Format can make or break a novel, and it is often difficult to pin down as a writer. At the moment, I’m referring to chronology, but I’m sure I will discuss other forms of format (har har) later.
I don’t recall ever reading a book where I was completely thrown off by the chronology. Most of the time, confusion is revised out before publication (I’m assuming). My absolutely favorite non-linear novel is The River King by Alice Hoffman (my absolute favorite author). I didn’t intentionally model the chronology of Colossus after it, but now that I think of it, they’re very similar. A detective is investigating a death; Evidence leads to a flash-back. (The imagery in this novel is ENTHRALLING, no exaggeration.) Colossus is similar in that a flashback accompanies an event or emotion related to the current narrative.
Two Guns is far more complicated, in that the flashbacks are more like parallel narratives, and there are three of them. They don’t fit together neatly, outside of providing history for the investigation. Needless to say, I need to restructure that.
Now, let’s shift to the overall format of the trilogy:
I started this narrative with a very controlled, unfeeling, flat antagonist. He didn’t even have a real name, he WAS Avery Rhodes (and following up that amazing name was a challenge, which I WON! I think…). After a few weeks of writing a few short stories that were supposed to be the My Name Is Not Heather Stokes collection (and the title makes perfect sense in that context), I realized that I needed to write the inciting incident. I wrote out a short draft of what would become Colossus, and Rhodes bulked up a bit (as a character). Then a friend asked me about his history, and all I could say was, “I dunno… I think there were horses involved?”
So I embarked on a journey to Flint Ranch and uncovered its unforgivable secrets, met what became my favorite character of the entire series (Wren Chares), and developed an independent plot line spanning over thirty years that I can’t bring myself to abandon to the cutting-room floor (Phoenix Ascending).
That is where the indecision comes in (Are all of these posts about indecision???). I want to include the backstory, but it won’t fit anywhere as flashbacks. I could make it a stand-alone, like Hannibal Rising, but that doesn’t feel right. There’s too much distance between it and the trilogy.
The other night, I presented this conundrum to my half-sister-in-law, a prolific reader of independent eBooks. She suggested that I split the backstory into two parts (which is easily done), and promote them as novellas between the three books of the trilogy (I believe Erica Crouch did this with her Ignite series). The trilogy loses nothing if someone doesn’t read them, and they only gain if they do! It’s like an Easter egg!
I love this idea! Even better, is that it gave me renewed vision. These past few months have been crappy when it comes to writing and focusing. I’ve gotten little more than revisions done. Now I can write/re-write this narrative that I’m crazy about without feeling like it’s distracting me from the trilogy.