Examining Story Anew


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My writing partner, Lyn, and I are taking divergent paths in writing – which is extremely OK. I'll leave the explanation of her writing path to her (she's a teacher and most capable of articulating her excellent writing style and structure), but I've taken a rather experimental path. I haven't committed to experimental prose, per se, but I am in the thrall of J.M. Coetzee's structural experiments. Again, I won't go into his writing – it's  available everywhere you might look. 

I began with a mystery novel (A Reason To Tremble) published some 18 years ago in Canada, in which I revealed the villain(s) early on. The attraction for the reader, I think, is in being able to examine the motives and lifestyle, the character strengths and weaknesses, of both victims and perps simulataneously. And I carried this a step further in my second novel (A Place of Belonging) in which a murder connected two families at opposite ends of the social and economic spectrum.

That was a place to start. Since then I've been working on an historical novel (tentative title: The Eagle of the East) set among the eastern front battles of World War II, examining how Soviet, German, and American combatants dealt with the morality (or lack thereof) of that awful war. Here, I began on the last day of the European war and quickly moved ahead chronologically from 1942. However, I've strategically allowed my German characters to move backwards in time to allow the reader to examine that great military failure, as if history were spooling backwards from the war's final result.

And now I'm writing another historical novel set roughly in the year 1000 – a critical time following the division of Charlemagne's empire. Here, I'm centering on a specific character – a literary lightning rod, if you will – the text written as if a diary of that person, re-copied and added to by a pair of Benedictine monks. 

Am I trying to reinvent structure just for the sake of experimentation? I don't see it that way. First, I'm trying to give the reader a new way of examining story, history, and the social spectrum. Second, writing in the same structural format over and over tends to make one's writing stale and predictable – and that's bad for both reader and writer. 


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