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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof

Backwards in time Part 2: What I did

Friday, March 11th, 2011 by

So here I am in the midst of another multi-part post, this one about readers’ criticism and whether to follow it and what I’ve actually tried so far. Yesterday I went round and round about how hard I find this question of whether to clarify the timeline in chapter one, or to say, Look, the pieces are all there—put them together.

Today I was determined to do some writing on Landscapes itself, and I’m happy to say that I did. Most of it was small-scale editing which I’ve recorded as comments on several poems in Chapter One, but doing it meant I had to face the issues on an immediate and practical level.

But let me back up a bit.

When I was getting the feedback about time line a couple of weeks back, I opted to try clarifying and see how it worked. (It helps me to remember, at this point, that I thought of the changes as provisional.)

I decided to insert a couple of short poems into the chapter that would clarify the setting (timing) of those already written. Since the prologue sets up the idea that Linda is telling her life story to her daughter and granddaughter, I decided to bring that act of narration into the chapter itself. I already had a couple of exchanges—the bit at the end of How I Met Him has been there for years. In fact, it was because such comments kept cropping up here and there that I decided to write the prologue at all. Those little exchanges gave me the idea for the overarching frame of the book, that it’s the story Linda tells.

So I started drafting something to provide more of the background for Surrender. Then, as I was scanning later chapters, I decided to move On the Dance Floor from Chapter Four into Chapter One. After all, the events it describes occur on that first night when Cory and Linda meet, and readers were saying that they wanted to to see and hear more of these characters early on, so why not? Next came an introductory poem for it, so eventually I had both Surrender: Preamble and The Dance Floor: Preamble.

(Hey, with titles like those, how could I miss?)

The Preamble to On the Dance Floor turned out to be entirely unnecessary, as its entire raison d’etre, encapsulated in its first line (“I should have told you this before” i.e., because it happened first) is false: as originally written, the dancing takes place after the proposal, so   (How could I not know this about my own work?)

Once I realized (sometime today) that I’d written a contradiction, I had to resolve it, which I could do in one of two ways. On the one hand, I could drop the Preamble entirely and leave the poems in their current order, with Cory first talking to Linda about proposing to lots of women (and implicitly proposing to her as well) and afterwards asking her to dance

On the other hand, I could leave the poems in their current order but edit them slightly to change the time line: thus Cory would ask Linda to dance before he talks with her, which would mean that the events of On the Dance Floor occur before those of How I Met Him, even though How I Met Him comes first in the book. This structure would provide a rational for the Preamble, since it would now make sense for Linda to tell Noreen and Carley (her granddaughter and daughter) “I should have told you this before” as she starts to tell them about the dance.

This was a tough one. I really want to have piece of cake and to eat it as well.I got a kick out of the idea that Cory had the gall to propose to Linda five minutes after meeting her, but couldn’t get up the guts to ask her to dance even after doing that.

But I’d also gotten interested in the interplay in those preambles, expecially between Linda and her granddaughter Noreen. I liked Noreen’s impatience in the second Preamble, when Linda again announces that what’s coming up occurred before what she’s already told. And if I cut the first Preamble, the again disappears.

So despite all my misgivings about these poems, I actually spent part of today editing The Dance Floor so that its events do precede the conversation in How I Met Him. The time shift required only minimal changes, and it means that I get to keep the first Preamble. This way there’s more of the active storytelling, and the idea that Linda keeps backtracking gets established as a motif. But I lose the irony inherent in Cory’s being unable to dance with someone he’s proposed to. Ah well.

Then I went through the second Preamble, very slowly, having decided that maybe it’s not quite as awful as my friend felt it to be. (Emphasis on “maybe”.) I did make a number of changes, all recorded as comments, so people can see both the originals and the new versions, and let me know which they prefer

I have no idea how successful all this is. But as one reader reminds me, if I put it in, I can always take it out.