Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Filler: A Look Into Bailey's Brain!

I am beginning to outline a new book. The overall structure that's emerging seems to be fairly non-traditional, with the timeline cut into bits and rearranged. It's been hard for me to describe it to people, so I'll attempt it with the assistance of HTML font color tags!

Imagine that the following row of letters represents a continuous, linear timeline that tells the entire story of my novel. It starts at A1 and ends at D4. You can think of each letter/number pair as a chapter, if that makes it easier:


Time, as in calendar time, moves from left-to-right, like this:
so that if A1 was January 1st, D4 would be December 31st. More-or-less.

You can also think of the As as being the story of preparing for a journey. The Bs will be the story of the journey. The Cs will be the story of the adventure at the end of the journey. The Ds will be the state of the world after the adventure has finished. With me so far?

So my near-brilliant idea was to take this linear story and cut it up into four big chunks, like the acts in a play, and each chunk of the book, or act, will contain part of each of the colored sections of the story. All the 1s will be in the same act, all the 2s, etc.

The first act would look like this:


The second act would look like this:


Et cetera. So the entire structure of timelines would be this:


Yes, it starts at the end. The "D" sections are sort of the big structural markers that recur throughout the narrative. Anyway, that all seemed kind of cool to me, and there were going to be parallels between the action in each section. You'd see how the way things were at the start of preparing for the journey affected the actual start of the journey which affected the start of the adventure, etc.

I realized, however, that I didn't want to actually be foreshadowing things like this. I wanted realization to dawn on the reader instead, by giving confusing information and then showing how things were destined to happen that way (this is going to be at one level, I think, a book about mistakes). Which means that I have to show the results first, and then the events that foreshadow them. In other words, I don't want to (for example) have a couple fight, he says something harsh, she slaps him, they break up. I want to have the breakup scene first, then her slapping him, him saying something harsh, then the couple fighting. So I have to reverse all the time-sections within each act of my book, like this:


As you see, at the very end of the book, you get the last bit of the "preparing for the journey" state right before you get the last bit of the aftermath of the entire story. Which I think will be pretty cool. If I can bring this off. My plan is to simply write out the entire story, in chronological order, and then cut it up into sections and put them into my possibly-near-brilliant almost-backwards narrative structure, and then see how it goes from there. This will either be great or just a huge mess. I have no idea what revisions will be like. But it looks difficult and interesting and so, you know, I can't resist. I am also toying with the idea of having the 4s come first and the 1s come last. I remain undecided.

Anyway, that's what I think I'll be doing with my winter and spring.

Also! Happy Halloween! Also-also! I am once again not doing NaNoWriMo! But good luck to any of you who are! You're braver than me.


  1. I think I followed that. I think I like it. Have fun with that!

    I look forward to seeing how this develops as you work it out.

  2. Sounds like a literary equivalent of Christopher Nolan's film MEMENTO, which was told backwards, but it used one forward-running scene too (filmed in black and white to set it apart from the primary backwards narrative).

    While film is different from writing in many respects, the use of a device like this in general storytelling transcends the borders of each medium. When done effectively, it can be very powerful.

  3. Darn it, Rick beat me to the Memento mention.

  4. Okay, your brain is a scary place and you should have posted some sort of warning for the faint of heart . . . which wouldn't be me.

    No NaNo here either . . . immersed in revisions, no time for new thoughts.


  5. Sound like a brilliant plan.

    No NaNoWriMo, having my own NaNoFi(nish)Mo instead.

  6. Whoa, I can't believe you're going to write this thing in chronological order and then shuffle it up afterwards! That sounds fun and very high risk.

  7. The only book I recall reading with the scenes provided in reverse order is Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan. Yet that timeline was kept whole, not split up into four.

    Memento does seem like the closest comparison, even if it's one backwards timeline converging with one normal one.

    Your idea seems like quite the undertaking, but with great potential. I wish you the best of it. Do you already have an idea in mind for the story?

