Framing a Puzzle

I’ve spent the past two weeks putting together a thousand-piece-puzzle. In my mind. In other words: starting to get serious with the next book. It’s been challenging for a whole host of reasons.

  • Changing from nonfiction to fiction

This is a MIND BOGGLING experience. Every time I start to write ‘fiction’ and play with the place or time or character, my mind SCREAMS at me: that’s not how it happened! You’re not telling the truth. I quietly remind my mind, “This is fiction, dummy. Remember?” It responds with a sheepish, “Oh, yeah. Well. Okay.” And I carry on. For about three seconds. I’ve been doing this back and forth dialogue until I’m ready to pull my hair out. I didn’t expect the change from nonfiction to fiction would be quite so fraught with internal dissension.

  • Going from One Voice to Three

My next book will have three main characters. A grandfather, a granddaughter, and a daughter-in-law. I’ve been finding their voices. Who they are. What they like. Kind of fun. Kind of daunting. The trick is to make them distinct. I tend to like complicated. So here goes.

3 people. 3 continents. 3 time periods. Really? Yes. It’s the only way it will work.

  1. Grandfather, 1940s, WWII, the Netherlands.
  2. Granddaughter, 2010, America.
  3. Daughter-in-law, 1980s, Zambia.

Gee. It’s starting to sound like this fiction might be based on something in my life. Oh. Well. Maybe that’s why my brain keeps doing the fiction – nonfiction sidestep.

  • The Narrator’s Voice

This has been the most difficult part of the whole book. This week I spent Whole Days writing out the first three chapters with different narrators. Should I have each character narrate her/his own voice, first person? I did this. I did that … OR … Should I have one overall, omniscient narrator who gets into the head of all the characters? And write in third person. She did this. He did that …

I spent hours looking at books I love. How are they narrated? It’s a toss up.

The Posionwood Bible, which I adore, is told in many voices. You turn a chapter and Ada is talking. The next chapter it’s her mom. OR there is The Book Thief, also quite adored, and it’s all told in one narrator’s voice: Death. And the absolutely stunning  All the Light We Cannot See. Two distinct stories, but one overall narrator.

I printed out my first three chapters told in two different ways. I read. I couldn’t decide. So I asked my family which one to go with. (They are great readers)

And a consensus is: Write with One Narrator.

So glad that is decided! One narrator. Three stories. Third person point of view. Sometimes I really do wonder why I write. “What did you do today?”

“I changed three chapters from ‘I did’ to ‘She did’.

Puzzle, puzzle, puzzle.

After several weeks of work, I’ve put all the pieces together that are the frame. The interior is empty, but now I can write freely and fill in the spaces. Hurrah for frames. And broken pieces.

Sometimes all writing is, is the persistence to keep at it. The willingness to learn and try and study and think. It’s a process. And even though I have one book under my belt, I’m still learning. And working the puzzle.

I love Thomas Mann’s words: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” It reminds me that writing is difficult. It’s difficult because it matters so much to us. And that’s a good thing.


Jill Kandel
  • Gianna
    Posted at 10:41h, 15 October Reply

    Pulling out hair sounds accurate. The nice, strong, statement-piece sentences are surprisingly scattered and few in real writing life. *le sigh*

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 11:23h, 15 October Reply

      There should be more bald writers. Not that I want to be one.

  • Niomi Rohn Phillips
    Posted at 11:01h, 15 October Reply

    I enjoyed this immensely. Thanks for sharing your writing journey.

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 11:22h, 15 October Reply

      Thank you, Niomi! Fun to hear from you. I’m glad you enjoyed it … now here’s hoping you’ll also enjoy the next book. 🙂

  • Gianna Anderson
    Posted at 20:45h, 16 October Reply

    I love hearing about how you work through writing decisions. It is very complex and while that is difficult I am thinking that you love the challenge as well. I am very much looking forward to reading your new book.

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