joyce-mccown-LAEPsbXOhIM-unsplashHallelujah! The novel is complete. Now it’s time to send this out, get some fresh air, and socialize for a change. LOCKDOWN! QUARANTINE! DOORS SLAM SHUT!

On the day that the Canadian government launched measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, I finally completed my novel. The manuscript, tentatively entitled, “VV,” deals with, among other things, ahem, a pandemic. The timing is strange, surreal. Real life bleeds into fiction or perhaps it is the other way around.

Back to the novel. I rewind to last week when I wasn’t subsisting on apocalypse-proof garbanzo beans or dodging gangs of toilet paper hoarding thugs roaming the streets. Rewind through the novel writing process.

Substance & Bone

Ideas germinate in the creative goulash that is the author’s noggin, stewing into the beginnings of a narrative: a piece of dialogue, a character sketch, a fragment. At this stage, they might plan what is to come and sketch the basic anatomy of the story, the skeletal structure in which the story is told. Others let the organic process take its course without set form or structure. Maybe both. However, it’s done, a new entity emerges. Bit by bit, the story takes shape.

Layers: flesh & texture.

Working through the night on a caffeine-high, the author stitches the narrative together, piece by piece. Operating within the skeletal structure, they add flesh and texture in the form of characterization, setting and thickening plot, most–perhaps all of which will be dissected and rearranged at a later point. The disparate elements cohere like tendons and muscles holding up the meat of the narrative.

Weeks, months, years pass. The writer edits and reworks the story to fit with their aesthetic. Bloated and grey-skinned, it gains some semblance of a life. The story is given eyes through a point of view, but the sensorial, three-dimensional experience is incomplete without hands for touching, ears, a tongue, and a schnoz for whiffing whatever else is being cooked up.

Test & Tweak

Unless expressly written for an audience of desk drawer dust, the story wants to be read by whomever can be wrangled, threatened or pleaded with. Writing group buddies, girlfriend, mother-in-law, the family accountant. What works? What doesn’t? Too slow or too rushed? Are the twenty-six pages describing birch trees in autumn sufficient? Was the it was all just a dream ending a stroke of genius or an facepalming letdown? It was the evil twin who went through the time machine, didn’t you see?

Back to the operating room. With surgical precision, the backstory is tightened. The excess growth identified in chapter 3 is hacked off with a meat cleaver–or the Microsoft Word equivalent, the delete button.


Months, years, eons have passed. The manuscript is ready to be released and make the pilgrimage to the publishing house where it hopes to be enshrined and immortalized. It’s a slow tread to a Kafkaesque trial in which the defendant is stripped nude but never sees their judges. All there is left to do is wait and, in the meantime, lay down new bones for the next novel.


I hold up my printed manuscript and calculate its dimensions. 21.5 X 28 centimetres. It weighs more than the Canadian Tire flyers I keep getting in the mail but less than the Ikea catalogue. I get up on a chair and let it drop. It falls flat on the kitchen table with a satisfying thud. Its plasticized cover is its face and the spiral is the spinal cord that allows the one hundred and eighty-six pages to stand upright. I put on my Hazmat suit, rub the manuscript down with peroxide-drenched cotton swabs, and slip the manuscript into a copper envelope. I peer through the living room window that overlooks the mailbox on the empty street corner. Deserted. One of these days, it will it be safe again to make the journey outside. Then the real waiting begins.

2 thoughts on “Fleshing Out Your Skeleton

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