Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Big Fat Patchwork Novel

We've heard a quilt is a metaphor for life so many times that it's become cliché. And I try to avoid using cliché I'll put on it my own twist and use it anyways to explain why I'm struggling so much with my WIP.

This quilt was the first I'd ever attempted, my debut textile project. As you can see, I didn't start out sewing a small, crib-size quilt with a simple four-block pattern. Instead, I chose a complicated nine-patch block, of which five patches were constructed from tiny triangles. I never considered a crib quilt -- I skipped right to queen size. And, I added to the original pattern, creating two additional borders (the skinny yellow border and the border that's a single row of stars were my ideas). As I struggled with my WIP outline this week, I realized that my creative methods are the same, regardless of the medium I'm working with. It's surely a mild form of arrogance, or perhaps an inability to know my own boundaries, but I've never been able to accept myself as a novice.

Short stories are easier for me to write. I'm comfortable dealing with one significant moment in time. Transitioning to the format of a novel is brand new territory for me. But like my big fat first quilt project, I've thrown myself into the deep end of the creative pool.

Rather than construct a linear plot that fits into a basic three act formula, I'm working with two distinct storylines. Two strangers, dealing with the conflicts in their lives, are fated to cross paths after a computer-generated phone call puts them on a collision course. Their lives don't intersect until midway through the book. Until then, chapters go back and forth, sometimes narrated by one character in one part of the country, and other times narrated by the other in a different city, so that the reader understands and sympathizes with both by the time they arrive at their crossroad.

I've struggled with tying their two separate experiences together. I'm worried the book will come across fractual, with odd patchwork pieces that don't fit together. My answer to this quandary is theme. Both characters, as different as their circumstances and as polar opposite as they are on the morality scale, are connected by the theme(s) I'm exploring throughout the book.

A novice novelist? Me? (*chuckles condescendingly, as if to herself*) You must have me confused with someone who doesn't know what she's doing.

Do you ever feel like your creative ideas exceed your skills? Do you think big and then scale down? Or does your confidence grow as you write, so that your end result is more successful than you imagined it'd be?