I finished the initial read-through of the Beer Magic novel this week. At this stage, that’s just a simple read for overall content; I need to get a sense of the novel in its entirety before I can pinpoint its weaknesses. Mostly, I flagged plot snags and weak patches as I went:
And I noted things to explore in more depth later:
But when I finished the read-through, I still wasn’t sure what the key to the novel was. I hadn’t found it—the truth that will steer the novel to its final form. I didn’t know what the novel’s thing was.
See, my long-form fiction pieces all have things associated with them. Hapax is a line of falling dominoes. Heartstealer is a lobster trap. Six Stories, Told at Night is a Ferris wheel. Do these images ever explicitly appear in any of those works?
No. That imagery isn’t for the reader. It’s for me. It’s how I hold the entire story in my head, and how I figure out the structure. If I know what the novel is—I know its DNA. The entire story unlocks itself.
I’ve got a novel in the trunk that never found its shape. It shows: that novel has a deep structural flaw, it kind of meanders about, and while I still love it (as you do), it never cohesively hung together.
So what’s Beer Magic?
After thinking it over, I realized a common element between my other novel’s “objects.” Falling dominoes, lobster trap, Ferris wheel—they’re all active objects. None of them just sit there. None of my novels are stones, or couches, or spoons. They all have a goal attached to them—they do things.
And they act upon the reader. They represent how I want to move the reader through the novel. The object is the end goal, an invisible structural principle that underlies the entire story.
The Beer Magic’s object was on the tip of my tongue last night, but I had to sleep. Lying in the dark, I kept thinking, and thinking, and then…
You know those funnel-shaped black hole demonstrations? Like the one at the Ontario Science Centre? You launch marbles into the machine and they spin around and around, always inevitably drawn to a centre point?
I liked it. I latched onto it. But when I woke up this morning, I thought of something else:
The labyrinth at Chartres cathedral.
Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual exercise. Symbolically, it combines a circle’s wholeness with the inexorable forward momentum of a spiral. Once you enter the labyrinth, you’re drawn inevitably towards its centre, even when the path seems to verge further away from it. The Chartres labyrinth is also a fine example of spiritual geometry: it’s built along a cruciform shape, with four quadrants, and an invisible 13-pointed star underpinning the entire structure.
I also love this note from another labyrinth: The centre of the circle is geometrically the point of perfect balance, also called the “still point.”
The black hole machine and the labyrinth have a commonality, of course: that inescapable pull to a central point.
I’m really excited for these revisions now.
What I’m Listening To This Week
I love folk songs and drinking tunes. They touch the same nerve that fairy tales do—and they’re often stories themselves, set to music.