Monday, December 26, 2011

Unraveling the Tapestry - The Trouble With Endings

For the past two weeks, I've been working on the ending arc in revisions for my novel THE SPARROW'S SECRET HEART.  It used to be an ending, but the old ending no longer fit. So it devolved into a hodge-podge of thematic ideas, key scenes, and placeholders strung together with notes.  Then, last week, with the freedom of winter break, I managed to come up with a collection of finished chapters.  But they didn't feel right.  I couldn't put my finger on the problem.

Lucky for me, my critique group met in spite of it being Christmas Eve, and I got some great input about the order of events and other key issues.  I left feeling wonderfully inspired.  Christmas was a non-writing day.  Even I knew there was no point tackling anything then.  But this morning, I was back at it and worked my way through the feedback from my group.  The result?  I've completely unraveled what I had and I'm back to a collection of scenes, notes, and thematic elements with missing links and placeholders.  Aaargh!  My intellect recognizes this was a necessary step to achieve my greater goal.  Some other part of me hates this feeling of going backward to move forward.

This process got me thinking about Penelope, Odysseus' long-suffering wife in Homer's ODYSSEY.  To put off the hordes of suitors clamoring to snatch her up, Penelope promises to remarry when she finishes the tapestry she's working on.  But she doesn't want to remarry.  Supposedly, she is so faithful, she believes Odysseus is alive and will return.  So, every night, she unravels the tapestry that she wove during the day.

I've always accepted this tale on face value - a clever way to get around her own vow, extracted under duress, while remaining faithful to her husband.  But today, I find myself contemplating Penelope the Artist.  She's been working on this damn tapestry for twenty years, but she willingly puts off its completion. Some part of her must have rebelled at the intentional destruction of her own artistic creation.  How did that feel?  Was she ever tempted to say "the hell with it - I just want to finish the damn thing"?

A writer's relationship with the completion of a novel has some similarities.  We know that once we finish, we have to say goodbye to the story and the characters that have been our faithful companions.  There's some grief and loss connected to that.  So, sometimes, we actually sabotage our own efforts at an ending, unraveling things just to put off the inevitable.  On the other hand, there are times when the unraveling is simply a necessary evil in the process of getting the right ending.  We don't want to end up with one of those annoying, if conveniently present, suitors that keep banging at the door demanding we just draw things to a conclusion.  No.  We want to remain faithful to the spirit of our novel, to our future readers, to the deeper themes of our work.  We want the right ending, even if it means unraveling our work night after night.

Tonight, I'll drink a toast to Penelope the Artist.  And then, tomorrow, I'll get back to work reweaving the tapestry of my ending, until I get it right.


  1. A brilliant post, Cindy, filled with deep thinking. My mind has been rebelling at deep thinking, being willing to succumb only while in a dream state. I bow to your greatness!

  2. Thank you, Sandra, though I'm not sure I deserve such praise!


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