007



Attention is turned two places: the dismount is one. I see the end of a scene like the end of a gymnastics routine. And I am conscious of that moment where the saw horse has been conquered, gravity returns, and with lovely and full extension, both feet go to the ground, the arms begin to raise in that Y of triumph, and then one leg skids out on some chalk, the arms make cartoon-like circles in the air, the gymnist hops three times on one foot for balance, then returns to form: TA DAH. So much of the performance beforehand vanishes, even as the crowd applauds for him regaining composure at the last minute.

Henry James said at the end of The Wings of a Dove "We shall never again be as we were," and scenes should feel like that, in either major or minor key, don't you think? Reader finishes scene, realizes book has changed, wants to read next scene. Endings usually show up around the time that beginnings do, and a lot of work is just cutting a furrow from one to the other, while making sure no one can see where the furrow is heading (unless it doubles back, or unless you give them a brief sighting of Oz in the distance).

Here's an ending: diminuendo. And another: kaBLAM, with someone giving someone else a kick to the head, Chris Sims-style. And another: the reveal -- ah-Ha! And the single melancholy figure walking away down a dirt road, iris drawing shut. Turns out you can't make a wax mold in one of these shapes and then pour your ending into it. You have to listen, instead, to the scene, and to be prepared that at the very last second, it will announce itself. You have to be good enough to listen. Otherwise, you miss your stop. You're looking for a fanfare of brass, the scream of an F-16 across the sky, and it turns out what you just wrote was a muttering epigram in untranslated Coptic. You cross it out and -- wrong! -- that might have been exactly where to get off the train. Forcing it to fit always feels wrong. I wrote something in a last draft that worked really well; now it's another draft and even though I like the writing, it's like the slip in the chalkdust for the poor guy getting the 5.4 from the Romanian judge. So that's on my mind.

And second place for attention these days: learning new skills. Side project, working in a form I'm not that good at yet. But I'm lucky in that I'm collaborating with someone who makes me look good. I finish it tonight, then back to the fade-out, a bottle of chartreuse, a crossbow and a pony sleigh.

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