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  • Writer's pictureWalker Buckalew

Constructing Novels: Part Four

Constructing Novels: Part Four

In Part Three, I described the importance of contributions of in-process readers of manuscripts. And I closed by noting that, aside from the contributions of individuals who read and comment, there are those who ask me whether or not my approach to construction of these novels has changed over the years. And I said at the close of Part Three that it indeed has, and I wrote that I would explain that in Part Four.

In The Face of the Enemy – my first novel – each of the first three chapters offers a completely different set of characters, scenes, and issues. This is a fairly common approach in novels. As the stories, mine and others’, move on from there, these diverse mini-stories are gradually brought together into a single thread.

And this, in my first novel, presented a problem.

There were so many tiny, individual threads moving along at the same time that I was not sure I was going to be able to bring all of them together without leaving some of them out by accident. Readers, I feared, were going to be left saying, “But what about the thing that so and so promised back in the fourth chapter?”

So, about one-third of the way through that story, I jumped forward and wrote the denouement, the climactic scene. Once I had written that scene, I then went back to the place I’d left off, about one-third through the book, and continued from there.

By having the end in mind, I could write the middle third of the book, and on from there to the end, knowing exactly how all the individual threads would need to come together into one fully interwoven unit as the climax approached. Since that approach worked well for me, I used that same technique in my second novel, By Many or By Few.

However, when I reached my third novel, Such Thy Mercies, I found I no longer needed the jump-ahead technique. I became confident that I would be able to knit everything together satisfactorily as the story lines blended. Apparently, I just needed practice.

Finally, I’ll mention that, once I no longer needed to write the climax fairly early in the story, I found that that made for a more interesting and exciting experience for me, the author. I actually did not know exactly how the story lines were going to come together until I actually made them come together. This meant that I felt some of the same suspense, as I neared the climax of each book, that, I assume, my readers feel as they near those same climactic scenes.

This kind of “author’s suspense” even extends occasionally to character development, rather than to plot development only. For example, in Such Thy Mercies there is an important secondary character whom I present as not clearly on the “good side” or on the “bad side” until near the end. That’s because I was not sure myself! I actually waited until the end to find out, just like readers of that story have to wait.

Truthfully, I never did decide. He turned out to be how he turned out to be. The story decided for me, without my ever having to make a decision. Now that was fun.

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