As I near the completion of my first novel, I’m constantly reminded of something a mentor of mine told me some years ago. “Writing a novel is an extreme act,” he said to the class. People in the room chuckled lightly at this, myself included. “No,” he said, “it’s true. In fact I can’t think of anything more extreme than expecting someone to read hundreds of pages of your thoughts and enjoy it.” Now that I’m so near to the end of my first major work (around 100,000 words), and I don’t mean a first draft, I mean revisions for my thesis adviser, (there will be more revisions in the future I am sure), I come to see now that expecting anyone to be interested in what I have to say rather baffling. My thoughts are not metaphorical gold and neither are most author’s. But through language an author can create a world that leads people to a belief system, if only for the duration of the illusion of the novel—the belief that these characters have scope, choice, and agency.
A novel is not a reflection of reality. It is a reflection of the author’s reality. Or how the author perceives the reality we all share. Why I would think it is worth someones time to peer into my own reality, even through the keyhole is a strange phenomena that boarders on the exceptionalism of the self. Sure, the term way commonly be used as to refer to a time that is deemed, or thought to be exceptional, but individual exceptionalism is the only way I can understand an author to justify their actions in writing a piece that lasts for hundreds of pages and expects to hold the attention of my readers, let alone one.
A novel is a natural act of subversion. The reader must want to be tricked into believing in the characters, the plot, and the world, or else they will find the novel lacking. But the author must be willing to subvert the reader as much as necessary to achieve the illusion of the novel. I can’t think of a higher compliment than a reader asking why a character within a novel made a certain decision. There is no other decision that character could have made, because the character is not real—but the illusion and subversion is such that the reader believes the character could have acted differently. Writing a novel is a constant act of subversion of the self as authors trick themselves into creating characters they, themselves want to see or hear or know. Why readers want to be tricked, and why authors want to trick themselves and others at the same time, is a mystery, but one I perhaps will explore in my later works.