Ruth E. Walker
Sometimes what happens in our lives has a weird way of being reflected in our writing journeys. It’s a bit like the universe has a sense of humour. And sometimes, we get to laugh. Or at least smile.
At the end of winter at the cottage, it was lovely to see the deep snowdrifts finally melt. Of course, there were also lots of cold snaps, so that the melt was often stopped in its tracks. That included on the roof of our screened porch. Melt freeze. Melt freeze. Melt freeze. We were unable to get up to the cottage for a couple of weeks to check for ice. The ice dam formed. And then the April rain came.
Soon enough, it was raining inside the screened porch. A dozen buckets could barely keep up.
So my husband and I got on top of the roof, for hours scraping off the ice build up. Finally, all the ice was cleared off.
Sifting through a mess
But the damage was done. Not only did we have to replace the roof but some walls, insulation and flooring had to be ripped out. Then, time to shore up the foundation. Add new load-bearing beams.
Given some moments to rest between ripping out and building back up, I had some time to reflect. It is, I thought, a lot like editing.
Which is what I am doing with my novel in progress. The story explores some turning points in my character’s childhood, teen years and his life as a young man. As the novel is based on an old Breton fairy tale, I wrote earlier drafts all in chronological fashion. Once upon a time…to…They lived happily (ahem) ever after.
But I’ve come to realize the novel isn’t quite working in that structure.
Renovate buildings…or books
So I’m ripping out walls (chapters.) Re-positioning the roof (plot.) Shoring up the foundation (thematic elements.) And adding load-bearing beams (character development.)
But, like the repairs to our screened porch, I’m making discoveries as I go.
If you have to re-position the screened room roof, you need to consider the roof line of the main (original) building. So, as I’m playing with the plot, I wonder how far I can deviate from the original fairy tale.
Pretty far as it turns out. Just like the screened porch’s roof revision.
Advantages to major repairs
The porch’s new roof line meant walls needed to be built higher. So why not add regular windows instead of the nailed-in screens if we’re doing that? And how about a patio door to bring in more light? And let’s insulate under the floor instead of just the walls. A 3-season room takes on new life for all four seasons.
So as I work with my novel’s plot, I’m bringing in new characters, new scenes, new possibilities to raise the stakes for my character. I’m picking the pockets of other old fairy tales, travelling the world of fable and fabrication to discover ways to enrich the story. Taking a page from the braided essay format, I’m tossing aside chronological structure and weaving together childhood, teen years and adult life.
Will it work? Well, I hope so. But even if I end up back with the chronological beginning-to-end structure, I have far more to work with than when I finished the original draft.
It’s a whole new look. And I think I’m moving in.
If you want to see Ruth’s Haliburton cottage porch reno in progress, come to her all-day workshop Saturday June 15. Create Compelling Characters will offer writers a series of hands-on exercises and inspiring explorations of character in fiction, memoir and nonfiction. Nestled among the pines, overlooking the lazy river, it’s a location that holds inspiration and the echoes of writers who’ve written their novels in The Rustic.