There’s a big difference between the plot’s timeline and the sequence of passages. In my last blog, I wrote about some of the problems I’m having with the direction the plot is going. I was stuck and had to work my way out of the jam.
Besides not having the right (write?) action scenes and events, the timeline was out-of-whack and not in the right order. The timeline is the calendar flow of the plot. In others, what happens on what date and where. On some days in the stories, events happen almost simultaneously. Other times, there are several days in between each passage. To keep the events in order, everything is sequenced by time zone.
For example, if there are three scenes on the same day with one in Tel Aviv, a second in Berlin and the third in Washington DC, they have to follow the time zones. In other words, Tel Aviv is one hour ahead of Berlin and seven ahead of D.C. So, the time scene happens also has to reflect the relationship to the other time zones. For example, you can’t have the Berlin passage at 1300 before one taking place in Tel Aviv at 1130 because 1300 in Berlin is 1400 in Tel Aviv.
It sounds like a minor point but it isn’t. The tyranny of time zones forces one to rethink the sequence or change the time it occurs or move it scene to a different place in the book.
Sequence is the order in which the scenes take place within the timeline. Sounds simple, but it is not. What I find as I write is that some scenes are out of order when they are originally written. Sometimes I don’t realize it until a few pages or even chapters later when it dawns on me that they are out of order. This is one of the reasons that I had to stop writing The Assassin. Way to much was out of sequence and it had to be fixed before I continued creating the manuscript.
Well, why don’t I use flashbacks? Good question. My experience is that they are hard to write and often confuse the reader. Now you know why I pay close attention to the timeline and to the sequencing of the passages.
The Assassin takes place almost entirely in 2002. In fact, the majority of the book is between March and October, or seven months. The tightness of the timeline forces me to have the events in the right sequence. Doing so, adds to the pace of the book and creates drama unto its own.
As I noted in a recent blog, I was struggling with the manuscript. It wasn’t coming together and intuitively I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know what.
Some might call it a writer block. I call it being brain dead and thought I was mentally tired from the effort to write the first draft. While it may not be physically tiring, writing/researching an initial draft of a novel is an adrenalin filled evolution and it is mentally taxing.
The break, if you want to call it, was over three days encompassing a weekend. I didn’t walk completely away, but didn’t write a word in the book. Instead, at private moments I talked to several of the characters. No, I am not crazy and you don’t have to send for the guys in white who have the jacket that zips in the back. What I was doing is trying to see what was happening through their eyes.
My original ideas for the events conflicted with what the characters were thinking and wanting to do. So, since as the writer, I have a bird’s eye view of the plot and intimately know the characters see, changes were needed.
Some of my original ideas wound up being deleted. New ones were created. Some still weren’t good enough. Others survived. What evolved after all the cut and pasting of the bullets that ‘outlined’ what would happen by each passage was a major change in direction of the story line. It wasn’t a reversal, but a course correction. Think in terms of a 30 to 45 degree heading change rather than a ninety-degree or even greater turn.
The next step was starting to write the passages. The first two I wrote worked, but it led to adding a more passages and fleshing out a few more Eventually, I think I got it right, but am not sure because I am not finished with the book. I still have to resolve what will happen with two or three of the characters. That, should come, as I write the last few chapters.
Net net, am back at it.
Originally, I picked the year 2002 as the year the The Assassin starts, expecting it may bleed into 2003. The reason was simple. It was twenty years after the main character - Janet Goodrich - retired and, along with Karin rode off into the sunset to live the good life.
All well and good, but look at the historical context. Here’s just four world events that affect the book’s plot.
1. Yasser Arafat rejects an Israeli offer in 2000 that gives the PLO everything they asked for, including reparations to Palestinian refugees. Why? Because it required a peace treaty and recognition of the State of Israel and its right to exist.
2. As the result of number one, the PLO encourages Fatah and another splinter terrorist group called the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade to start what became known as the Second Intifada on West Bank. The Israeli security forces have their hands full trying to contain and put down an uprising that is more violent and widespread than its predecessor.
