NaNoWriMo and “The Torments of His Dreams” in reflection

So first I’d like to make this a general catchall point for the entire manuscript — here are the appropriate links to NaNoWriMo, some background posts and all 25 chapters:

NaNoWriMo itself

Decisions, decisions — especially on the NaNoWriMo front
NaNoWriMo prep part 1 — some family history
NaNoWriMo prep part 2 — a little more family history
NaNoWriMo prep part 3 — some more research background…and a title!

The Torments of His Dreams

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25

So having written it all — and like every time I do this, I finish up feeling exhausted and swearing I’ll take a break the following year — some thoughts, though these will feel a bit scattershot:

First, of course, this is a terribly rough draft and even looking back at the first chapters I see ideas and courses that were not fully developed as I’d initially intended, the rapid swerving of tone, small details that now loom larger and need more time to smoothly develop in importance and much more besides. It’s not deathless and was never meant to be — the whole point of NaNoWriMo remains to get something out to work with, not a permanent Great American Novel (or the like). It’ll be there to read as anyone likes for now.

Second, this is only intended to be the core of the first half of the book. I do have a conclusion in mind — a very specific one, as a matter of fact — and a general idea of how to get there. But I’m not going to put that on here as yet…or at all. After all, I would like to eventually develop this into a potentially publishable manuscript, and more so than some of the other things I’ve written I foresee strong possibilities with a lot more time and effort, as well as other factors beyond my control!

This said, my feelings on how this turned out are generally positive. The background and setting, as well as the language and especially the dialogue, are the weakest parts of the story in my eyes — my goal was to advance the plot rather than aim for a specific accuracy in what ‘the City’ (which is of course San Francisco but is intentionally never named) was like at the time, what the English of those who lived in that city at that time was like, and so forth. Doubtless there are a slew of anachronisms. But given the focus on the plot and how it evolved — and how this was intended less to be an exact explanation of ‘what really happened’ than an imaginative retelling of the scenario leading up to it (and next, what happened afterwards) — I think I did reasonably well. It’s the first time I’ve written a story where none of the main characters (in this case specifically the brothers and Thomas McMahon) were meant to be sympathetic, or at least entirely so. McMahon becomes more so a bit by default, but he is a boorish, boastful figure who gets tripped up a bit on his image and has to reconstruct it a bit — the shift is too abrupt for me and needs much more nuance. In the second half of the novel he’ll start meeting female characters outside the one milieu he feels comfortable with them in and that will be of prime importance.

As for the brothers, it was especially nice working with essentially not one but two unreliable narrators, and the admittedly straightforward (perhaps simply hamhanded) approaches to core parts of their characters were interesting to play with. That Richard aka Black Dick is never referred to in ‘his’ chapters by name is incredibly intentional, for instance, as is William’s endlessly convoluted sentences and utter self-regard, where in ‘his’ chapters no character literally gets a word in edgewise. Again, more work needs to be done with them both, much more, but it’s a fine start.

The psychological horror elements are in some sense a recasting of a general approach from my 2003 NaNoWriMo effort, but here given new forms, as well as an intentionally maddening unclarity. That may sound strange but the point is that even to me the exact nature of them should be left open to interpretation. I hate explaining too much and I hate horror stories that explain too much in turn as well. I have ideas and goals with them all that will come to the fore more with time — and there are other intentionally murky parts of the story I’m leaving up for grabs as much as possible. Hopefully, though, they all work at creeping you out just enough for now.

Finally, what then do I think really happened in that room when the brothers were alone? There’s still a half of a story to write, but to review the facts as we know them — after they emerged, William stabbed and Black Dick distraught, the latter first blamed a friend who lived in the building, then said it was all an accident. William persisted in claiming that the stabbing was an accidental circumstance during a quarrel, and initially claimed that he had stabbed himself. The inevitably romanticized portrait I have created about the two brothers probably bears little connection to reality — there’s no evidence that Black Dick was actually a murderer, nor that William was a literature-obsessed type (or an opium addict per se — instead, both brothers appeared to focus on shooting up). If I had to guess what did happen, I suspect it was a case where a fight accidentally turned deadly and both brothers panicked — Black Dick at the prospect of facing the death penalty in response, William at the idea that his brother, who I suspect he had a strong love/hate relationship with, would swing for it. But this still isn’t clear at all, and the guess I type here might change in my mind tomorrow just as quickly.

Either way, what I’ve just said is not, in fact, my goal for the ending of the novel. What that is…you’ll have to wait for. But in the meantime, please enjoy what’s here, all my caveats noted, and all input is welcome.

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