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Muskoka Novel Marathon On Writing

Kill Him or Keep Him? When Manuscripts Act Up…

During the 2019 Muskoka Novel Marathon I wrote a novel that I titled The Époque of Ethan going in (I always start my novels by writing the title at the top of page one). I almost NEVER change the title after it’s chosen.

The novel is the story of two characters, Cooper who is the nonbinary love interest of the dead guy, and Topher, who is the dead guy’s best friend. I won’t make you guess the dead guy’s name. It was, wait for it…ETHAN.

I had Ethan dead prior to the beginning of the novel. He actually jumped from a highway overpass. It was messy. Topher witnessed it and suffered much trauma.

The truth about that jump? It was a prompt from the lovely Wayson Choy during one of his workshops at an old Ontario Writers’ Conference event. I can no longer remember the prompt, but I wrote this scene about the Topher character looking back to the jump and how it made them feel. I actually got to read it to the group during the course of the workshop. It felt like something I could use later. I liked that its origin story is WAYSON.

Fast forward maybe eight or ten years later. I finally wrote 50,000 words of the story at the novel marathon last year. And I’ve been struggling with it ever since.

I rewrote a version where Ethan doesn’t die. He takes pills and ends up in the hospital. But I struggled with that one too.

Recently, Michael said, “Why don’t you make him disappear?” Or something to that effect. So now, I’m going through and rewriting AGAIN. This time Topher and Cooper don’t know if Ethan is dead or alive. The authorities assume he’s dead after some time passes, but the characters don’t know. They don’t want to lose hope. The story is really about what Ethan (disappeared or dead) reveals to them about why he made the choices he made.

Oh wait! I began with the TITLE and how I went into the marathon with the title The Époque of Ethan. Well, scrap that. After a short discussion mid-marathon with a fellow marathoner, the book (as of yet not fully written) was renamed. Say hello to the new title, mid-marathon!

No Visible Damage. Tada! The fellow marathoner that helped me come up with the title–which was a line from the novel that Topher used incidentally and then reflected, ‘that would be a great name for a band’–was Colum McKnight. Not only did he steer the ship that changed the title, but he later went down to the village with a broomstick in his hands…wait, no. Oops. He went down to the village–the town–and had the title magically lasered into one of the bookmarks we were all given. It was official! Just like that, The Époque of Ethan became No Visible Damage. Done deal.

At that point, Ethan was still very much dead. There was a funeral and everything. I can attest to that.

Fast forward a few months and I have this niggling feeling that Ethan maybe shouldn’t die. First rewrite ensues. Hospital scenes. Rewrite everything to fit the change.

Fast forward almost an entire year after struggling to come up with an ending, while preparing my upcoming novel release for its big debut. No go. The ending eludes me. Whether he’s dead or in the hospital, I just can’t make it work.

Bang. Michael makes a comment about a disappearance. Dead or alive? Who knows? No one. Not the reader, not the characters. No one.

Another rewrite. YAY.

Oh. And, guess what? Another title change. It had to be.

Welcome to Where oh Where is Ethan Sinclair? I feel like it’s sacrosanct to change the title again, but I also feel like I can’t NOT change the title again. I mean, the title is literally written in stone. I mean, it’s not stone, but it is leather. I mean, well, not leather, but a fake leathery thing. It’s written in a bookmark. Sorry, Colum.

All this to say WRITERS STRUGGLE EVERY DAY. All we want to do is get the story right. I’m working my way towards the end of what’s written in the manuscript again. Not the ENDING, just the stopping point where I’ve been stuck. This time there’s another plot point wrapping itself throughout. Is Ethan dead or alive? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out if the train keeps on moving past the previous stop point. At any rate, this ranty post is just here to show you how hard it can sometimes get.

Don’t think for a second I threw the whole Époque of Ethan thing out the window, because I didn’t. I refused to. It became the name of Ethan’s blog, which is how Ethan fills the two main characters in on things in his absence.

I don’t know how this will play out. I really don’t. But I’m willing to find out. To be honest, a part of me has been full on pretending the novel is finished. I’m a great pretender.

Stick around. Maybe we’ll one day find out if I kill him or keep him. Or maybe it’ll be another manuscript for the Big Manuscript Burial Ground. One never knows.

(PS: The 2020 Muskoka Novel Marathon takes place July 17-20 and it’s a pandemic version. This means it’s online and anyone can register and participate. Writers should check it out! Just click these words!)

By Kevin Craig

Author, Poet, Playwright

2 replies on “Kill Him or Keep Him? When Manuscripts Act Up…”

That’s cool how many story lines you can make from opening line. Also that it became his blog is an interesting development. Hope you find your way to finish it.

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