I am wrestling a novel to the mat this week. We’ve been at it for a couple of months now, this story and I and it was touch and go as to who might triumph. But I discovered a wildcard — turning to a timeline let me step outside the writing of the story and look at what wasn’t working.
I have used timelines before, but usually for story planning, and not often as a diagnostic tool.
In this case, telling the story suddenly became difficult. My primary concern in this story is the evolution of the main character who goes through changes related to specific experiences. But somehow her mindset eluded me.
I got out the old white board I wrote down key points: when she made certain decisions, the results and how they led to the next thing. None of this was going to be in the novel, it was just a way of viewing what I was doing. A lot of scribbling and erasing and I figured out the problem. The roadblocks I was hitting had a lot to do with getting things horridly out of what I could see was an optimum sequence. I was defusing tension when I should have been increasing it. I had her backpedeal unintentionally (confusing the emotional part of the story development along with the writer). The solution was clear. I needed to restructure the story. That was easy. Then I needed to rewrite to blend the relocated bits in properly.
I don’t mind rewriting when it means I finally know what I am doing, but I hate pushing string uphill, so this put things to rights in my head, if not on paper. It meant tossing out around 7,000 words that showed an incident that wasn’t truly germane to the story I wanted to tell, and weakened other action. So even watching my hard work dissolved under the delete key was freeing.
Getting back to writing has felt like coming back refreshed from a vacation. Using timelines to understand the story tensions made this book fun again. Can’t beat that!