#6. Time span

Updated: Mar 9


For the first time in thirteen years of writing fiction, I have begun a new novel, asking myself what the time span would be. Normally, I don’t think about it that early in the writing process. I let the story unravel first and, after a couple of months, as the chronology starts shaping up, I add dates and I'm more specific about the duration of certain events. While I've always made sure that the time span I'd chosen worked, it's never been at the forefront of my mind.

But what I like to do with each new novel, is to try something new. In Heading for the Wall, I used the first-person narrative for the first time for my three main characters, who happened to be men. In Not to Hold, I chose to introduce the third – and mostly unseen – main character through flashbacks interspersed throughout the story. With L’éloge de l’ombre, I was curious to explore how people can reinvent themselves and I also wanted to use photography as a storytelling device. And with Décalé, I chose to blur the lines between reality and fiction.

Writing is the best way I can think of to challenge myself. If I'd known how to do any of those things, I wouldn't have written my novels. While there are many aspects of the writing process that, by definition, repeat themselves every time I craft a new story, there are always new ways for me to make the exploration more intense, more challenging, more fun.

Like most writers, I need to have a routine in place, but I make sure it applies only to the practical aspect of the writing process. When it comes to storytelling, to putting words to the page, the last thing I want is to repeat what I have done before. In fact, I had written notes for this new novel in April of last year, which ended up in the bin. They were too familiar. I could tell I had explored most of the ideas before and I wasn't interested in revisiting them.

Writing my fifth novel will take months, a year or more possibly. The text will be about 80,000 words long, the average length of my novels in English, and my chapters will contain on average six to nine pages. And, crucially, the story I've chosen to tell is going to be set in the course of a day, using flashbacks to introduce back stories and key events. Contrary to what some of you may think, this idea wasn't inspired by Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, which I read more than twenty years ago and didn't enjoy, but by the story I'm interested in exploring.

Choosing to write a novel set in the course of a day for the sake of it, to see if I can do it, wouldn't make sense, because the story always comes first. Otherwise, I would be writing by numbers, which is the ultimate contradiction in terms and a pointless exercise at that. Whichever rope I end up using is in the service of my story. Put it that way, if in two month's time, I realise that the time span I've chosen doesn't do justice to my story, I will change it immediately and I will not lose sleep over it. In the meantime, I cannot wait to get started and try something new!

​​© 2019 Caroline Jestaz


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