Sunday 20th May 2018
How I am writing my third novel
I began to write my third novel early in January, this year. The way I have written my book differs from conventional approaches. To begin with, it is written more like a film script than a narrative work of fiction. In my previous novels, I followed a more traditional style. In my first novel – Holiday – I wrote in the third person using past tense. The usual form of narrative storytelling. In my second novel – The Trench – I used the same approach: the narrative is told by a third person in the past tense. In both of these works, the order in which the story was told was not chronological. Neither of them began at the beginning. They started with a chapter that introduced the main characters and then, later on, told how they had arrived at the point at which the story began. I took advice that a novel should begin with a strong opening chapter that introduced the main character and set the scene. I could not do that in my current novel. It would not have been possible. There are three main characters and they all arrive in London at different times.
In the novel I am working on now – The Streets of London – the whole story is in precise chronological order. The book starts on day one and it finishes on the last day, covering a period of five years in the lives of its central characters. When it is completed, each section will have a precise date. The whole book is divided into three acts. There no chapters. Each act is written in sections, beginning with the date and then saying where the scene takes place and who is in it. In that respect, it is similar to a journal. The approach I have taken to the chronology of the story is intentional; it is essential to the way the story is told and presented.
The only points at which flashbacks are used (references back to events in the past) are when the leading character, Adrian, writes in his journal. His journal entries appear in the story and often these concern things that have happened in the past. The only other way of referencing the past is for the characters to talk about it. If I want to present the future (which is rarely) I put that into the dialogue. I show characters talking about the future – as they see it. The whole storyline is the dialogue between the characters. It is a novel about people, what they say to each other and what they do and the latter is explained via dialogue. In fact, what the characters do is what they say. There is no narrator describing their actions. Reading the book would be like seeing a film.
It strikes me that my approach and style might not be to the liking of today’s commercial publishers. Abandoning the conventional style of writing fiction – most often past tense narrative – is undertaken with caution, by authors whose aim is to have their work published. I realise that. But I chose this style of writing because I think it works in the context of this novel. I want to write a book that does justice to its content – not the whims and fashions of the publishing industry.
I decided that I wanted to do something different. That is what I am doing. Only when the first draft is finished will I be able to tell if my decision was a good one.