If The New Serfdom was a purely linear story, revision would be a cinch, more or less. But I seem to have created something that gets more complex and twisty, the longer I work with it. The linear part is there, with scenes in chronological order, but they’re embedded in trips back to the past. Gil’s life on the hold began when he and his father were snatched off the street by Charles Graves’ (the first baron) goons. Soon after that, his life and Nolan’s became inextricably tangled. He was ten years old and Nolan was 13.
What makes this revision more difficult than usual is that flashbacks can disrupt the flow of the story and wind up being infodumps. Readers don’t generally like them, and one of the frequent pieces of advice for writers is to avoid them altogether. So here I am, using flashbacks for the first time, and trying to figure out how to make them contribute to the story rather than detract from it.
The first step, since so much of the action in the novel is from Gil’s point of view, is to make every flashback one of Gil’s memories. The second is to have each flashback triggered by something in the present. The third, and this may be the most crucial point, is to use the earliest flashbacks to foreshadow something in the past that will come up later. The cumulative effect of the flashbacks is to help the reader understand Gil and Nolan, first as individuals, then as actors in a complex, evolving relationship.
The first excerpt on this page, Excerpts, is the prologue. The second one (December 8) is the opening of the novel. It’s a flashback, from Gil’s point of view, and its purpose is purely to build anticipation since there’s nothing leading up to it. The third is part of the first scene that takes place in real time. A load of prisoners/workers has just arrived at the hold, later than expected. This is the first time a scene relates to something in Gil’s past.
This may all sound glib, as if I know exactly what I’m doing. I don’t. There’s been a lot more rereading and beating my head against the wall (metaphorically) over the last two weeks, than actual writing. The idea that the flashbacks would foreshadow past events that we’ll learn about further down the line came to me very recently. Could I have learned all that from a book? Even assuming that there is a book on writing which discusses ways to use flashbacks, I doubt it. I would have been following someone else’s explanation of how to do it, and if that didn’t quite fit what I wanted to accomplish, I might have distorted the story to make it fit. The two-weeks struggle was about figuring out the best way to tell this particular story. It might not work, in the long run. But there’s no guarantee that following a set of instructions would work, either.