From the very first page, I felt as if I were balanced on a knife-edge. Quite the cliché, but true nonetheless, for the simple reason that I knew that virtually all of the emotional impact of the story would take place in the final third of the novel.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s always where the reader finds the emotional intensity in my novels, so why was this one so hard? Why was this so different?
Frankly, there are different sorts of emotional intensity. If I’m writing a novel in which one of the main characters pass away – Message in a Bottle, for instance, or At First Sight – I know in advance that the death – and the death alone – will be all that’s necessary to evoke emotion. Usually, in those instances, there’s a “quickening of the pace” combined with a “sense of foreboding,” but even so, the story stays relatively linear (one event leading to the next), and the events are allowed to explain themselves.
The Choice, however, was different. I knew the final section would resemble – somewhat anyway – the final sections of both The Notebook and Nights in Rodanthe, because this section also included mystery. In The Notebook, the mystery simple: who was Noah reading to, and once that was known, would she ever remember him? In Nights in Rodanthe, the mystery centered around what happened to Paul, and why he and Adrienne were no longer together.
The reality of writing a compelling novel is this: once the answer to the mystery is known, it’s imperative to end the story relatively quickly. Without the mystery, there’s no more drama and tension, and it’s drama and tension that keep the story interesting. In The Choice, the mystery centered around misdirection: the reader is led to believe that Travis has gone to the hospital because Gabby might leave him, and they each have a choice to make. In reality, his choice is whether or not to take her off life-support.
Still, while it’s easy to explain what I intended to do – and the rules of literature that always apply – it still doesn’t always make the job easy. I had to draw out the mystery for approximately 100 manuscript pages (out of 300), while still weaving a compelling story.
From the very first page then, I knew these challenges were coming. I knew that structure and pacing would be difficult, I knew that nearly every sentence would have to be crafted just so, and I’d have to carefully select words for ambiguity, while still ratcheting up emotion. I knew there would be “time shifts” in which both the past and present had to be explained. I knew “the past” would have to have its own story and tension that builds, as would those sections that discusses “the present.” I had to make the reader believe that Travis was at the hospital to apologize, while at the same time making it clear (in retrospect) that the reader had it wrong the whole time. In addition, I had to generate authentic emotional impact in a novel that I knew would end happily.
And most importantly, I also knew this: that if I couldn’t pull off the final section, the entire novel would crumble and fail on nearly every level.
Thus, I wrote the first two thirds of the novel with a sense of trepidation, simply because I knew the final section would be a doozy, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
And yet, in the end, I was able to pull it off, and in the end, I think The Choice is one of my better novels. It’s among the novels that I always recommend to new readers.