Narrative interplay and the boys in the basement.

November 29, 2009

The novel uses three different narrative timelines. The first chapter describes the novel’s present, the second describes about 6 months earlier, and the third describes an incident from the protagonist’s childhood (the night of the house fire in which his grandfather dies). The next chapter goes back to the present and the cycle repeats throughout the novel. There are some great American shows at the moment that use similar techniques to great effect, Lost is one that springs to mind. 

 I’m writing the second chapter and so am grappling with the interplay between the three timelines. Each timeline will inform events in the others – generally questions and ideas raised in one timeline will be answered or at least furthered. For example, in the first chapter the protagonist fakes a break-in to the mansion-house; in the second chapter (set 6 months earlier) we are given a snippet of information about why he faked the break-in. It has to be just enough to prevent confusion but raise a few more questions.

 Making sure the timelines fit together feels like playing an intricate Chinese puzzle. Sometimes it feels more like playing Kerplunk – as you mess around with one thread you’ve constantly got your eye on how the rest of the thing will be affected. I had better end this analogy here before I start writing about marbles dropping.

 Stephen King talks about the ‘boys in the basement’ as that part of your sub conscious where stories develop beyond your awareness. I have always been a believer in this description of the creative process. It amazes me how seemingly disparate things suddenly come together, seemingly incidental details from one thread suddenly become vital reference points for an earlier thread – like those boys had it in mind all along.

 I’m not one for having conversations with my characters like some writers talk about. Certainly lines of theirs will come to me and these lines may then develop into exchanges between characters. I reckon it’s just more of the boys’ work behind the scenes

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