Sunday, October 01, 2006

Timelines

One of the challenges in writing first-person narration is that you can only tell the stuff your narrator knows. There's no "meanwhile, back at the ranch ..." If something happens when Katie isn't around, someone else has to tell her about it, or she has to figure it out somehow. But I still need to know what's going on elsewhere. The problem I had with earlier drafts of this book was that I didn't really know. I knew the obvious stuff, but I hadn't really delved into what really was happening elsewhere, what was said among those people, and how they felt about it. They just appeared on-stage, so to speak.

The cool new idea I came up with on Friday morning was mostly about getting into the stuff that was happening off-stage and realizing why one character did a particular thing. It seems small, but that's going to end up affecting the rest of the book. I spent most of Friday putting together the timeline, mapping out what was going on elsewhere against the events that are actually in the book so I could figure out what was going on elsewhere and where and how those events would intersect with the story in the book. That gave me all kinds of other ideas that created a great sense of urgency, a real ticking clock situation. Cool!

There was just one problem: the timeline for the events in the book no longer worked. The events in chapters four through seven or so needed to be condensed into fewer days or else the off-stage stuff wouldn't make sense, and it would all lose that sense of urgency because it would require the off-stage characters to lollygag around before joining the events of the book. I spent all day Saturday trying to figure out how to make that work, how I could move events around. Maybe I could add a scene that would give a reason for the delay. Or I could move a scene. But no, that wouldn't work because of the way events flowed together. I gave myself a serious headache thinking about it.

Then just as I was going to bed, I realized that I'd been looking at the wrong part of the book. All it took to make everything fall in line was going back to Chapter Two and changing a "Monday" to "Tuesday" (and then any subsequent references, until I caught up to where I was supposed to be). The Monday/Tuesday thing didn't matter, story-wise, and moving all other events exactly the way they were to one day later made everything else work out. Mom says I'm "Bill and Tedding" when I go back in the book to add something to set up something I've decided to add later in the story, but I think I'm going to call this the "To Say Nothing of the Dog" solution.

For those who haven't read this brilliant book by Connie Willis (go! Read it now!), it gets into chaos theory and time travel, and when the timeline gets seriously messed up, they realize that the chaotic system is "fixing" things by going to places far from where the actual problem is. An outside interference messed things up in Victorian times, so things started changing as far back as in Medieval times in order to make everything work out. So by making a tiny correction to chapter two, I was able to fix the timeline for the middle of the book.

And it worked! Though I ended up changing more than just Monday to Tuesday because I suddenly no longer liked that paragraph. Now I just need to work my way through the book to make these minor adjustments, until I get to the part that needs to really be rewritten.

1 comment:

Jeannie Morleith said...

I love Connie Willis. You're the first person I've come across to know who she is.
Loved that book.
Interesting how you've solved your problem. Timelines are always a bit of trouble for me. Often, I find it hard to know when to start a story and what should be backstory. Ugh!