Thursday, January 12, 2017
One of my high school English teachers (shout to Mr. Winthrop!) once said that the books we were going to read that year were on par with humankind's greatest achievements in any sphere, including the pyramids.
I was reminded of this comparison when I recently traveled to Teotihuacan in Mexico and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun. Not only are great novels truly singular achievements, but my trip got me thinking about the extent to which writing a novel is... sort of like building a pyramid.
You work so hard for so long... and that's just to finish the base
The base of the Pyramid of the Sun is so big (see above) you can't even really get it into one photo unless you are very, very far away. It's 720 feet long and 760 feet wide!
Can you imagine the immense amount of work it took just to do the first layer?? It must have felt amazing to begin such a lofty promise... and then it took a ton of work... and when that first layer was done, they must have known they had an incredibly long way to go.
And that reminded me of the first 50-75 pages of a novel. You're psyched! You're going to write the greatest novel of all time! And then you get started. And it takes so much work. And even when you get that initial base going, it almost feels impossible how much is still yet to be written.
Everything is building toward the point of the pyramid
All of those stones, all that work, builds on itself toward the capstone on top. Or, I guess in the case of Teotihuacan, the altar, since the top is flat.
In your novel, it's all about that climax. Every metaphorical stone you put in place should lead to a very satisfying conclusion. Sure, maybe people will notice the sides of the pyramid, but their eyes are always going to go upward.
Finishing is deceptively hard
One of the best things about finishing the first layer is that no other layer will be as big and wide. Every layer after that is going to require fewer stones. But... the farther you go, the higher you have to lift.
This reminds me of ending a novel. On the one hand, you're so close! You can see the end! You're really going to finish the novel!
But in reality, it's so hard to get that ending just right. With all of the different plot threads unfolding, every chapter toward the end feels far more difficult.
Sacrifices will be made
Many of the Mesoamerican pyramids were consecrated with human sacrifice. In the case of the Aztec Templo Mayor, those may have numbered somewhere in the thousands.
And yes. You and those around you will make sacrifices along the way.
But when you're done, you'll have something to marvel at forever.