Revising the Novel: What is Your Vision?

On the heels of writing my first-ever synopsis of my novel, another request came: What is your vision for the novel? I can’t post my synopsis, as that would be a bit ill-advised while still trying to get it sold, but I can post my attempt at explaining my vision. This is informal and written for an editor friend, but perhaps it will be of use to other novelists out there. I certainly learned something about my own work and creative desires by writing it–as you’ll see I even slipped out of “vision” mode and into “questioning” mode in several paragraphs. These questions flowed freely, however, and now I have some sense for what I’m still grappling with.

Vision for the Work

Personal curiosity: I’m interested in exploring how soldiers and civilians behave during wartime when they have no choice but to fulfill the roles they’re given. What decisions do those characters make, knowing they can do everything right and still be wrong? How do our circumstances bully us, little by little, into tremendous personal change? As each character’s arc progresses, I like to think they reach an apex of exhaustion with their given/forced roles and realize they can, in fact choose a slightly different course. That said, for the characters in The Longest Day of the Year, even as these realizations occur, it is still apparent that the forces of war are greater than any individual epiphanies its constituents reach. Despite their honest efforts and hard-earned personal growth, injustice remains a fact of war, regardless of whatever outcomes they choose for themselves. They must go on, and each of them should come to realize that for the better by the end of the novel. Does this curiosity and belief allow for enough agency to keep readers interested, or is it too subtle to highlight against the loud backdrop of war?

Creative struggle: I’m challenged by this novel because it takes place in one day, with a second narrative creeping up in time from three weeks prior. From the beginning, I have known how the novel would end—that closing scene in the road utterly crystal clear in my mind. Not long after, I thought of the orphan boy and, shortly after that, realized Aaseya was meant to adopt him. As I drafted Nathan’s sections of the novel, Folson grew in significance and, later, I knew he would be the one to die because Nathan sees a chance for his own redemption through Folson, however oddly. Folson’s death denies Nathan the redemption he thought he would have, forcing Nathan to redeem himself—a truer and perhaps better ending, even though it cost a life. While I’m open to change, I’m not sure how to do that without creating more problems for myself. If I already have too much flashback and backstory, how will compressing the Afghan narrative into one day make that problem less of an issue? If I’m struggling to get Nathan’s arc fully developed in one day of present action, how could I achieve something satisfying for Aaseya and Rahim in such short timeframe, as well?

Genre/theme curiosity: I want to write a novel that contributes to literary fiction as well as its subgenre of “war lit.” I’d like to think The Longest Day of the Year can shed light on something that hasn’t been looked at too closely by other war lit authors. I’m attempting to do this on two levels: First, by way of the based-on-fact subplot pertaining to the 2009 movement of American cash from the U.S. Government and into the hands of the Taliban, and the change in rules of engagement handed down by McChrystal, also in 2009. Second, by including the civilians’ stories (Aaseya and Rahim) and drawing interesting parallels between their desires and the desires of their “enemies” (the Americans; Nathan, Tenley). Are these parallels realized? I feel the seeds are there, but the connections aren’t as alive on the page as they could be. When I finished writing Flashes of War I could say one thing very definitively: War is complicated; the line of blame can never be traced back to one, single point. I’m still exploring that truth in The Longest Day of the Year. Can I show the complexity of this truth on a human level that transcends war, gender, culture, and circumstance? Can I show it in a way that reveals our common humanity? That’s what I want to do.

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