OpenFiction [Blog]

Plot – Concordance

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on August 3, 2005

What’s this?

In the process of drafting, my novel has gone from a contemporary to a period piece. I wrote the very first piece of it in 1994, which is also the present time of the story. Since I’ve managed to not finish it in the intervening ten years, I now have to spend some time remembering exactly what things were like ten years ago, especially where technology is concerned. No one in the novel, for instance, uses a cell phone, and the protagonist (so far) doesn’t have a laptop. A different world.

Beyond this curiosity of the drawn-out drafting, there are an increasing number of other chronology-related issues I’m having to deal with. Most arise from the multiple storylines I’m including, and from the complexity of the civil engineering project which is at the center of the drama (doesn’t that sound enticing?). Present time of the novel is 1994, the protagonist is 36 years old, so he was born in 1958. His sister died when he was 11, which is 1969 and the earliest action of the novel. There is a story line from the end of his college years, when he meets his wife, 1979-80. His wife’s mother came to Kentucky in 1956, his wife was born 1961. The dam Foster is evaluating was built in 1925 and expected to last 50 years. The site selection process has gone on for 12 years, so since 1982. And so forth and so on.

Problem is, I end up having to do calculations like the above as I’m drafting, which is really distracting. I’m trying to remember, but I think I took at least two novel writing classes in graduate school, and while both were great classes (Margot Livesey and Chris Tilghman–both wonderful people, great writers, and fantastic instructors), neither provided any advice on dealing with such issues. Surprisingly (or maybe not, given that he is a plot-driven writer working on deadlines) the best advice I’ve found for this issue comes from Stephen King. King’s work is not a favorite of mine, but I do think he has some sound advice for writers (not the least of which is to lock yourself in a room for three hours a day. If only…). In his book Misery, which is an extended inside joke for writers, his protagonist describes a notebook he keeps for organizing such information, which he calls his concordance.

The protagonist in Misery is the author of a series of books about the same character, so the need to organize this information is greater, but I’m getting to the point where I’m going to at least have to create a chronology for the book as a reference. I’m a little loath to do this, as it’s going to mean taking a break from the drafting, but I think the gain is fast becoming worth the pain.


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  1. […] So I’m trying to decide now what to do with the wiki. I’ll likely be back-tagging all the old blog posts, and then creating a sidebar link category called “Craftbook” to call up all entries in craftbook categories, so the use as a craftbook will evaporate. The one use I can imagine at this point is to organize the concordance for my novel. Because I have been working on the novel in fits and starts, I know there are a lot of timeline inconsistencies and other logistical issues that need to be reconciled, and I need to have a rock-solid sense of period in some of the flashbacks. I had started a notebook for concordance, but it was hard to keep in that format because I’m always adding dates to the timeline, and because it’s hard in notebook form to link backstory and notes to dates, etc. A wiki is well suited for this kind of thing, so I’m thinking I might build out the concordance in the wiki. There’s nothing in it that would compromise the market potential of the book (whatever that might be), and the concordance might ultimately make a nice teaching tool down the road. As I complete the latest lap through the first ten chapters, it would be nice to have all these issues straight before moving deeper into the book, provided it doesn’t suck momentum out of the drafting. […]

  2. […] So I have started putting some of the concordance notes up on the wiki, starting with the novel’s chronology.  I’m a few days away from actually completing the redraft of the thesis chapters, at which point I do want to spend a little time tightening up some of the concordance-related issues before moving forward.  It’s a good exercise, to the extent that it cleans up the novel without sapping momentum from the drafting. […]

  3. […] I have finally reached the previously discussed milestone of redrafting the entire thesis draft of the novel (about the first third of the novel really). From here, I’m going to catch my breath while I do the GSBI program and try to clean up some of the concordance issues, and start moving forward in late August. Exciting to be moving into uncharted waters, so to speak. […]

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