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The Satisfaction of Connections

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Sahlan Diver

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One of the things a writer can do to make their novel more complete, more whole, is to make connections. Let me explain.

Before I wrote my first novel, I wrote a stage play. Budding playwrights enjoy one substantial advantage over novelists – a critique for a play costs as little as a tenth of the cost of a novel critique. And many professional theatre companies will even generously critique your opus for free. The first dramaturgist to whom I sent my play said he was highly amused to find “a letter placed on the mantlepiece” in Act 1. There’s an old maxim for murder mystery plays that, if there’s a gun on the mantlepiece in Act 1, it’s going to be fired in Act 3. Sure enough, in Act 3 of my play, the letter on the mantlepiece is opened, to great dramatic effect.

An object can be used in multiple ways to make connections between different aspects of your plot. In my play, I needed a way of getting several characters out of the room so that the two remaining could hold an important private conversation. I hit on the idea that another character had arrived at the premises in a flashy sports car. Several people leave the room to go outdoors to admire his car. But then I realised I could make further use of the sports car. Firstly, it established the presumed wealth of the owner. Secondly, it was the opportunity for the “master of the house” to show further dislike of his guest, due to the implied challenge to the master’s top-dog status. Thirdly, and most importantly, it provided an explanation to support the plausibility of a surprise reveal, which I cannot give detail about here because it would involve spoilers. So, from just one object, a sports car, I was able to connect otherwise disparate elements together, making the narrative both more believable and more satisfying.

Making connections is parallel to the advice given for establishing the ‘place’ of the novel in the reader’s mind, that one should describe the same location from many different viewpoints, to achieve a three-dimensional view. In my novel, “The Secret Resort of Nostalgia”, shortlisted for the 2017 international Yeovil Literary Prize, the protagonist first encounters the mysterious town of Nostalgia when approaching its medieval-style walls on a canal barge. Later, he describes its appearance from a mile away, looking across a sandy beach at low tide. Another time, from the perspective of a small offshore island at high tide. Later, walking around the semi-circle of the walls that partly enclose the town. Later still, looking from the top of high distant hills, and another time from an elevated aspect through a telescope. We see the town in dense fog, on a clear sunny day, in the aftermath of a storm with flooded streets. And there are several atmospheric night-time descriptions, by moonlight, by the sweep of a lighthouse beam, and so on.

Connections are also important between characters. The reason Agatha Christie is so successful in her genre is that, even if one guesses the person “whodunnit”, it is the connections between the supporting characters that she manages to keep so well hidden until the reveal, when one finds the whole confusing mix makes perfect sense after all.

In my fourth stage play, “The Arrangement”, charting an affair between a young black lawyer and a white woman in her mid-fifties, much use is made of connections: the connection between Isaac, the lawyer, and a Caribbean religious fanatic; the connection between Isaac and his older woman lover, Grace, which they only discover halfway into the play; the connection between the fanatic and the hotel where Grace and Isaac carry on their affair; the connection of a journalist who is pursuing both the religious fanatic and seeking to expose Grace and Isaac’s liaison.

In summary: make connections! Connections are good.

(c) Sahlan Diver

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