Novel writing & bridge building

imagesAt the Southern Literature Conference in Chattanooga yesterday, the wonderful novelist/short story writer, Alan Garganus, had a great analogy on novel (and I suppose short story) building.

Suppose you want to build a bridge over a canyon. You throw a ball tied to a string across the canyon. Then use that string to haul over heavier and heavier cords. In the same way, you identify your theme/main plot line or single defining sentence of your character’s journey. Then, when that’s set, you strengthen it with character, setting, and so forth, building the structure of your novel.

Seems reasonable to me. Writers are often divided into “pantsers” (writing by the seat of the pants, starting a novel without knowing where it ends) and “plotters” who start with the basic plot and build and build on that. I’m a plotter for sure. The canyon is huge and I don’t want to just leap and not know where I’m ending up.

For all three of my novels, I’ve had an image of the first and last scene in mind: who is there, what they’re doing, the mood, the voice. And I’ve got a picture of the first scene. Then to connect them. It’s still scary, but at least I know where the bridge is.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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Workshop on Point of View for the Knoxville Writers Guild, Sat. Feb. 18, 2017, 10am to noon

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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