3. 9/11 happens in 2001 and the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan. In the background, the planning of the invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein had already begun.
4. In January 2002, the Israelis seize a ship in the Red Sea containing 50 tons of weapons destined for the PLO. It was not the first, nor would it be the last.
These events and more affect the day-to-day operations of the Mossad as well as the CIA. The U.S. is still struggling with the aftermath of 9/11 and trying to figure out how to deal with a global threat from fanatic, Islamic terrorists. Israel’s three intelligence agencies are stressed trying to evaluate how best to put down the Second Intifada while accurately assess a growing threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza. The spectre of the near disaster that the 1973 Yom Kippur War almost was played heavily on the minds of Israeli leaders. None of them wanted to relive the surprise attack the Egyptians pulled off and the near defeat of the Isreali Defense Forces.
As I am write, I have to keep these and other related world events in mind. In fact, as I was struggling, - see blog called “Struggles” - I realized I didn’t account for the effect of some of these events on the plot. It means I have to go back and re-do sections to accommodate them. Joys of writing historical novels!
I just finished writing a fight in which Janet takes on a man almost twice her size. The scene starts with Janet awakening from being drugged and held in a metal framed chair by a belt and her hands tied together in somewhat amateurish fashion. There are two men in the room, one in a white lab coat that suggests he is a doctor or a medical technician of some sort. She recognizes the other man as the bodyguard of an arms dealer she’s been sent to kill.
So, then what happens? How does it get started? To write the fight scene, I had to script the sequence in Janet’s mind. First, she had to come up with a plan that starts with getting her hands free. Second, she has to neutralize the bodyguard’s advantage because she assumes, rightly so, that he has a pistol. Third, she doesn’t want to take on two men at once.
That’s the outline of the passage. Now I have to write it from Janet’s perspective. This is kill or be killed, or fail to kill and be tortured. As the words flowed, I was getting excited. Several times, after a few sentences, I had to stop and pantomime the moves Janet made, the other men’s counters so that they were realistic. If you were watching, as my dogs do – they’re very astute observers of their human’s behavior – you’d have seen this septuagenarian walking through martial arts moves. Once I had it visualized, I could write the moves. Then, I went back and added the sensory part, what Janet sees, what she sees and hears, what the other two men do.
To write what probably amounts to about 750 words took well over an hour and when I was done, I was tired. It was almost as if I was in the fight. I took a dinner break to get away from the keyboard and then, I went back to work, with a clear mind, energy from food and added in the other stuff that fleshed out the fight. It was/is mentally draining and borders on the physical, but well worth it. It is what keeps you turning the pages.
Every so often, as I write, roadblocks appear. By that I mean, I get to a point in the story where I’m stuck, literally.
Think of writing a novel as weaving several plot lines together into a single piece of rope. Each character and each scene is another thread woven into a plot line. The problem I run into is that sometimes, I don’t have the thread and therefore, the story can’t go forward.
Yesterday, I just stumbled into one of those places and didn’t like what my brain and fingers were putting on the screen in front of me. So I stopped, took a day or so off to get my mind off the book.
It didn’t help because my subconscious kept coming back to the story, rehashing what I wrote and then deleted. Then, my brain scripted out several other ideas. The conscious part of my writer’s brain fought with the unconscious. What one liked, the other didn’t.
So where am I now? Not quite dead in the water, but I’ve certainly slowed from thirty knots plus as the words flowed from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard and into ones and zeros in an electronic file.
All this started two days ago and now, amazingly enough – trust me, I don’t have a clue how this works, but a plot element appeared that I liked. Now, the hard part is working it out so it fits.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned a created a traitor. Well, that thread gives the main character/heroine/protagonist Janet a break while the Mossad figures out what to do. Meanwhile, the bad guys continue to create mayhem so Janet gets an assignment from an unlikely source that lets her operate solo, just like she did before she retired. It took awhile, but the idea works.