Monday, 9 March 2015

Restructuring a novel

It's been a while since I posted anything because I've been supremely busy. And while that sounds supremely smug, I am not. Smug.  I've been busy because I've had the good fortune to have my Gothic Sargasso manuscript read by an editor from one of the big publishers, who then called to have an hour long chat with me about some suggestions she had. And, yes, you guessed it. I've been flat out because I've been trying to incorporate those suggestions into the manuscript.  I also started back at uni two weeks ago to do my MFA, so I've been really hectic, after weeks of little action.

One of the suggestions the editor had, was that I restructure the novel by combining Part I with Part II.  Part I covers the childhood of my protagonist, Poppy - let's call her Poppy. Why not? It's a nice name and it's not her name - and Part II covers her life when she's in her early thirties. The editor wanted me to weave Part I into Part II, so that the reader moves  between the protagonist's early life and adulthood. By doing this, the story changes from a straight linear one into something more complicated and more compelling. The reader has to concentrate; and the reader has to pick up clues from the writing to establish whether he/she is now in the protagonist's childhood or adulthood. I think it makes for a more exciting read.

I mulled this over for a number of days. How was I going to do this?   I thought about asking some writing friends how they would do this, and then I thought I should be able to work this out for myself. And I did. Whoopie-Do 

The whole manuscript was written in the first person, past tense. I started by transposing Part II into the present tense. By making Poppy's adult life (the extent of her adult life covers a period of only about six weeks, whereas her childhood covers a period of a number of years) in the present tense, it would make the flashbacks to the childhood so much easier for the reader to pick up on - because the tense immediately gives the reader a clue. Then I printed out Part I and marked it up into scenes, using a black marker pen.  I wrote at the top of each one the setting for the scene, and its main characters. For example, when Poppy's grandmother comes to stay with them for a few weeks, I marked that scene Poppy's house: Grandmother I. (Another, later, scene with the grandmother, I marked Grandmother II.) 

Then I went back to Part II on my computer, and began to read, and when I found an appropriate place for a particular scene, for example as an adult Poppy decides to sleep in the room her grandmother used when she came to stay, I cut and pasted the scene from her childhood.  Sometimes I had to make adjustments, especially if I'd started the scene with a time-frame, if, for instance, I'd said,  "A couple of weeks later my grandmother came to stay" - this then became "My grandmother came to stay with us just before Christmas".  The other thing I had to be careful of was that some of the childhood scenes became out of kilter once I fed them into the adulthood, and I had to go back and make sure I don't say things which the reader doesn't know at that point.  

And another thing: I tried to keep the first two chapters - one from each time-frame - short, to signal to the reader what was happening, and to give him/her time to adjust to the idea of moving backwards and forwards. Once I had done that, I spent more time in each particular time-frame.  And then, near the close of the novel, I finished with the childhood scenes well before the end, to let the reader concentrate on the conclusion.

I'm not convinced I've got all the scenes in the right places yet, but it's a start! 

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