The twistiness of plotting

Every reader loves good plot twist so when I came to be a fiction reader I was prepared to deliberately insert a few sit-up-and-read-more curveballs in the narrative at the planning stage. That type of plot twistiness I was familiar with already as a consumer of novels. What I didn’t expect as a non-fiction writer coming to long form fiction was how altering one strand of my story would twist the other timeline around in entirely unexpected and rather beguiling ways.

My novel is a dual time-line plot. One strand is historical, one contemporary. My main character (let’s call her Sarah and figure out later why I feel so compelled to protect the identity of an already fictious character in this blog) appears in both. The historical story is easy to plot because it involves inserting her in the gaps next to real-life characters in political events that actually happened. There is wiggle room for invention but not much. The contemporary timeline however is wide open and the freedom to invent is almost disorientating. I keep having different goes at it, creating and ditching and re-creating a modern day life for Sarah. I hold them up against my historical time line like holding dresses against a mannekin, tipping my head to one side. Does it fit well? Is it flattering? Dare I be seen like this in public?

What has surprised me is how every time I invent a new contemporary timeline I see my historical timeline from an entirely different perceptive, even though I have not changed a word of the historical part of the synopsis. Just as mauve cotton dresses makes me look like I’ve been prepared for the day by a mortician and rust brown jumpers bring the golden tints out in my hair, so each reinvented contemporary time has made twenty year olds Sarah appear in an entirely different light.

I think that’s because as I try on a new contemporary timeline I am looking at her and her situation from a different angle. It gives me an entirely different perspective, not only on Sarah, her character and motivations but about what the story as a whole is about. It was only after a few iterations of the contemporary storyline that I was able to stop and say, ‘Oh! That’s what captivated me about these events in history. That’s what I really want to look at with this novel. it was that reaction that helped me commit to that version to write.

I didn’t expect this experience but now I can see what a great trick it is to bring out the depth of your character and the theme of a novel. I’m pretty sure that I’ll use this as a writing aide for future work, ( or when I'm stuck in this one) asking my characters to wear different hats for a while, to audition different back stories for me, or try on alternate future lives for themselves, just so I can see what they would look like from that approach. Then I can take what I learned about them and use that understanding to impact the writing of the storyline I’m going to make public.