Time and Relativity

No it’s not a post on physics… But it is about relativity to the observer (either a character, or you, the reader).

Writing a story like Small Cuts, in which the tale is told from the perspectives of not one, not two but four different characters is a challenge. Not to mention that the scenes are not strictly chronological. There have been overlaps, some jumping ahead and some flashing back from the characters’ points of view. More than one of you has mentioned how difficult it must be to keep track of the details. And you would be correct!

One basic way I’ve organized the story as I write it, is to keep the sections as individual documents rather than writing one continuous manuscript. This allows me to have multiple documents open at the same time for quick reference as to what happened previously, both in the full narrative and in the individual character’s timeline.

The second tool I use is a timeline spreadsheet: a log of the major plot points and bits of dialogue that are crucial to the story. I started doing this while I wrote my first novel —a mystery with a progressive revealing of clues— and found it to be indispensable. For a shorter work like Small Cuts, which I think is going to end up as a long short story (under 30,000 words) I would usually not need one. However, the multiple points of view require a great deal of coordination so that it all melds seamlessly.

I’ll use the story to explain what I mean.

In the last section featuring James, I back up in time from what I had written for the other three characters. Oliver and Elaine have met at the Center City Hotel, Genevieve has left the house to see what Oliver is up to. James, however, is still in his driveway waiting to back out on to the street to leave for his golf outing. He sees Oliver drive past, Elaine is still upstairs in bed and Gen is at home in her fugue state. The critical issue in this section of the story —beginning when everyone gets up, to James following Oliver and Gen tracking him down, to Elaine meeting Oliver in the lobby and the emergency vehicles driving by— is making sure there is enough time for each of the characters to perform the actions they have taken in the order in which I’ve written them. Here’s a breakdown for you:

Genevieve is the first one to rise. She goes downstairs, makes coffee and then blacks out at the window while staring at the birds. She doesn’t realize Oliver has gone until she snaps out of it. We know he hasn’t been gone long because the shower is still steamy and his scent lingers. Gen takes a minute to check the news, look for Oliver using the phone app and dress and leave the house.

Oliver is up and out of the house just a little bit ahead of James at his own house. He drives past James as he is backing out of the driveway and then continues onto Center City where he parks in the hotel garage. Oliver is early for his meeting with Elaine so he goes for a walk around the park. Meanwhile, James has abandoned following Oliver and is now speeding toward his original destination: the golf course. He is delayed by getting lost and having to circle back into the city. This puts him on the same stretch of road at the same time as Genevieve.

Elaine is about half an hour behind the rest of them, having risen just after James leaves to shower and dress for her brunch date with Oliver. For reasons I have yet to explain, she has taken a different route into the city but arrives just as emergency vehicles are speeding past the hotel to an unknown crisis. (By now you all have figured it out but Ollie and Elaine are oblivious.)

I’m sure you can see what a mess this might have been if I’d neglected to include enough time for the various scenarios to play out. Ideally, this piece would be best mapped out with a chart with a line for each character as they carry out their actions. I wish I’d thought of it sooner, but this is one of the rare occasions that I am writing by the seat of my pants. *Note to self: buy huge whiteboard.* Nevertheless, I’ve made liberal use of my post-it notes for the details of my timeline. Thank goodness I buy them by the case! And at least they are moveable if I find myself with an inconsistency or a paradox of some kind.

Anyway, every writer does it just a little bit differently. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to organize your work. Unless of course, you don’t organize it at all… and run the risk of making enormous errors in the timeline!

Wishing you happy writing and productive editing!

The Way You Move…

Adventures in fiction writing.

There are many descriptors that a writer can use to convey the physical act of walking. For example:

  • Walk
  • Run
  • Pace
  • Shuffle
  • Amble
  • Trudge
  • Hurry
  • Scurry
  • Sidle
  • Tip toe
  • Stomp
  • Trot
  • Hike
  • Meander
  • Stroll

You get the idea… However, one of the mistakes I made in my early fiction pieces –fortunately one that I caught before publishing– is to over-describe a character’s movements within a scene. Let’s suppose we are writing a scene in which a couple at home is having a conversation, while cooking together in the kitchen.

Joni walked to the refrigerator and gathered all the ingredients for the salad. Then she walked to the counter and set them in front of Graham before hurrying back to the stove to stir the soup.

That’s just two sentences, but imagine that going on throughout a 300 page novel! Every time a character makes a move, the writer doesn’t need to describe it.

Joni gathered the salad ingredients from the refrigerator and set them in front of Graham, then returned to the stove to stir the soup.

The use of a variety of descriptors for movement helps us to visualize the scene. it is part of the concept of ‘show don’t tell’ in writing. Some scenes will require a lot of movement –a fight scene, or a foot chase, for example. A heated discussion might have a character agitated and pacing or wildly gesturing. In those instances, a detailed description of their moves would be appropriate. But in a routine setting like the one above, the reader doesn’t need to see every little move a character makes.

Happy writing and productive editing!

(Header image courtesy stpaul.gov Google images)

Blurb – Take Two

I’ve made some changes to my blurb from earlier this morning. Here is the new version for your consideration followed by the original version for comparison. I hope my struggle will help new or first time writers see how this process goes. For the rest of you I thank you for your patience!

Breaking Bread, Book Five of The Bucks County Novels – synopsis version 2:

Maya Kaminsky’s dream of owning a French bakery cafe has finally been realized, despite the opposition of her rigid and narrow-minded family. But as the business grows and thrives, it becomes the target of vandalism —at first petty mischief which quickly escalates into dangerous sabotage. To complicate matters, Maya’s childhood friend, Brad Logan, moves back into town and with his recent inheritance, buys her building, intending to help her out. However, Maya is so used to relying on herself that it’s a struggle to accept help from anyone, let alone a man with whom she finds herself falling in love. Nevertheless, Maya will need all the help she can get to save both her business and her very life.

And the original version:

Maya Kaminski has achieved her dream of owning a French bakery cafe, even though her family opposed her every step of the way. It hasn’t been easy, but her hard work and dedication have paid off —the business is thriving and she’s slowly getting ahead. Just as things seem to be going her way, her childhood friend, Brad Logan, moves back into town and with his recent inheritance, buys Maya’s building, intending to help her out. However, Maya is so used to relying on herself that it’s a struggle to accept help from anyone, let alone a man with whom she finds herself falling in love. When the cafe comes under attack, first by what appears to be petty mischief but quickly escalates to dangerous sabotage, Maya will need all the help she can get to save her business and her life.

What do you think? Better or still needs work?