  8. So, does the non-linear plan come under "trick" or "treat"?

    I'm betting "treat" myself.

    And a Happy almost-Samhain back at ya.

  9. @Domey - Yeah, I love the final structure, but I would find the writing then shuffling part intimidating. lol Mr. Bailey is a braver man than I, but this is not news.

  10. Nevets: I think it'll be cool.

    Rick: Mabye sort of like Memento, but I'm not using the structure to hide anything from the reader. There's no big reveal like in Memento when you find out who the real murderer is.

    Loren: Rick, he smart fella.

    Scott: Really, the little colored diagrams above make it look much more complex than it really is. The more I think about it, the more straightforward I think it'll be for the reader. All the work will be on my end. Good luck with revisions! Are you still working on Margarita Nights?

    Yat Yee: We'll see! It could be nothing but a mess.

    Domey: If it doesn't work, I'll still have the story in a normal, linear narrative form. In essence, it's not much different from what you did with Bread. Maybe just a few more sections, is all.

    Nate: I haven't read that one. And yes, I pretty much have the story all mapped out already. It's been kicking around in my head since last fall.

    Alex: I hope it's a treat. It could be my brain playing a trick on me.

    Nevets: The thing is, the basic story is really straightforward and simple. So I don't expect the reader to get lost when I put each of the beginnings, middles and endings in reverse order. I think it'll be fun. And not just for me.

  11. @Scott - Yeah, I don't think the reader will get lost. I think, if it were me doing the writing and shuffling, I as the writer would get lost. lol

    But I have faith in you, sir.

  12. Scott - Margarita Nights, for the time being, is on the back burner. Revisions are done. I still have to do the query and synopsis. Since this is probably going to be a niche market, I decided to set it aside for a bit. Mainly because . . .

    Writing a cozy mystery hijacked my attention, then a follow-up, and now I'm on to the revisions of the original mystery. I'm also working on the query and synopsis. I plan to query after the first of the year.

  13. That sounds brilliant. Incredible and so hard I'm intimidated that you'd even attempt it, but still awesome. Good luck. :)

  14. A couple of other films that do this, sort of, are FOLLOWING and THE INTERVIEW, both of which I saw about six or seven years ago. Other influences that I know of are "Tristram Shandy," which I'm currently reading, and things like AS Byatt's "Possession." Possibly Nabokov's "Transparent Things." Likely other stuff I don't even remember. I don't claim to be inventing anything here. It's just that the more I think about how the events of the story should be presented, the more I think they need to be presented in reverse order, mostly. So we'll see when I get around to the writing. I am just now in the research/assembling notes stage of the game.

  15. I thought there'd be cupcakes.

  16. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes to mind, too.

    The way you lay out your sequence makes me think of a rhyme scheme.

    Best of luck with this. I'm looking forward to seeing how it works out.

    And, um, yeah. To cupcakes.

  17. Whoa. Could be fabulous. Could be a disaster. I would think you're better off writing it the way your going to tell it. It seems that writing it in time linear and then cutting and pasting would produce a choppy result. Of course, you could fix that in rewrites and edits.

  18. Lois: Yeah, I expect a lot of choppiness after I rearrange it. But I can fix that more easily than I can fix weird continuity and time-line errors. Also, while I'm writing it in a linear fashion, I'll bear in mind that I'm going to rearrange things later, so that's all going to be part of the Grand Scheme of drafting. Anyway, I really think this is the best way I can tell this particular story. Or, it's the experiment I want to conduct right now. Same thing, really.

  19. I like complicated sequences especially outlined in alphanumeric/colored code. Yay!

  20. "DC1B1A1D1C2B2A2D2C3B3A3D3C4B4A4D4" spells FUN!

  21. Interesting plan. This makes me think about some of the stories I've read with unusual structures, reminding me of Martin Amis' 'Time's Arrow' and Audrey Niffenegger 'The Time Traveler's Wife'.


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