Sunday, February 20

A first novel: Timeline

It worked. Writing out last week all those things that should and could happen while the characters remained in the bush and forming those things into a timeline helped. The first day of writing was still a struggle, but then it all just slid into place. I wasn't sitting and wondering what should come next or what the scenes needed to lead to. I only had to check the timeline. I can only hope that this easy writing continues for the next week or two until the characters move on to Nairobi.

Like I wrote, the timeline works. I'm not going to stand some principle of the ideal writing process. So long as timelines help me coast through any and all ruts, I will continue to write and use them. Still, I cannot help but to wonder whether they will lead to the best possible story. A friend told me this week that when Umberto Eco wrote fiction he first imagined the setting and characters. When he finally understood them in their entirety, a process that could take two years, he began to craft the plot. Then he began to write. I respect that. I admire that. I could never do that. I don't have the patience to wait two years before I begin writing.

Characters are central to the best literature. Plot should be driven by the characters, their motivations, their goals and their relationships. My tool, my timeline is an artifact of plot. It is a list of the things that happen. That does not necessarily mean that the characters become plot-moving tools. I still try to base these future turns on what I know of the characters, but that changes as I write. I write quickly and inconsistently. For a few days I may emphasize a character's cowardice or another's viciousness. A few days later I try something else with them, make the one a schemer and the other a struggling goatherd.

I like to think that my style of writing is more a process of discovery than Eco's. When he begins to write, he is putting in motion fully-formed characters. When I write, I am still learning about my characters. There is a lot of room for change, and I will be doing some heavy rewriting as I try to bring into line my different conceptions of the characters through the novel, but we will see in the end who has chosen the better course.

This sounds an awful lot like I'm comparing myself to Eco. So be it. Confidence and motivation and whatnot.

Single-spaced pages with one-inch margins? Fifty-three.
Words? Thirty-nine thousand and fifty-seven.
Named characters? Twenty-eight.

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