By Candy Gourlay
#ukmgchat is THURSDAY 9th April with @candygourlay talking about DUAL NARRATIVE books for 8-13s. Ooooooh. @authorontheedge
— Wise Miriam (@miriamhcraig)
So yeah, I'm guesting on #ukmgchat this coming Thursday. #ukmgchat is a Twitter discussion group that chats under the hashtag every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. EXCEPT my guest appearance is on a !!!Thursday!!! just to confuse everyone.
When my friend Miriam Craig invited me to lead a discussion on dual narratives, I got a little bit spooked. What did I know about dual narratives? My nervous tweet:
@authorontheedge: @kieraobrien @candygourlay dual narratives are tricky things #ukmgchat"
— Candy Gourlay (@candygourlay)
Miriam replied cheerfully. "You've written two books that are both dual narrative in different ways."
But! But! But!
Miriam was unfazed: "And then outside of that, you've read zillions of books that use various different narrative viewpoints, and you will have your opinions on what works and why."
Gah! Gah! Gah!
Miriam continued: "And you've had the experience of seeing how all sorts of different kids have interpreted and reacted to the dual narrative element in your books."
Hmm that Miriam sure is wise. I agreed to do it and now that I've gone through that door of no return, I thought I'd ruminate in anticipation.
THE WHY OF WRITING A DUAL NARRATIVE STORY
Jennifer Donnelly (It's called Northern Light in the United States). There is only one voice, that of Mattie Gokie, an impoverished1906 teenager who must choose between marriage and pursuing her dream to become a writer. But the story alternates between an earlier Mattie, struggling to look after her family, and Mattie, just a few months later, after she gets a job. One thread is in past tense and the other in present tense. It makes for an intriguing story!
Kill your darlings!) -- but she was so strong, so compelling, that even my editors wouldn't let me chop her out of the story. In the end, my editor Bella Pearson came back from maternity leave and sensibly suggested that I give her a share of the spotlight. Which is why Shine has a subplot told in the second person point of view (!) and at first there doesn't seem to be a connection but it all comes together in the end.
One thing that had not occurred to me, as a children's author, was that child readers might struggle to get to grips with a dual narrative. Adding that extra storyline to Shine for example, bumped it up to young adult (not just because of the dual narrative but because the subplot had an adult sensibility).
Indeed, visiting Year 6 school children (10 and 11 years old) recently, I found plenty of readers who had no problem with switching between voices -- who enjoyed the contrast and the story structure. And I also found readers who struggled with it, finding the changing voices confusing. Thank goodness for teacher enthusiasm, these readers got it in the end. I lent the schools audiobooks of Tall Story, which seemed to help.
I love the challenge of the dual viewpoint. I love telling two stories at the same time, through two different voices, and then watching the separate strands interact and surprise, one revealing surprises about the other until they melt into a single delicious whole.
But be warned, if you're a pantser (a writer who doesn't plan or who plans very little), you will have to put on some y-fronts once in a while to make this dual narrative thing work. The magic (and the fun) is in plotting out the arcs of the two stories so that their peaks and troughs interact in an exciting way.
The climax of a dual narrative would involve a collision between the two stories - great fun once you figure out how to do it!
And of course you will have not one but TWO endings that must leave your reader feeling satisfied and yet loathe to let go.
If you'd like to share your own writing experiences with dual narrative, or a favourite dual narrative book, join us on #UKMGchat, Thursday, 9 April, on Twitter, 8 to 9 pm GMT. How to join? Read this.
If you liked this, you might enjoy my post How We Live Now, looking back on changes to the children's book world since I started trying to get published. Read it in my blog on writing Notes from the Slushpile.