Plot – Concordance
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.