Tuesday, June 7, 2011
I don't know if you can discover braiding storylines without writing something long, like a novel or a novella, and then rewriting. I had no idea about how exciting this method could be until I began to rewrite my novel, The Bad Project. I had a straight-through story, involving what happened to two women during their first semester in college, more or less chronologically. The strands I braided into it came from the question, "What else did they do? Just go to class?" Of course not. The roommates began to meet with a writing outreach group for high school girls, and that helped Marianne call her resistance to Chinese culture into question. Marianne took on a co-editorship for the college literary magazine with a gay black man, helping her to mine the prejudices of Mandy, the student representative on the panel judging Crystal's application for the Forscher premed scholarship for "students of good character." Also, Marianne had to put her writing out there to be judged by older students, some of whom were none too gentle with her. These strands of extra-curricular activities seemed to be side issues, but when I began adding them, they made strong connections and big contributions to the main themes of the book. Crystal sang in the Gospel Choir, and her concert broke open some of her inhibitions about relationships with men and also allowed Marianne to relax from excessive studying. So, the fact of writing a longer story gave me the room and the freedom to develop some related activities for the two women, thinking they might prove to be distractions, only to find that they often led me right to the heart of the story. That is why I thought of it as braiding; in braiding you take an outward path, but then it curves back to the center and connects. I found this process highly enjoyable and surprising, and when I reread the novel now, I cannot imagine the story without these braided elements.