I have mentioned before — here, on my website, in talks — that I was profoundly influenced by Madison Smartt Bell’s book, NARRATIVE DESIGN. Every year, I break down the work in process into some sort of visual pattern.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to write around a structural problem in Book #15. (Ah, yes, those colorful Lippman titles for works-in-progress. Mary Kay Andrews told an audience at Sykesville’s A Likely Story that she can’t begin without a title. But, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, I am not Mary Kay Andrews, nor was I meant to be, but sometimes I wish I were.) I had clearly come to the end of Part One and started writing my way into Part Two, but . . . something was wrong. Time to get out the index cards.
I found a packet in neon colors and divided the existing work into three chapter-by-chapter groups. I used green cards for the main character’s present-day point of view, yellow for her life in 1985, orange for another character’s life in 1985. And, sure enough, when I had everything graphed out, I found the missing chapter and — bonus — a nice little bit of symmetry which paid off the decision to start the book with the “harder” opening. (That was discussed here earlier.)
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