Shriek: An Afterword–High-level Notes After Completing First Draft

I’m still doing housekeeping–only thing I’m good for after working on Booklife, and will post a few things of possible interest before Victoria starts guest blogging on the first….


• To tell the story of a dysfunctional family, especially a brother and sister who try to survive in the world, who want to escape death.
• Love is selfless.
• Death is just a blip.
• Obsession can be noble.
• “Family” can mean many different things.


• Sirin and Sybel may need to be more integral to the scenes/novel. This may only mean adding a scene or two. (Duncan can and should comment on Sybel, Sirin, etc. To flesh out Janice’s descriptions; if Duncan’s descriptions are more definitive, Sirin indicates in his endnote that he removed Janice’s description—only rarely, though.)

• Bonmot must better permeate the novel, perhaps from near the beginning. Perhaps he is an expert on Zamilon?

• Need full physical descriptions of Sirin, Sybel, and Janice herself.

• Lack of scenes and using half-scene like People’s Republic of Antarctica may at times distract from reader interest. Layer in more scene and half-scene.

• The way in which Mary damaged Duncan must be clear—if it is primarily personal, that’s fine, but readers will expect it to also refute his books—there must be quotes repudiating. Use Duncan’s journal entries, plus Mary’s journal. (“At base, it was very simple: Mary refused to believe the evidence of her eyes. All the rest—all the hundreds of thousands of words she wrote—just formed a more complete barrier against that fact.”)

• The Early History should be in the Appendix? Or just the inscription?

• Need to set out the parameters of Ambergris early on—street names, sections, etc., in that first part. There’s got to be a first “reveal” of the city.

• More effectively use Duncan’s parentheticals to flesh out underdeveloped sections (or eliminate). Sirin should say “Duncan appears to have been reluctant to edit his sister’s words, although in perhaps half a dozen instances he has done so.” Give examples?

• Decide if Edward should reappear later in the story. (Was Edward Duncan’s spy?)

• More explanation for why the Kalif might try to intervene—prior history.

• We never see any more of the city than described in previous Ambergris stories.

• Describe the party in the abandoned church—this is the party that screws with her head, where she realizes how meaningless it is. She talks to Sybel at the very least at that party. Plus whatever man she’s sleeping with at the time. A conversation between the three of them. A visceral experience. “It meant nothing. None of it meant anything at all. Nothing.”

• A lot more about Ambergris up front. “Ambergris was a mystery to us. A city founded by a whaler despot, a long line of Cappans.”

• What is Janice’s writing background?

• Differences in Mary when met at the bottom of the stairs as opposed to when she was younger (i.e., Mary has become more like Janice).

• Ghost in phrases from the Jewish prayer book once Janice has become more religious.

• It’s the chronology of the events; put the events down in different order, with pros and cons mentioned.

• Is there still an underlying sweetness to Janice?

• What is Sirin’s role later on? Just her editor? Or her lover, too?

• Is Janice also pissed about Mary being with Sirin?

• “No one making it out” should be a refrain throughout the novel.

• Janice broods over Bonmot’s death.

• Missing scenes—Sirin with Sabon, seen by Janice; more on war?

• Need a better idea upfront of who Tonsure was—perhaps that was their father’s primary research topic?

• Do they see Sirin during the war?

• Excerpt Mary from Early History.


  1. says

    This definately provides new insight into the novel and the creative process behind it!

    I found the Mary Sabon / Duncan Shriek relationship to be one of the parts of the book I could personally relate to most, Duncan’s reaction to events felt emotionally true.

    I’m intrigued by these “Ghosts of phrases from Jewish prayerbook” and wonder if they made it into the final draft (must dig out my copy and investigate) – my girlfriend is Jewish and I wonder if she’d recognise any of them…

  2. says

    I’m curious about what exactly you mean by “scene and half-scene” in Shriek and how it applies to the Batchelor book. I read it about a thousand years ago and don’t really remember how it’s structured.

  3. jeff vandermeer says

    Yes, the jewish stuff is in there. when bonmot is in a scene and when janice briefly turns to religion not only did I use general religious or spiritual words that have entered common usage but descriptions include fragments of jewish prayers. as well as some overt usages.

    James–Mr B in People’s largely tells his story in summary with half scene, through his narrator. half-scene is generally when you provide little bits of dialogue and other snippets of “real time” in the middle of something else, like summary. you find it used effectively in many situations but especially when you need to cover a pretty decent sized chunk of time in summary and want to still animate that material.

  4. says

    At first I thought you told Google to call the library, and it did, and that blew my mind.
    Then I realized that you actually called the library, and my mind became unblown.
    I’ll get back to work…
    If you ask my opinion about this topic I really like. Thank you for sharing your friends. Hope to see you another day.