Thursday, August 15, 2013

Revisioning the Novel

I have been working on THE MINISTER'S WIFE for almost two years, creating my characters, their histories, their destinies. They seem alive to me, so alive that at times I dream of them. When I wake, I can't remember who I am or where: am I in Afghanistan, Boston, a South Dakota farm? There is something delicious about sharing that level of intimacy with characters, of delving this deep to make them seem real. This is one of the most tangible rewards of writing, at least for me.

When I started this project, I envisioned a series of linked stories, each of which could stand alone, but which, in their totality, told a larger story. Think of Olive Kitteridge, or A Visit from the Goon Squad, or As the Great World Spins. All gorgeous, amazing books told in separate stories.

My decision for this approach was based on three things: 1) the yammerings of multiple characters demanding their time in the limelight; 2) my desire to write a *proper* short story (longer than a flash fiction but shorter than a novella); and 3) practicality--my writing program does not easily accommodate work-shopping an entire novel.

But what a struggle. Using the linked stories structure is goddamn hard. Trying to force big stories into small spaces. Knowing when to reveal information, and when to hide it. Understanding a character's motivation for heading into war without writing four pages of back story. Since I started this project, the container has worried me, bothered me, kept me up at night and, at times, paralyzed me from writing.

So after two workshops, and the insightful critiques of classmates and an awesome instructor, I have come to realize that shoving expansive stories into 7,000 word stories is not my style. THE MINISTER"S WIFE must be a novel, not linked stories. My characters have so much to tell me (and you), and their stories are expansive and fluid and span too much time to be relegated to a story. They twist and weave through each other, like tributaries.

So, as I revise this material, this is the structure I must find: something that allows multiple POVs to flex and bend with each other, to travel over time and over the page without arbitrary and jagged breaks. Maybe I will find a new form to tell my story; maybe the final product will look more traditional than I originally envisioned. I don't know.

But this I do know: I am excited to revise, and rewrite. The feeling of moving forward lightens me.

My fellow writers: what has been your biggest struggle in writing, and how have you overcome it?

Dear readers: have you read any novels with multiple points of view that might be helpful to me?



  1. Linda, You might check out Clinch's "Kings of the Earth." The chapters are shorter than yours, but the voices are very unique. I'm excited to read your novel as a whole!

  2. Have you read Jodi Picoult's book, The Storyteller? It has multiple points of view, used very well.

    By the way, so glad you're happily busy with The Minister's Wife! Honestly, I can't wait until you're done.

  3. I am really, really looking forward to your finished novel - I have loved the teasers we have been privileged to see. William Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying' has stayed with me for a very long time. Different points of view, different length chapters, some stream of consciousness ...

  4. One of the best instructors EVER :)

    I think you're making the right choice, it will be a lot of work, but you have such a great amount of information and the space will really help you out and make it easier on yourself.

  5. Go for it! Don't cramp your style by trying to condense all your beautiful thoughts into something canned.