Monday, May 30, 2011

Pieces of the Whole

Part of this new novel I’m writing – and more to the point, the whole thrust of a new technique I want to explore – is to create a series of shorts in which each “chapter” stands alone as if it was a short story, but when you combine the experiences all together, they form a much larger, deeper story.

It’s not a new technique. Many better and more well known writers than I have done this. Yet, I’m blogging about it now, because over the past year I’ve realized this style is where my true talents lie. If nothing else, I have mastered the concept of packing short fiction with multi-layers. That’s what I’m good at.

Or, on a slightly different angle, what I really suck at is continuity.

In the past, my novels had a handful of great scenes, barely held together by expanses of dialogue or events that were meant to show a flow to the characters’ lives. Not that I had to write about every minute of every day, but I felt the need to account for those “in-between moments.” So, the end result was good part, good part, long boring part, good part, long boring part, good part, etc.

This problem really hit home a few years ago when I was trying to finalize my Memphis novel. This novel is about uncovering a family secret decades after the event, and I experimented focusing on a single week of the main character’s life, but ended each chapter with loosely connected childhood memories. The plot itself is good (or so I think) and the characters seem real. But the methodical trudging along to get from one clue to the next (to uncover this secret) was killing me.

Just when I was about to trash the whole damn thing, I suddenly thought (another one of those subconscious wake-up calls!): What if I cut it all up into just memories. No continuity at all. Just a jumble of events of the immediate past and long dormant childhood memories. Each chapter is a unique, independent flashback, nonsequential, seemingly nonrelated, but at the end, when the reader is done, suddenly a picture of the main character’s life has formed. And the dark secret is revealed. Ta-dah!

Like I said, it’s been done before, but the concept was like a surge of energy to me. In fact, that idea is the main reason why suddenly after all those years, I’m back to writing again. I love the thought of creating a literary anagram. It may not make sense in the beginning – at least not in the traditional sense of a novel. However, by the end, you’ll have all the pieces to the puzzle.

The image of a reader suddenly going “Oooooooh…..” and seeing how all those separate short pieces fit into one? Wow. That would be something.

2 comments:

  1. At least you stop yourself from trashing the whole thing. It seems that the closer I get to a deadline, the more dissatisfied I am with my writing and I DO end up trashing it. I just can't seem to sustain my own interest in what I have to say -- how is that going to translate to others?!

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  2. My Ph.D. supervisor recently said to me, you already know what you're trying to say, now just say it. Basically he was telling me to write with my conclusions already in mind. I know it is totally different for fiction, but that advice saved me and made my thesis seem so much less daunting! Now I write each chapter as a whole piece that can almost stand alone, but I am also hyper-aware of how it fits into the big picture. I can't tell you how much time and energy that has saved me and will inevitably save me again when it comes to editing the whole work.

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