Heavy on the Dialogue.
When I was planning this story, I knew there must be at least nine main characters because of the idea of an ennead or group of nine. However, I did not intend to write a sequel to The Lord of The Flies, so I also needed some adults, preferably of the kind and caring type. In my experience they are often grandparents, but most often grandparents are fortunate in that they can go back home after visiting or baby sitting; they do not have that day-to-day parental stress to deal with.
Unfortunately, the grandparents in this story were going to be baby sitting, not one or two but nine grandchildren of varying ages, and for two months, so they had to be special and they were. They knew that making the summer work would require a very different way of treating the children and they knew just what it was - with respect and trust. They needed the children to share the load willingly, not because they were forced to.
This is one of the reasons my story depends heavily on dialogue, for respect and trust require a lot of talking. I suppose I could have had less of that, but there was another reason to use dialogue, and that was because this is a story about ideas, and I find that ideas are best understood through conversation where one person may be the explainer and others may ask questions for clarification.
When I am studying or reading something complicated, I often wish I could just ask the question that is bothering me or holding me back, and most often I cannot.
In order to solve this problem, I used the concept of a circle. I first truly understood the power of the circle when I was studying for my doctorate in adult education at UBC in 1983. No class was ever taught with rows of learners. I think I had known the value of this for a long time because all through my first fourteen years of teaching I was constantly experimenting with classroom arrangements that were not dominated by looking at the backs of heads. When I returned to teaching in the mid-eighties, I was fortunate to be teaching at an adult high school and made sure that my classroom was in the form of a square where everyone could see everyone else, and it worked. I also came to appreciate the circle more as I got to know native people in my community and was able to attend their gatherings in the early nineties.
My final reason for using dialogue is that I like it. I like fast reads best, and those tend to be heavy on dialogue, probably why I am drawn to mysteries and detective fiction. I can still learn things but have more fun doing it. I also do not believe that heavy descriptions are necessary. Readers can us their imaginations. At one point, I say that Lucy rubbed her back against a tree. It would not matter if it were an oak or an elm. I simply wanted the reader to imagine that experience.
To wrap up this discussion on dialogue, I would like to point out that the characters live in my head and speak through me. I am merely a scribe keeping a record of the discussions and thoughts of the characters. I do not have to stop and think of who should say what; they simply take over. At least that is how it feels. It can also be said that I am all of the characters or that each represents a side of me or a side of me that I would like to exist.
Just so you do not think that my style is “out of control”, I do maintain the flow and control the plot although spontaneous changes in direction can and do happen.
I do plan my stories. For the Summer of the Ennead, I had written biographies for all of the main human characters as well as short stories about each of the animal beings. I had a rough idea about there being three parts to the story and what each would contain, but I had not given a lot of thought to the transitions from one part to the next.
Part I was a very simple chronology starting with Day One or the day of the arrival of the nine. I also decided not to limit my groupings to weeks but to nine-day cycles. I thought it fit nicely with the idea of an ennead. The idea of nine-day cycles worked very well as it happens, since that summer of 1985 had sixty-three days. This created a group of nine nines – seven nine-day cycles plus nine children plus nine animal guides.
When I got to Part II, I realized I had a serious problem. In Part II, I intended to introduce the stories of the children meeting their guides and learning how to transform. I was truly stuck because I could see no way to maintain the day-to-day pattern while introducing nine different stories twice.
This is where the sleeping brain saved my bacon – apologies to vegetarian friends and family. I awoke one morning at four AM, and I knew I had the solution. I would deal with two nine-day cycles wherein I would describe the interactions between the children and their guides and drop in some side stories about important goings-on in the camp. But I could not do this without explaining. Hence the use of a narrator or story guide became necessary. At first, I was concerned about breaking rules, but I am a rule breaker by nature, so I said what the heck and did it my way.
I wanted my story to be easy to read for anyone but with a kind of formality one often associates with the elderly and the scholarly. I wanted my elders, including the animal beings to sound like philosophers but philosophers who are able to communicate with ordinary folks. I wanted Aesop and not Walt Disney. Actually, I must be honest. If I had wanted this ahead of actually doing the writing, I was unaware of it consciously. This is where those beings in my brain took over. When I started writing the dialogues between the kids and their guides, the guides just started talking like philosophers and it seemed cool.
I hope that gives you some idea about the style of The Summer of the Ennead. As always, I am open to questions.
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.