Everyone still wasn’t satisfied with the beginning of the novel. Everyone had been working on the novel for over nine months, and everyone felt as if she or he was still floundering in midair, trying to catch the drawstring of a parachute.
The Internet recommended everyone study Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
Everyone didn’t know it.
The Internet was astonished. “A metafictionist who has never heard of Calvino?”
Everyone grated at the term “metafictionist,” as if it were an accusation. Everyone did not write metafiction. Everyone was writing a blog novel that was not going as planned.
That, of course, was the problem. Everyone had had no plan--except success, and the latter had evaded her or him.
The Internet had warned everyone not to blog the novel--and certainly not to do so until everyone had finished the book. Everyone might want to make changes to earlier chapters, the Internet had advised, when she or he got to later ones.
The Internet had also told everyone that the surest way to know one’s beginning was to know one’s ending. The Internet had even advised starting at the end.
Everyone had not listened. This failure diminished everyone’s standing with the Internet. The Internet had once respected everyone; now the Internet thought everyone an idiot and gave her or him little of its time.
But today, the Internet was not very busy, so it allowed everyone’s inane queries.
“Let’s read Calvino’s book together,” the Internet proposed.
Unfortunately, the Internet was unable to procure a free copy of the work for everyone, so the two agreed to review first sentences only.
“The book restarts ten times,” the Internet said, “each time introducing readers to a new novel and a new way to begin.”
Everyone had restarted forty-six times, and each and every start had been unsatisfactory. Multiple beginnings seemed like nothing worthy of praise, let alone examination. One good beginning was all any book demanded and all that everyone desired. But it seemed that no matter have many times everyone began again, everyone ended up with the same story.
“Let’s look at the first book recounted,” the Internet said, “which is to say the book itself. It starts with the word ‘You,’ automatically giving the reader a stake by making her or him the protagonist.”
“I hate second person,” everyone said. “Inevitably, that forces someone to be some middle-aged dad or mom, when it might well be a fifteen-year-old girl. Talk about off-putting.”
The Internet didn’t bother to mention that the “you” in this case was most certainly everyone her- or himself, for the book’s plot started with the reading of the book itself. Such an objection, the Internet knew by now, would have been pointless.
“The second chapter’s first sentence,” the Internet stated, before posing the next statement, “presents a set of images so absurd that they entice the reader further in as clouds attempt to block the passage.”
“Sounds intimidating,” everyone objected. “I find a familiar start more inviting, as if you were putting on an old jacket that you had as a child.”
“You used ‘you,’“ the Internet pointed out.
“I meant ‘you’ in a general generic sense,” everyone said.
“I think that’s Calvino’s intention also,” said the Internet, “at least at the start, until one becomes comfortable.”
“Fine,” everyone conceded, “the reader. As if the reader were putting on an old jacket.”
The Internet sighed. It had won the argument, but everyone would not give it the satisfaction.
The Internet skipped to the fourth chapter. “Here,” the Internet pointed out, “a first-person protagonist states that he or she is receiving dangerous statements, and naturally we as readers want to know what they are.”
“And from that, I’m supposed to learn what?” everyone asked.
“Don’t tell your readers everything straight off,” the Internet said. “Hint. Make the reader work a bit.”
“Nothing means anything without context,” everyone objected. “I want to know where I am.”
The Internet read the first sentence of the next chapter. “This chapter begins with context,” the Internet conceded.
“The author is writing about some kind of totalitarian society,” everyone surmised.
“Quite probably,” the Internet agreed, “but even with the military vehicles and the propaganda slogans on the wall, we’re left wondering what exactly is happening.”
Everyone grunted. “You can’t possibly tell readers everything in the first sentence. Just because something isn’t said doesn’t mean the reader will be curious.”
“Didn’t you find the first sentence engaging?” the Internet asked.
Everyone shrugged her or his shoulders. “Mildly,” everyone said. The Internet’s points were too general. Everyone wanted help with her or his start specifically--Calvino’s work seemed a distraction.
The Internet moved to the next section’s first sentence. “Shocking, isn’t it?” asked the Internet, pointing to the decapitated head.
“Gross is what it is,” said everyone. “Some people would drop it like a hand they’d scooped up in a vacuum cleaner.”
The Internet put down Calvino’s book. There was no pleasing everyone.
And that, of course, was what everyone had failed to see. There was no way to please everyone. Everyone could start 982 times, and still everyone would not want to read on. Everyone needed to be concerned not with what everyone wanted but with what someone wanted, one twelve-year-old boy in an attic skimming his parent’s old textbooks or one middle-aged professor of geography. Capture just one reader’s mind, and you have made the reader into the creator of another world for which everyone has furnished merely a beginning.
Everyone wants you to read the book on which he or she is working, a novel everyone is writing in order to find the meaning of life, with which everyone’s spouse ran off. But everyone has to finish the novel before everyone can know where the novel begins. In the meantime, there are all these distractions, such as the twelfth-floor window at the office building where everyone works out of which people or maybe just one person keeps jumping or falling--everyone isn’t sure--or everyone’s sexy coworker Sam, whom everyone is struggling valiantly against to keep from becoming a paramour. It’s kind of pitiful, actually, the way everyone keeps begging you to read, sending you e-mails, dropping it into conversation (“I have a book, you know?”), posting links to it on social-networking sites. Everyone figures that if he or she begs enough, you will break down and try it. Everyone is like a dog that way, watching you eat your dinner. The way you handle the dog is to push it away from the table, lock it outside the room. Sometimes, of course, you hand the dog a bite, an inch-sized bit of beef, and that is all everyone is asking for--a bite, that you read just the first line of his or her book. The problem is that you know everyone too well. If you read one line, everyone will beg you to read another. Just one more.
To start from the beginning of the novel, go here.