06 March 2007

Notes on the Letters

I'm thinking more and more that I should have either a narrator who tells the story, filling in the blanks, or that the stories should use a typographic "dissolve" from the letters (perhaps in Italic) and the story that connects them.

I could use this conceit to interrupt a letter so that it opens the scene, but instead of relating everything as part of a very long letter, we switch to a narrative account. It would otherwise stretch the believability if each letter were a dozen pages in length. Or I could tell the story between letters, so that each letter was of a reasonable length and complete, but between letters the narration carries on.

In either case, I need to be careful not to lose the charm and continuity of letting the letters themselves tell the story, or at least reveal the story's underlying meaning.

If I use a narration, what is the Point of View? M. suggests that I re-read Cold Mountain to help with that, and I might. But as I see it, I have several alternatives.

  1. A descendent is compiling a family history and tells the stories.

  2. One of the characters is the narrator telling about it from her POV while poring over the letters.

  3. Narration is fully 3rd person neutral, covering all POVs. This has the greatest likelihood of success but also the biggest risk of sounding like a history book.

  4. A peripheral character of the time tells the story, like the representative.

  5. Alternates to #1 include a near descendent, like Thomas's son, or a descendent in 1959 at the unveiling of the statue to the Unknown Soldier, or a contemporary narrator.

  6. It could also be a person in charge of the memorial or in charge of exhuming a body form the mass burial field for the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Character Sketches:

Thomas Dowding Born to a wealthy family in New England in 1745. Educated at Harvard which he left at age 17 to go to England and study at the Inns of Court. On the ship on his return to America he meets and falls in love with Ellen Garrick. They are married soon after they arrive back in Connecticut and he takes her to live in Western Connecticut. They have two children while Thomas practices law. He is brought to the attention of the soon-to-be representative to the First Continental Congress and is gradually brought into the fold of the Sons of Liberty.

Ellen Garrick Born in 1751 in Devon. She comes to America with her father who is to take some sort of government position in Connecticut arranged by his brother or brother-in-law who is influential in the British Colonial government. Ellen is a country girl at heart and loves the idea of rural living in America. She despises the cesspool of Philadelphia and won't go to live there with Thomas. She starts out as the daughter of a British functionary, progresses to join her husband's patriotism, then under the influence of her uncle passes Thomas's letters on to the British. When Thomas ceases writing and is presumed dead, she flees with her uncle and father and the children to Canada.

As I see this overall, the big danger would be to let the history become too important. I need to know where my characters intersect with history, but not to confuse the novel with a history lesson. I should be able to extract the story from this time and place it in WWII, Bagdad, or some future place and still have roughly the same story with the same letters. It is ultimately about a family divided by distance and political allegiance. That story is timeless.