Monday, January 21, 2019

Double Time

John's recent post, In Medias Res, and Frankie's comment, caught my attention this week. It reminded me of the comment my agent made when I was struggling with my second book. 'Write a few chapters,' she said, 'and then tear up the first one.'

As John highlighted, plunging into the middle of the action is very good advice. But then, as Frankie said, you have the problem of flashbacks.

The book then has to have two parts – the one that explains the background to the subsequent action, and the action itself. Of course it's generally accepted that what has happened in the past is often an excuse, or perhaps even a reason, for what happens in the present: read any plea in mitigation after a guilty verdict in a criminal trial, when the defending lawyer produces details of the defendant's hard childhood with a sadistic father and a mother who's a lush in the hope that pity will influence the sentence.

I'm comfortable with that. But there seems to be a fashion at the moment for books actually to have two separate time scales, with two distinct sets of characters and two main protagonists instead of one. Often they feel like two entirely different stories, though the link will emerge in due course.

I could cope with that as well – in a logical order, not if the two are interleaved, apparently almost at random. I have no sooner got immersed in one than, whee! Off we go into the other for a chapter or two. Usually, too, there is one plot that's more interesting than second one that you have to wade through to reach the next installment.

Being told a story is one of the oldest, and earliest, of human addictions. I love to be caught up in the actions, in the developing characters, and when my story is broken off I feel like a child would feel,waiting to see what happens to Goldilocks when Mummy says, 'I'll just stop there.' For the same reason I'm not a great fan of short stories; I've invested my interest in these guys and then the door is shut in my face.

Sometimes I've felt so irritated that I've considered cheating and reading the first time section all the way through,ignoring the second and then going back, but I guess all that would do is sabotage the story completely.

Perhaps it's just envy. I find continuity difficult at the best of times and the thought of creating two parallel stories that are totally consistent would be beyond me. I've never thought I could manage to be a trick rider, with a foot of the back of each of a pair of galloping horses either.

1 comment:

Donis Casey said...

Oh, man. I just finished writing a book that goes back and forth in time, same characters, though. I don't much like to try and keep track of what's going on in a book, either, but I kind of like the parallel story trope. For me it depends on whether the author was able to pull it off in such a way that the reader can easily follow the action.