I won't make you wait. Here are three things I learned from writing my second novel Passport Control.1. You can deviate from the traditional coming-of-age structure.
Classically, protagonists in coming-of-age stories encounter a singularly painful experience that make them realize once and for all that they are alone in the world. They soon discover they must struggle to a place of safety—physically or emotionally—though they are companionless, or at least without the adults they are closest to around for guidance.
The protagonists go on to mine formerly unknown inner strengths in this newly discovered raw space and sometimes develop outer hardiness, too.
In the last act, the world is the same planet it always was; it is the hero or heroine who has grown strong enough to navigate it.
But not all novels tread a straight path.
There's nothing wrong with this structure and I am a fan of coming-of-age novels, but my heroine Miriam Gil embarks on a journey that does not fit precisely into this neat pattern. While she does have a painful experience that makes her feel as though she must strike out into the world on her own, the more she scratches beneath the surface, the more confused she becomes.
Each drop of clarity brings her to a messier more bewildered state. The conventional transformation from innocent and naive to mature and wise does happen, but not on every level as readers have come to expect from this genre. There are layers that deliberately mislead both Miriam and the reader. Similarly, neither Miriam nor the reader will attain total balance.
For one, this is far closer to real life and my own experience of writing this novel, which leaped from a short story to a novella to a novel over a period of years and went through more than one publisher along the way.
It also reflects the landscape of my novel, a key player. It weaves the location even deeper into the bones of the characters to provide the effect of as little separation as possible. There is nothing orderly about this area of the world.2. You can't have enough foreshadowing.
I'm a big foreshadowing enthusiast. I used to teach an online literary devices class and foreshadowing remained my favorite, no matter how many times I restarted the course. I enjoy the more obvious hints in fiction, as well as the subtle ones for readers unraveling the pages at different levels.
I was certain I had enough foreshadowing in Passport Control in my final draft, but with each editorial reading empty pockets I could fill with more of this device were pointed out to me.
Tighten your story with foreshadowing.
I came to appreciate this literary device is not only a tension builder, but a genuine way to weave the story until it's a snug, close-fitting read. And so, the more dangerous incidents are preceded by milder ones throughout the novel. The desired effect on the reader is they are more prepared to believe the events that unfold as they increase in intensity. It increases their trust that that this is an authentic story and, indeed, that it could not have happened any other way.3. Love your characters.
Really let go and allow yourself to fall in love with them. If you feel a tenderness for your characters the result will be vivid, sharp dialogue and effortless character arcs.
I didn't fall in love with every character overnight; it was more of a slow waltz with some and a head over heels plunge with others.
Take Guy, for example, Miriam's boyfriend in Passport Control. He is purely imaginary. I conjured him up out of my own female fantasy land, the one I didn't even know I had. And it's worked big time. Aside from my Palestinian character, Farzeen, the number one comment I've received so far from readers is how much they love Guy.
You know you love them when you miss them.
And I think I've unlocked the secret: I love him, too! I've found myself sitting on a packed train leaving Tel Aviv after a long work day teaching English to Israeli college students or at a bus stop in Jerusalem after a morning of shopping in the mall, gawking at real-life soldiers.
Within two minutes I catch myself imagining which soldier could be Guy in Passport Control, an idealist, a builder, a young man who dreams of nothing more than changing the whole world, or at least the region he lives in. All of this, months after I submitted my final draft on the last proofread. I admit, I miss him, as absurd as that sounds.
It took me two days to write the original Passport Control, a 12-page short story for a writing class. It took me another year to write Passport Control, the 100-page novella. It took me two years to write the novel into a state that is at least recognizable as the final draft.
Just as I felt compelled to continue chiseling away at this story until it evolved from its short form to its final long form. I hope you feel compelled to try a few pages and then continue through this tightly-woven, not so neat and tidy journey, and maybe even fall in love along the way.
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