samuel x. brase likes to write

Foundation: The End of the Story

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 28 April 2009

In this entry, a writer waffles.

At the end of the day, beyond themes, characters, structure — what remains is the plot. The trajectory for the foundation. I have been asking myself about this a lot over the past few days. What do I want the trajectory to be? More importantly, when it all boils down, what do I want to accomplish with this novel? what do I hope the audience gets out of reading the book? Here is what I have come up with.

The end of the universe. This is the endgame for the novel (spoilers?), the climax, the crux of the story. The novel is about the end of the universe. But what does this achieve? This achieves perspective. That’s one of my goals, I want to put various things into perspective. Culture, economy, energy, life, politics, religion, and so on. Perspective for all of these things, so that maybe I and we can understand their use in the long term.

But the novel is also simultaneously about rebirth in a new universe. There are two stories. The fall of the old world and the birth of the new, because we must learn to accept change to survive. Those who do not accept change will die.

The first step here is to figure out how the old universe will die. Heat death? Cold death? Big crunch? I liked heat death, but cold death might be better, more poetic. The point is, I need to figure out what is even marginally feasible in terms of storytelling. 

And yet… the more I think about it, the more I doubt my “end of the universe” gambit. It has begun to feel wrong. Like it pushes the envelope too much, takes the focus off what I’m trying to convey. Lots of human-made turmoil and then the big finale is the universe ending by nature’s hand? It’s an all right ending but it feels contrived, almost cheap — like we don’t have to deal with the mess. Maybe I could make it work. But I feel like I need to pull back even further now.

I’m looking back over my old notes and I’m reminded that once upon a time, this was going to be a “post-structural work of art,” a fictional manifesto of post-structuralism. The construction of identity, the flexibility of meaning, the unreliability of reality. It’s all perception, perception and cultural agreement. I want to tell a sci-fi epic that is steeped in this philosophy with the ultimate message that we should accept and love each other. Okay, that’s my starting point.

Now I’m reading Foucault speeches and I’m getting sidetracked — nonsense about social contracts and so forth. I gotta bring this home. What do I want to achieve? I guess I don’t know what I want to achieve. I want the epic ending, the crowd pleaser, the money maker. I also want the happy ending, where my message of “love and understanding” plants its seed in the reader.

But isn’t that what PS is about? PS says that the author is not the primary source of meaning. The reader is the primary source of meaning. I can try to plant the message as many times as I please but I can never ensure that it will actually be planted. My best option is to create a world so enrapturing that the reader has no other choice but to want love and understanding. I can’t place my message as a result, I can only place it as a formula. The result is within the reader, the book is the formula, the equation by which the reader arrives at the answer. My answer, with any luck.

So the novel must be heart-breaking but not full of despair. Lively and fun protagonists juxtaposed by tragic villains. In fact, perhaps I will do away with the binary terms protagonist and antagonist and simply call them all “characters,” productive and destructive as they see fit. My internal-dialogue style & focus on the more insane aspects of human thought will make it very hard to not wander into despair. But I must walk that line, for the sake of this novel and my own vision as a writer.

I will take my readers to the brink and pull them back.

Or maybe we should pass the brink?

Maybe the universe should end after all.

It can’t, unfortunately. There’s no way for it to be at all believeable. Is believability necessary?

I’d like to go at this from another angle, but the endgame will override a large portion of the story. I need to nail it down.


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