Novel update: The power of focusing

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I think I had a minor brain explosion the other day. B. and I were watching Tora! Tora! Tora! and it suddenly occurred to me why the hell I can’t seem to get a handle on my novel, despite being 200+ pages into the enterprise.

Tora! Tora! Tora!, for those of you not familiar with this great classic film, tells the story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor from the point of view of both the Americans and the Japanese. I think it was the first time that both sides of the war had collaborated on a retelling of the event, as both Japanese and American production companies contributed to this massive effort. I did see the Ben Affleck bomb (no pun intended), Pearl Harbor, and was dutifully impressed by the awesome attack scenes, but it can’t even come close to the nail-biting drama and acting prowess of this 1970 production.

Anyway, what struck me was that — duh — this 130-minute film dealt solely with one event. I know, I know, it’s so painfully obvious, but for someone struggling with an unwieldy novel set in exactly the same time period, it was a revelation. It’s not that I’m going to telescope my main character’s situation into a single event, but I realized all of a sudden that I was trying to pad my MC’s story with lots of essentially, uhm, non-essential stuff. His dilemma alone is the story and should be the focus, not all this other stuff I’m throwing his way. And while I still plan to make it into a story that spans the entire length of the war, I think I can definitely bring a tighter focus to the narrative so that it doesn’t feel like it’s all over the place. I mean, I’m already at about 215 pages, and the war has just barely started.

I’m also reading Pierre Boulle’s Bridge Over the River Kwai as part of the background research, and my oh my, talk about focusing on a single event. (The seminal David Lean film was based on this book, written by the same French author who penned Planet of the Apes. I know. Weird.) The whole novel is about a proper British commander’s attempt to prove to the Japanese the superiority of British military discipline by building the latter’s bridge and railway for them. That’s it. Unlike the film, no American characters show up to save the day. It’s just this captured British military unit building a bridge alongside their Japanese captors in some godforsaken part of Malaya. Brilliant.

So there you go. I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to go about doing this, but at least I know have some basic framework. It’ll make research so much easier, now that I’m not trying to cram everything about the war into this book. God, what a relief.

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One thought on “Novel update: The power of focusing

  1. As long as the war doesn’t become <>the<> focus, it’s good to have the characters relate to the background. I know that sounds like one giant ‘duh’ 😉 but it seems that so many books these days are nearly all dialogue with a few bits of environment tossed in just so we know when and where a story is happening.I know in mine, now that I’ve found some historical info that I’ve needed, I can add more layers to the narrative. Not riffing on places or things, but mentioning them, elaborating for a few lines, tying such items to a memory, for example.

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