Many years ago I came across a poster from a kids’ book that said, “When things are falling apart, look at how many ways there are to keep it together.” It was illustrated with a rubber band, paper clip, paper fastener, staples, glue, and tape. I kept the poster for years because I am not the kind of girl who can naturally keep things together. I need that rubber band and glue and tape. So when I got the idea for a plot with multiple storylines, my immediate thought was: I can’t remember when the kids have their next violin lesson, how am I going to manage multiple threads without actual humans to remind me what they’ve already done and what they’re supposed to be doing next?
Foolishly, I told an editor about this nebulous project, for which I had no real storyline, main character, or even a working idea of the outcome. Fortunately, she did not laugh outright. We were having a lunch meeting outdoors on a sunny day, so maybe the tasty guacamole and warm weather made her kinder with me than she ought to have been. She suggested I read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life which follows protagonist Ursula through several lifetimes in the same timeframe, where she dies over and over again, each time, trying to preserve herself from death, and each time heading toward a predestined path. The concept is amazing, but I found getting into the book to be difficult. The storyline goes back and forth in time, and then there are the multiple lives of Ursula to deal with. At the beginning, it’s quite confusing. But now, 155 pages in (and a month later) the beauty of the novel is beginning to unfold, and I wonder. How did Atkinson keep it all together?
Then last night, my husband and I watched The Cloud Atlas. I also tried to read this book a couple of years back, and found it equally confounding. We settled in to watch it after the kids went to bed so we could avoid distraction. That was good thinking. You really need to pay attention. The multiple storylines and multiple timeframes, and actors playing multiple roles make it interesting and distracting enough that I’m going to need to watch it a second time. Hugh Grant as cannibal. That really needs a second look. But at the end of it, a little after 1am this morning, I turned to my husband and said, “I wish I could write like that.”
Doesn’t really bode well for my little multiple storyline novel, does it? And yet, I’m intrigued by the concept, if only because I have not attempted it before, and also because I see it can be done well (though perhaps not by me). I tend to be a low-tech girl, with my index cards, and my sticky notes. But something this unwieldy requires technology, I think. So I downloaded Scrivener, a writing program designed to hold a writer’s hand through multiple documents, drafts, and a mishmash of ideas. I am making my way through the tutorial this week. Hopefully, it will help me to muddle through and come out the other end with something marginally readable. If nothing else, I’m going to learn to be organized! And juggle ideas well! And not lose my mind in the process!
That’s the goal, anyway. But if you come across me out in the world looking dazed and confused, muttering nonsense, just hand me a binder clip, or some string. It’ll remind me to keep things together. Even if it’s just on the outside.