Getting the novel you are writing from A to B

“I came for this reason: I want to know what happened between A and B.”
Bennie seemed to be waiting for more.
“A is when we were both in the band, chasing the same girl. B is now.”

The washed up guitar player, cum janitor, who makes these statements is a character in Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD. Scotty is expressing the central thesis of the book: the march of time that leaves us all wondering in certain moments, how we got here. The book is a series of connected short stories that depict moments of time over a thirty-year span that make the reader work to find out how the characters in the book got from one to the other.

The dilemma of getting from A to B is something writers deal with all the time. Moving a plot from beginning to end is what writing a novel is. It is impossible to show everything that happens between those two points so you have to choose. What scenes do you show and which ones can you simply relate in passing?

There is no easy answer this question of what to include and what not. It depends on the story and your style of writing. One piece of advice is not to skip out on big, critical scenes as some of our clients have tried to do lately. If an important character dies, in the course of the book, it is a good idea to show it. You can’t ask the reader to invest in a character, then kill the character, without showing it. The reader won’t stand for it.

Each scene should advance the plot and you, as the writer, should be pretty clear about how. If the scene doesn’t contribute to the unfolding of the story, then probably, it isn’t necessary and may even drag the story down.

In GOON SQUAD, Egan completely breaks these rules. In her book, major events mostly happen offstage. But this is purposeful. She is making the point that both in art and in life a lot happens in pauses. The result is an interesting read. This book was not a favorite of the book club which would have preferred a more sequenced narrative with straight line character development. But we think GOON SQUAD is brilliant. It really made us think about novel structure.