Writing This is Not a Lie was a five-year labour of love. Interestingly, despite the fact that I had a basic outline for the narrative, the final product ended up being quite different to what I had outlined.
The final version of the novel is written in first person; however, I originally planned to write it in third person. I drafted a scene, but it just wasn’t right. It didn’t have the intimacy that the story needed. As soon as I swapped to first person, everything fell into place. The voice was strong, the narrative style was strong, and I was happy. I tried to find it so I could post it here for you, but no doubt I deleted it as soon as I realised third person wasn’t going to work for this narrative.
I also wrote a lot of scenes that didn’t end up making the final cut. Rarely is a book perfect on the first draft. I say rarely because it does happen, but not often. For those of us who need to go back and redraft, we often end up with scenes and ideas that don’t make the cut and are ultimately excised from the final work. The scenes below are two that I cut from my novel This is Not a Lie. Joel, the protagonist, is a gay, psychologically damaged heroin addict.
If you don’t know much about heroin addiction, addicts often go ‘on the nod’ which is a term used to describe the effect of heroin entering the blood stream and causing users to appear as if they have fallen asleep – sometimes while standing up, or even in the middle of a conversation. While this might seem strange, or even funny, an addict who is nodding out could, in fact, be unconscious.
However, in this first scene, Joel is nodding out, but he is conscious and dreaming that he’s in the lobby of the Southern Cross Hotel. The Southern Cross Hotel was a big swanky high-rise hotel that was located on the south-west corner of Bourke and Exhibition Streets in Melbourne. It was demolished in 2003, making way for a towering glass office building (i.e., monstrosity). In this scene, I wanted to demonstrate how Joel’s desires and, more importantly, his fears, are reflected through the lens of his addiction…
I’m standing at the front desk in the Southern Cross Hotel. I look to my right and left and realise I’m the only one here. When I look back, I spot the concierge bell. Strange… It wasn’t there before. I reach out and smack it with the palm of my hand. It doesn’t ding. It doesn’t make any sound at all. Instead, a strange voice behind me, scratchy and abrasive like a file rasping metal, bids me welcome to the hotel. I turn around to see the desk monkey who glared at me the day I came here to visit Randall. He smiles as he speaks, yet his mouth doesn’t move. He tells me there’s no need to worry, that people like us are welcome here. Then his eyes slide sideways as he looks across the room.
I frown. What does he mean, people like us?
I turn around to see what he’s looking at. Across the floor, by the far wall, Harry sits on a velvet sofa, his arm draped over the armrest as he reclines casually on the thick, rich fabric. Smoke ripples upwards from the long brown cigarette burning between his willowy fingers. His nails are painted red. Blood red. And his eyes, blue and intense, are filled with dread as they scrutinise me from beneath the shaggy blond mane that frames his face.
The desk monkey says he’ll take us to our room as he bends down to pick up suitcases that have suddenly appeared beside me. He tells me not to worry about a thing, that we’ll be treated well here and that we can rest assured no questions will be asked.
I turn around to look at Harry again, but he’s gone. I panic and scan the lobby looking for him. Finally, I spot him in the elevator with the desk monkey who stands one step behind him. I stare into Harry’s eyes as the doors slide closed and realise that the sadness still lingering there, like a tear clinging to the cheek of a weeping Jesus, is not for things that have happened in the past, but for things that have yet to take place. My heart pounds as I bolt for the elevator. As the doors slide closer and closer together, I yell to him, don’t go, don’t go, but my silence is deafening. Not a single sound comes out of my mouth. I make it to the elevator the moment the doors snap shut—and my eyes snap open.
I take a short sharp breath and wipe away the dribble clinging to my bottom lip, then sigh, relieved to realise that none of it was real, I’ve just been nodding out.
This is the first draft of this scene. Is it perfect? No, of course, but I was a little saddened that it didn’t work and had to be cut. And I’ve just realised that I’ve written “silence is deafening”, which is, of course, almost identical to the title of the novel I’m currently drafting. Deafening Silence is a novel about a veteran with PTSD.
I would not be able to write Deafening Silence if it hadn’t been for the experience I gained while writing This is Not a Lie. It’s funny when you look back and see the dots that connect the various avenues of your writing journey, how one thing leads to another, and how each experience contributes to the development of your writerly voice as well as your overall growth as an artist.
