The Threads of a Novel

It’s been a good month for working on my new novel Native Lands. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I started this book back in 2006. Back then, I called it Connecting the Dots because that’s what I wanted to do in the novel: I wanted to connect people and environments to show how interconnected we all really are. That’s still one of my themes, but I’ve added another dimension by creating a storyline from Florida’s past and a race of people who disappeared two hundred years after the arrival of the Spanish to Florida’s shore near St. Augustine. Recently, the story of Locka and Mali and the members of the Timucuan tribe have been living with me.

While on vacation in Florida, I wrote in my novel notebook whenever a vision would come to me. I was staying near the village of Seloy where a tribe of Timucuans lived for thousands of years. I wonder if that made the presence of these characters so real to me. Since the first time I read about these Natives and their disappearance, I’ve wondered how an entire race could no longer exist. How could that happen?  Timucuan

Now I have four threads running in the novel. Logistically it becomes a nightmare without careful plotting and planning. For the two weeks of vacation, I devoted myself solely to writing the story of the Timucuans from 1762 forward. That would put them in the waning years of their existence, if the storybooks are accurate.

This past week while brainstorming how to handle the confusion, I decided to separate the four threads before I begin the weaving of the tapestry. (I probably overuse this metaphor, but somehow I always envision writing as a quilt hanging on the wall. As one piece it represents the whole picture, but taken apart, it’s actually made up of many fine pieces of thread.) I decided to concentrate on the first third of the quilt, so I pulled the individual stories into their own files.

near the village of Seloy
near the village of Seloy

The story of the Timucuans is one file; the present day St. Augustine another; the present day Everglades another; and the evil consortium trying to ruin it all in another. The present day threads must all weave together cohesively with dates of storms as they move throughout the entire state. That’s right, I’m using the powerful elements of Florida’s climate as a plot technique. The past section must contain parallels to the modern day. If I’ve confused you, you can only imagine my state of mind prior to pulling the whole thing apart.

This week I’ve carefully been going through each of the parts. It’s an amazing way to look at the novel, which I’ve never done before. It’s much easier to adjust and see the whole picture while I’m looking at the individual parts. Even if you aren’t writing such a convoluted plot, this technique might work for you, too. Most novels have many subplots intertwining to help build tension.

Today I put the parts together, which makes up the first third of Native Lands. I fit the pieces together as I would the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The pages are printed, and I’ll spend the next week reading and thinking about the next steps in the story.

I tend to know where I want to go with a novel, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there until I start moving through the plot, conflicts, setting, and characterizations. Right now, I know how I want all this intrigue to finish, but I haven’t a clue how I’ll pull it off. The key is not to panic from the not knowing.

Native Lands is my sixth novel, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Most importantly, I’ve learned to relax into the writing, and all the rest will fall right where it’s needed.

That’s the quilt I wrap myself in whenever I doubt that the tapestry will come together into one cohesive whole.

The first thread of Native Lands

Locka sharpened the tip of his rivercane spear with an oyster shell he dug out of the mound near the waters of the Tolomato River. The oyster provided his village of Seloy with food, and the shells served many purposes such as honing the point of the rivercane so he could spear food or spear the enemies that threatened his people. Locka preferred using it to kill deer or alligator, but if he had to keep his tribe safe, he would kill the white man who threatened his tribe daily.

The mound on which he stood contained the shells of the seafood from many generations of his people. From his perch, he could view the river that flowed south to the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. At one time, his ancestors worried about other tribes attacking them. Now Locka’s village remained on a vigilant lookout for the Spanish who persisted in their efforts to drive his people away from their native lands. Despite the small size of these invaders, their guns and cannons out powered the spear Locka sharpened. Yet, he’d managed to kill his share of those who came near his village. Now a new threat loomed with the arrival of another type of white man who came from an island across the ocean.

6 responses to “The Threads of a Novel”

  1. Wonderful details. I think you made a wise choice about the title. NATIVE LANDS immediately drew my attention, while CONNECTING THE DOTS felt more like a light mystery. It’s funny how a title can do some much to attract readers, isn’t it?


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