In yesterday’s conclusion to the untitled story I began several weeks ago, I employed a literary device that’s become the fictional equivalent of an exhausted field — the surprise ending, where I reveal the narrator as a gay woman. At the risk of self-indulgence, I’d like to explain how that ending came to me.
A week into the story, I had introduced most of my characters: Murph, Darci, Lenora, even the mysterious Stephanie (or as much about her as I’d reveal in the story). Each character, and the role they’d play in developing the story, were clear to me. Except, though, for the narrator, the central character in more ways than one. (One of my inspirations for this story is Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street,” a first-person story where we learn more about the anonymous narrator than we do about the title character.) I hadn’t given my narrator sufficient attention, as I simply assumed he was a late-twenties male (which, not coincidentally, was exactly who I was when the idea for this story first came to me many years ago). If you followed the story from the first post, you would have seen this assumption revealed in several passages where the narrator’s gender was specifically referenced; the most obvious was at the start of the basketball game, where I had the narrator refer to his “guy instincts.”
It was the evening of that basketball post when the narrator’s identity really began to bother me. He was still a generic dude with no personality, and had no identifiable cause for his developing infatuation with Murph’s personal life. And as I continued thinking about this problem, I realized this was an easy trap to fall into with first-person narratives; the narrative voice makes observations about the people and places in the surrounding world, but can easily forget to look at himself. Or herself, as the case may be…
And that’s when it hit me. What if my narrator was a late-twenties woman? The idea intrigued me, so I began investigating how big a change this would make. I looked through my story up to that point, and while there were several of those gender-specific references, most could easily be edited (such as replacing “guy instincts” with “athletic instincts”). There was, though, one glaring exception: Darci. If I did make my narrator female, what would I do with the girlfriend? My narrator needed a love interest to help drive the curiosity about Murph; if I was updating earlier posts, one option was to change the gender of that interest, transform Darci into Darian. But something about that large-scale rewrite didn’t set well with me… And that’s when I began reconsidering the narrator’s sexuality. And the more I thought about the themes I was exploring in the story — the conflict between public and personal lives, the difference between friendship and intimacy, the quest for personal autonomy — the more I realized that having a homosexual narrator could help me explore these themes further. And that, my friends, is how the rest of the story played out as it did.
The story’s first draft has finished, and I do plan to revise. The changes could be significant, and the twist at the end could very well go. But I’m almost certain to not change the narrator’s sexuality. Did I plan to make my narrator a lesbian when I started the story? Heck no; as I’ve explained, that decision was almost an accident. But am I happy with this accidental decision? Absolutely — because it was the right artistic choice.
If you’ve managed to read all the way through to here, I thank you for allowing me this self-indulgence. I’ll get back to the fiction, and specifically the novel, in a major way tomorrow.