an issue of architecture

For the past few weeks, I’ve been pulling segments of my rough draft out of their original document and rearranging them into draft 2. I wrote the rough draft chronologically—I always pictured it as a book in three parts, with a large time jump in between each part. Then I took January off from looking at it and thinking about it, or tried to, so that I could try to come at the second round with fresh eyes. Let me tell you—knowing that all those words are sitting in a file waiting for you to fix them is a relentless and unpleasant pressure, especially when every time you think about them you just know that they’re accumulating awfulness while they molder. Looking at the file makes me a little ill, because I’m forcing myself not to change the words too much just yet, and instead I’m trying to braid them together into a different structure, with early segments in between the later ones, so that the modern-day part of the book frames the past.
Some days I like what this gives me. Some days it gives me hair-tearing anger. Some days I am sure I will never finish this thing. Without saying too much and confusing you even more: Originally, by the time the reader came to Part 2, she would know everything that happened in Part 1. With this experiment, I have to figure out when to reveal the facts from Part 1. And that gives me a mystery element that I don’t quite know how to juggle. I spend a lot of time staring slack-jawed into the middle distance. And because no one else knows the whole book except the demons that live in my hard drive, I can’t hash it out with anyone else. (And no one else can really read the whole thing in the next three days to give me expert advice.)

That mystery element adds buckets of tension, though. And I want to create tension. Tension keeps readers turning pages. I’ve got so much tension myself that the hair around my face is quickly turning gray. Today’s the 23rd, and I told myself that I would see how this new structure worked during February and decide whether to keep on with it by the end of the month. Five more days of moving the I-beams and checking the angles. Sometimes at the dinner table I hear about the kinds of massive problems that happen on building sites—whole buildings and storm sewers and roads that are suddenly not where they should be. Once you’ve put a road in, you aren’t moving it. You work around it. Either way, the job gets done. Really, there’s no other choice.

Do you have a preference, one way or the other? Do you hate a book that uses chapter-length time jumps? (I won’t be offended.) Or can you think of one that you think did it exceptionally well? It’s almost time for me to turn the page on that pretty calendar of mine and a decision will have to be made by then.