Saturday, 11 May 2013

Just keep it simple!

I was struggling. Writing and rewriting parts of a pivotal chapter. The chapter when the protagonist is involved in events that shape his character. Actions that set in motion his story arc for the rest of the book.

Nothing worked. I knew it, which is why I kept going back and redoing sections. The problem was that I had tried to do something clever with the timeline. I started the chapter in one point in time, a couple of months from where the last chapter left off, and then I recounted the events that had occurred in the intervening months, bringing the action back to the original timeline. It was convoluted and I'm sure would work in many books. In fact, I've read similar things numerous times. But in my story, where everything up to that point had been in chronological order it was jarring.
I talked it through with my beautiful, supportive, wise and very well-read wife, and she gave me a great piece of advice.
"It's your first book," she said. "Don't use tricks, just keep it simple."
At first I argued the case for keeping the structure the way I had laid it out. It was clever. It wasn't exactly a flashback and it should work. But in the end, I understood that, as so often in my life (though not always, despite what she thinks!), my wife was right.
I went back to the chapter and rewrote it to just flow in chronological order. And you know what? It works.
So, if you are struggling with a tough piece of storytelling, perhaps the answer is as simple as that - just keep it simple!


  1. I come back to this again and again. Maria rocks!

  2. I totally agree. Especially with your first novel, you just have to give yourself permission to keep it easy. I just want to tell a story, I'll get complicated when I gain some skill. Thanks for the reminder!

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  4. This is very true. Simple is the way to go. My first book originally began with two flashbacks (I know, bad idea). Thankfully my editor made me rewrite it chronologically to 'show' not 'tell'. I'm so glad she did!

  5. I had the same experience with The Handfasted Wife. It originally began with the burning house then backtracked for many chapters. But after many drafts I did it in chronological order . It worked.