Where Do the Insights Go?

As a novel is being written, stray thoughts about characterization can come unbidden to an author. You realize a key background fact about a relationship, say, could be told in a certain way, and you write it down. You don’t know where it will go, but you do know it is worth keeping.

That then prompts a question: where do you place the observations about characters? Let’s use a concrete example by way of illustration. Let’s say that an older brother, Carl, has come back from being away for an extended time, such as to college, and a younger sibling, Reid, feels Carl has somehow changed and that their relationship will never be the same again. Nice thought, but what can you do with it?

You have to make a decision about where it belongs in the arc of the relationship. If placed early in a novel, it becomes a setup piece. Reid, to use the example, realizes it when the novel still has hundreds of pages to go. What is it setting the stage for? Or, it could be one of a number of setup pieces that will form a mystery about why the change has occurred. What has Carl been doing while he’s away, and how will that impact Reid later?

If it is placed later, it becomes more of a plot stake. A bunch of setup work was leading up to this realization. The revelation could proceed onto a climactic break, such as Reid’s finally breaking free of her older brother’s domination. He’s already checked out of the relationship, so why can’t she? You can also use it as an end point in order to lay out a step-by-step process during which the change is discovered.

A further consideration is: how important is it to the story you are developing? Maybe it should be relegated to just another one of the dozens of insights that hopefully enrich the novel. You have to assess whether this sibling relationship is worth building as a major arc, or is better ranked as an incidental factor in Reid’s larger wave of rebellion. Maybe bad-girl friend Deloris deserves a larger share of attention. 

In other words, you know you like the sterling nugget you wrote. Yet it will remain minor if you don’t allow your mind to roam over the possibilities. Maybe the process of your subconscious brought you to the nugget for a reason. 

Exercise: One good practice is maintaining a separate notebook or electronic file specifically for these jottings. Unless every single word you write sparkles effortlessly, these stray bits can become studs that tone up the novel. Even better, they can force you, when writing a new draft, to craft all of your sentences to match their standard.

“From a little spark may burst a flame.” —Dante Alighieri

Copyright 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.