For once, this isn’t actually a blog post about the struggle to focus on the novel in the midst of everything else that’s going on in my world. That is still (and will ever be) a challenge, though the early mornings are definitely keeping things ticking over.
My latest issue, though, is keeping my focus where it should be within the novel writing process itself. Since I’ve jumped almost twenty years into the future, picking up with my teenage protagonist as she navigates her way through adult life, I’m finding my mind increasingly drifting towards structure.
I think it’s partly because, 75,000 words in, I can begin to taste what the novel might be like in its finished form. It is still a long way off that – far more than either of my first two novels I have really let myself be liberated by the first draft, and I know what I’ve ended up with is much rougher around the edges. Still, though, I’m finding it hard not to project a response onto future readers, trying to imagine how satisfied they will be with how I’ve told the story, how much they will empathise with my protagonist both now and in her past.
And actually, ultimately, what is seeping in at the corners of my mind are those questions about how exactly am I going to tell this story.
I’ve written it chronologically, starting when my main character was ten and peeking into every summer until she was sixteen, and everything began to come tumbling down. There’s loads I’ve left out – some I’ve alluded to in dialogue, some that is there in an exchange of letters. And then of course there’s a whole seventeen years that’s missing between the two different phases of life the novel covers. The bulk of the story happens – and is told – in the past, but the ‘present’ is vital to understanding its significance.
I always imagined that I would structure the final narrative in a way which travelled between those two phases, and that is still my goal. I told myself just to get the story down first, and to worry about that particular (albeit major) detail later. And that is ultimately still what I’m trying to do. But it’s so odd writing something when you’re not entirely sure what your reader already knows at that point – or what they don’t. So hard to think about building suspense when you know that you might already – intentionally – have given the game away.
I’m not expecting any answers here. It’s an interesting process, and one which I think I just need to hold my course on if I’m going to be able to find out whether it will work. There are a handful of key scenes that remain to be written, and once I’ve done that the solutions may well emerge all by themselves. Even if they don’t, I’m quite looking forward to the jigsaw puzzle challenge that the next phase of this novel looks likely to present.
I just need to make sure that I have all of the pieces on the table first before I try to see the bigger picture.
Do you have people (friends/family) who read your work? I’ve found with longer pieces of writing that (in my case, my sister) was able to point out the holes and where I knew info but the reader still didn’t. Sounds to me that you are amazingly focused on getting there. #whatimwriting
I love these little insights into your novel-writing process. I’ve yet to finish a first draft so find the idea of bringing things together rather overwhelming in general. Am totally intrigued by the sound of all your books! Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting xx
75,000 words! Wow, well done. Structure can become very muddling and you often hear the advice to never start your story at the beginning which can muddle it even more I find. Jumping between time periods is tricky to master, I haven’t tried it myself for a good reason! However, you know your story better than anyone so I am sure you will find your way there. I’ve found that reading a few books about story structure really helped me and I’m now in the habit of not writing anything until I’ve outlined all my structure (I used to be pantster). But each of us has a different approach and I’m looking forward to finding out how you master it.
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