In my last post I talked about using multiple narrative voices in my current novel project, Third Floor, which I hope to finish in 2016. Today I want to tell you about something I mentioned briefly in that post: my decision to divide the story into four parts with seven-years passing between each. The twins will be seven, then fourteen, twenty-one, and twenty-eight. This may sound like I’m not true to my word, that I’m not following my nose. It is a bit of preplanning, but I didn’t think of this until I was well into what became Part I, and it’s only a minimal structure. I suppose I could say that my characters told me to try this, but they might change their minds! Responding freely in the first draft to what the characters tell me I should do is part of the joy I take in not adhering religiously to a plan.
The scope I plan for Third Floor – three or more decades in the life of a family – has me wondering about the possible effects of seven-year time intervals on the reader. Will there be gaps that make him feel that too much has been left out? Might there be too much reliance on backstory, so much that it takes the reader out of the story’s real time? Will doing this and having four point-of-view characters reflect upon their experience of each other be confusing for you to read? What have you read (or written) that uses large, even gaps in its time structure? What did it do for your experience as a reader?
I have an admission to make. Three or four decades in the life of a family is a lot to cover. Perhaps this is an unnecessary shortcut, but the prospect jumping ahead in even intervals feels safe. I have read family stories that cover more time than that without advancing the timeline in large jumps of even duration. One is Wallace Stegner’s Big Rock Candy Mountain. He follows Elsa Mason in marvelous detail and easy pace from the time she boards a train in her Iowa home to join an uncle in Wyoming. I marvel at how much Stegner gets done without it feeling like too much. Perhaps when I see how much backstory I use to make up for the time passed over – it could be quite a bit – my second draft will convert some to real time, and I will abandon the structure I’ve chosen. That is the freedom that comes with following my nose.
As Linda Richman might have said about this on Saturday Night Lives’ “Coffee Talk,” let’s talk about it amongst ourselves. How would it feel to you to read a novel that deals with time like the one I have underway? If you’ve read one like this before, I’d like to hear about it, and others may, too. This is an example of how pleasant it could be for a writer to hear from readers.