Review: The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Nifenegger

I thought I would take the liberty of offering some of my opinions on this book, which I am very close to finishing. Audrey Niffenegger’s powerful  novel is based on the time-travelling exploits of Henry de Tamble.

Firstly, if I was to comment on the book’s storyline, I would say that the plot offers both a humorous and serious angle on a very elusive concept. Henry, a pretty ordinary fellow, quite powerlessly travels back and forth within his own lifetime, whilst his long suffering wife, Clare, remains at home wondering whether or not to cook his tea! (Get a sense of B-Witched, with Darren disappearing regularly and thats without a twitch of the nose.)

It was the time travel concept in itself which drew me to the book. I loved the quirkiness of it’s premise, though I didn’t want to ponder too much over the mechanics of time travel and the ‘Einsteinian’ theories related to it; there is some scientific jargon in the latter part of the book in the hope of explaining Henry’s disability away. I enjoyed the book from a fictional vantage, regardless of the possibilities or impossibilities related to the Scientific fields of Genetics and Physics.

With each character perspective Niffenegger gives us the time travelling date, year, and the current ages of the couple. Being all topsy turvy as it is, you might find a section where Henry is 30 and Clare is 8; without warning he just happened to go back in time to be confronted with her at her pre-adolescent age.  As you can imagine, this accounts for some very awkward yet humorous dialogue, all within an impossible circumstance. In fact, times that awkwardness by a thousand, because Henry quite powerlessly vanishes and re-appears completely naked. To the outside world the couple persistently concoct wild bunches of lies to cover up the madness of their reality and Niffenegger chose to write in the first person perspective of both Clare and Henry, which I think is a nice touch giving  a balanced view of both.

I absolutely loved a couple of very beautiful narrative moments in this book, which pulled my emotions into twin depths of sadness and hilarity.

One of these is when Henry visits a ‘Doctor of Genetics’ for assistance in finding a cure. The Doctor more or less insinuates to Henry (quite rightly) that he’s a complete lunatic. Henry gives up and leaves the office feeling deflated. When the Doctor sees Henry disappear in the parking lot from his office window, he is thrown into a cerebral frenzy. The Doctor frantically races outside and jumps in the car to speak to a very non-plussed Clare, who has been sitting patiently there waiting for Henry the whole time. Henry then promptly re-appears in front of both the Doctor and Clare in his Birthday suit. A disgruntled Henry collects his pile of clothes from the floor and says to the Doctor through the car window…

‘Hello,’

“Nice to see you again. I am leaving now. Goodbye.”

He gets inside the backseat and both he and Clare wait for him to go. Their completely neutral expressions are a complete parody to the Doctor’s one of immense disbelief. Oh what a massively humorous scene that is, in one way, but you feel the need to cry at the whole ridiculousness of that situation for poor Henry and Clare.

If I have anything negative to say about this story, it is purely personal. I found the story confusing now and again, due to the nature of the theme.  Also, there is quite a bit of unfamiliar phrasing (‘i took a  bite of the bismark’.. ‘clare comes in with an armful of abaca fiber’… ‘we’ve taken to quoting kierkegaard and heidegger’…. sorry who?’)  which jarred my flow of reading. Due to this I had trouble getting through this book quickly. It took a lot more concentration than I cared to give it at times, but the overall picture is pleasant. It is definitely not a shallow story and I recommend it as a worthwhile read.

How I Learned to Structure a Novel

Here’s how you can figure out your novel’s structure in a few EASY steps.

What essentially gave me a good insight into the methods and mechanics of writing was not just reading a few novels, it was actually taking them to pieces and making notes on their structure.

You can read a book for more than one reason, enjoyment, educational purposes and meaning. Most people buy books and read them for pleasure, and that’s it.

General readers don’t care how a book is put together, that’s the author’s job.

You need to get to grips with structure even though this particular beast is one of many, and it’s also  one that drives many writers crazy.

Arranging the Structure.

The idea is to structure the story efficiently so that it flows without being too slow, too fast, or boring for the reader.  You want to keep an eye on the pace without being bogged down with all the other details. This little tactic will give you an idea of what’s happening in a ‘paired down’ list, plus show you how a long story is glued together.

Take your favourite book off the shelf, or one closest to the genre you want to write in. Read it again, but this time each time you hit the end of a chapter make some notes on what I call the ‘beats’ of the chapter. These are the most important things that happened in that chapteras well as any important characters that were introduced.

For instance:

Ch.  1 – Mike and Louise.

Stroll in the city.

Louise is hit by a car.

Mike attempts to save her.

Forget descriptions, adjectives, dialogue, just write the beats.

You’ve  eliminated every possible bit of  flesh and left nothing but the bare bones; a minimalistic story outline. Somewhere toward the middle of your chapters you will find the story  should become more gripping (or at least the plot(s)are thickening at an increasing pace,)  things may then seem to even out a keel, until you reach the climax and conclusion.

I have used this method a few times and even though I may not go with the exact same story structure I have outlined, it gives me an insight into how favourite authors of mine pieced their story together without having all the additional story ‘flesh’ to muddle my brain.

It’s sort of like working backwards from the finishing line. You can even do this for a short story. It works.

Give it a try whenever you become stuck with the structure of a book, or feel unsure how to bring your plots together or tie them into your story sufficiently.

One book I recommend on the subject of plot and structure is by award winning thriller author James Scott Bell as it offers clear and concise information on creating a believable and engaging plot.

Getting a Writing Schedule

Being a self-employed (or rather self-imploding) writer it’s often hard to separate work from home life.  I mean how many sit-at- home writers actually manage a decent schedule of their time? Do they do three hours in the morning , break for lunch, maybe another two and then decide that they’ve had enough? Or do they do what I do, and jump around flitting between housework -writing – cooking -writing – eating – writing – sleeping -writing – shopping – writing.

 Need I say more?

I suppose I am more than a little curious here, so if any other writers that pass by care to share, let me know how you manage it. I find it difficult to break away once I am seriously in-the-zone. The main problem is getting into the zone to begin with. It’s like getting in to a cold swimming pool for the first time, you just don’t want to go in there at all, but you know that once you’re in, you’re IN, and there’s no getting you out again, (in a hurry.)

Once you’re in that zone, time seems to catapult ahead of you and before you know it dishes have piled up in the sink, the dog is circling beneath your feet whining like crazy to get out, the take-away menu you promised yourself you would ditch on Jan 1st, suddenly comes out of the drawer. All hell is let loose, and then when you do go to bed you think.. hmm God what a load of buggery-doobas I’ve written down.  I could have slept for those four hours instead. Yep a terrible dilemma, and all for what?

I guess that’s just how the writing life sometimes feels!