After the first draft, I was glad to see I was writing a haphazardly global story, where the narrator shambles from here to there in pursuit of something that surely can’t be love. He tries really hard to make it love, but it’s more likely the desperation of needing something to feel desperate about.
Those who live their lives embarked upon mission after mission – even if it’s only the mission to do the daily commute as briefly as possible – grant themselves permission to trash stuff as they plunge forwards through meaningful but usually hateful time. Determined smokers chuck down lit cigarettes and walk on. Questing mothers throw their childrens’ cellophane straw-wrappers from the windows of their cars. What’s behind someone purposeful like this ceases to exist for them as soon as it’s out of view. (That’s my only explanation.) My narrator is on a mission, a doomed one.
My narrator feels self-righteous even as he is losing his sense of self.
If you’re writing a story, it’s very useful to have a main character who simply keeps moving forwards – however stupid that direction ultimately is.
It’s also useful if the narrator’s approach to each utterance is to have a sensible plan, to think themselves ready to execute it, but then to panic and blurt out whatever they were concentrating on omitting – giving themselves away in the attempt not to give anything away.
I could see he was being funny because he was humiliating himself, and that’s when people laugh at me. He eventually becomes a humble person through inadvertent honesty, after numerous lunging attempts to be misunderstood.
His first draft splurge didn’t need much rewriting because every deletion started to feel like censorship. The irredeemable needs to be seen in extenso.
Stories co-habit us with folk we tend to flee IRL, or who are moving too fast for us to catch up with. My narrator doesn’t succeed in much but he keeps his energy until there is no longer any reason for it.
He is less than loveable so I ended up loving him more than he deserved. I felt cruel when I left him.
Toby Litt is the author of nine novels and four books of short stories. He is currently writing Wrestliana, a memoir about his relationship to his great-great-great grandfather, William Litt – a champion wrestler, poet, smuggler and exile. Toby’s most recent novel is Lilian’s Spell Book. Toby teaches creative writing at Birkbeck College.
© Toby Litt, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.