Here’s another scene that got the chop. Joel, Harry, and the rest of the band are gigging in a string of county towns. The life of a touring musician isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…
The days we don’t play are a nightmare of boredom and desperate thoughts. And when I’m bored my twisted mind starts thinking about scoring and wondering if Pauly is missing me. For years, he was my man, my go to guy. He must be As one of his regulars, HeHe wondering what’s happened to me. Then again, I’m sure he’s making a killing off the other poor sods he deals to. We generally have Mondays and Tuesdays. Punters tend to stay home on Monday and Tuesday nights and venue owners aren’t going to pay us to play to nobody.
On Monday, we were still in Shepparton. We had some time to kill before leaving for Mildura so me and Harry went for a walk. We had no idea where we were going, we just walked. We went to an op shop, a book shop, and a record shop. Finally, I’d had enough and told Harry I wanted to go back to the motel so I could at least get a drink. He laughed but agreed.
On the way back, we passed a gift shop that had art supplies in the window. Through the window, I could see a gaggle of middle-aged women standing around the counter talking and laughing. Before I knew it, Harry was walking through the door. Inside, the talking and laughing was replaced by gasps and mortified stares. Harry, dripping with that mystical charisma of his, slid straight up to the counter asked for a sheet of hotpress paper and an HB pencil. The jelly-bellied matron behind the counter hesitated, unsure what to do. She looked at her friends hoping they’d help her out but there was silence as the consternation of mothers just stared and wished us away. Harry wasn’t perturbed in the slightest. On the contrary, he leaned forward towards the woman behind the counter and flashed that heart-melting smile of his. And that was it. That single, simple gesture broke her, and she handed over the paper and pencil no questions asked. Her friends raised their eyebrows but maintained their pursed-lip silence. As Harry stood there and sketched on the paper, he asked the woman some seriously personal questions like had her heart even been broken, what made her feel alive, and what was her most secret fantasy. She blushed and scoffed but incredibly answered every single question. They all did. Who knew middle-aged mothers had such secret lives? Finally, Harry handed the paper back to her. ‘There’s beauty in everyone and everything,’ he said, ‘All you have to do is look for it.’
The woman took it and gasped.
‘What is it?’ her friends demanded.
The woman looked up at Harry, a tear welling in the corner of her eye. ‘Thank you,’ she said.
Keen to see, her friends gathered in close and demanded she show it to them. Finally, she held it up. He’d drawn a perfect sketch of her, round face, crow’s feet, slightly crooked nose and all. But the thing that sold it, the thing that made it stand out, was the way he’d drawn her eyes. He’d captured something he’d seen when he looked into the window of her soul. He’d seen her, the real her. And so, he’d sketched a woman whose body was aging but whose spirit remained young and rebellious and yearning for a life not yet lived. This woman, who’d been ready to call the cops on us, was now so taken with this handsome young artist, she looked at him like she was ready to spread her legs and bear his children. I don’t know why this surprised me. Women leave notes and phone numbers for him all the time. And more than one has been known to hang around the motel waiting for him after a show. He smiles at them, kisses them on the cheek, and they swoon off home to brag to their friends or indulge their sexual fantasies. I will never cease to be amazed by his magic. Or his mania.
There’s a lot of ‘telling’ at the beginning of this scene. The very first line is definitely telling as opposed to showing: The days we don’t play are a nightmare of boredom and desperate thoughts. It’s bland, certainly blander than I would have liked. However, it’s also an example of ‘good telling’ i.e., it establishes mise en scene and gives insight into Joel’s current mental landscape. It is also an example of a contemplative/ reflective scene. It slows down the action that has come before it and as the scene progresses, more is revealed about Harry via his interacts with the women in the shop.
What’s not okay and not good about this scene is its lack of conflict, dilemma, or tension leading to a decision the protagonist must make. There is no dramatic tension at all. I could have added some dramatic tension, but it wouldn’t have been organic. It would have been shoe-horned in and likely would have felt forced or inorganic.
So, what’s the moral of this story?
There is definitely a place in narrative fiction for ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. After all, internal thoughts are monologue and monologue is a speech that is told, or given, to the reader. My son, who is also an author, said this:
And so, this scene, this darling that I thought I'd so lovingly crafted, was brutally excised from the text. It really is hard to kill those darlings, but sometimes, for the good of the narrative, it just has to be done!