In going back over the book to make sure that the right elements are doing the right things in the right places, I’m facing a particularly scratchy conundrum:
How do you express a threat unseen?
In the novel Sleep, which was published quite some time ago, the unseen threat is sleep itself, a thing that had grown into a conscious entity, with an identity, a personality and a malevolent will. Not so, here.
This threat is made up of real people; a shadowy presence somewhere between a biker gang, Morlocks and Mafia. They are monolithic, ruthlessly cruel and without conscience. Their presence must be felt constantly, and the peril that they represent must grow as the book continues.
Here waits the bear trap.
We need to know what they’re thinking—not all of the time, but some of it. That’s easy enough, right? Maybe…somewhat…uhhh, no. Sure, I can do a series of POV segments that tell us what’s going on in those ugly little heads. (In fact, that’s what I already have done.) But it’s not sufficient. Just passing along what these guys are thinking—even in the shadowy rhythms of an in-head POV—doesn’t feel like enough to me.
How do we infuse the air with them? How do we do that without simply laying down the here-it-is card? How do we alter the experience to make uneasiness present in every instant…a feeling we feel and not just read?
I have no blueprint for creating an experience like this. I know of one that is vaguely instructive. In Nabokov’s The Defense, the main character descends into (or, more accurately, returns to) madness as we watch. He disintegrates before our eyes. That may be a starting point…but it’s one in which apples would attempt to be oranges if I took it too literally.
The shapes of unseen things are very tough to draw. Especially if one has never seen what we want them to be. Conjuring them requires a special kind of magic. Tough magic, when your hat’s at the cleaners and the rabbit has escaped.