This post is about the time when I was re-structuring a novel, the first of my historical trilogy.
Many writers will have experienced coming back and back to a novel knowing there’s a problem but not quite identifying it. Weeks go by without success, then suddenly a solution unexpectedly clicks into place. In this particular case, I didn’t even know I was looking for a solution. I only knew I was seeking some net for the structure. After several rewritings and countless reworking, I was still dissatisfied. However, it’s no bad thing to recognise that something is not quite right and to persevere with re-structuring a novel.
A few agents rejected this book because it is written in the child’s voice. I could have changed this, but after considering alternatives, I remained committed to it. It is very difficult to capture the thinking of a child as he grows from the age of five years to adulthood.
You need to get the internal language and the mental focus right at each stage; through early then middle childhood, teenage to young adulthood, especially when you’ve chosen the close third person for telling the story. You must stay in the child’s mindset with the child’s focus. It took me a long time to ‘hear’ Billy’s voice aright. Readers of Books 1 (Intrusion) and 2 (Infiltration) have commented very favourably about it, so I feel justified in my decision.
Billy is a teenager in Book 3, Impact, my work-in-progress. Post-war London left little to optimism so the voice has lost much unworldliness. However, some innocence still remains, like the short trousers, until the age of fourteen or more.
I recognise that some readers wonder who the target reader is. Is it a child’s book because the protagonist is a child? The pace suggests otherwise and there’s mileage in reading of adult behaviour seen through the child’s eyes. Can a book be for adults when the chapters show the experience of a child? Does his world matter enough? Does his viewpoint count?
My approach to the trilogy uses a child’s mind that is open to possible questions, awaits answers. Therefore, I stuck with the child as a protagonist, one who shows the reader a world from his perspective. How powerful the child’s pov can be! But the reader is adult, s/he can form different opinions and add more sophisticated understanding to the child’s fragmentary view.
However, I felt the work needed some re-structuring. Coming up to finishing Book 1 I felt there was some basic lever or pin-hole missing. I needed a device for letting the reader look down from adulthood in a systematic form, as well as up from childhood, throughout the plotline.
One day, for no apparent reason, in walking from one room to another, the device suddenly came to me. I could head each chapter with a news headline for the date of each chapter. This would put ‘adult concerns’ in the mind of the reader as s/he read about the child’s.
Now I am on the third book in the trilogy. Looking around his old environment, Billy is in no doubt about what has happened. WWII is over, but for the author, the headlines and the timeline are far more difficult to compile. Am I committed to the re-structuring I did earlier? I am working urgently to finish Impact but may be gone some time . . .