When one is putting together a book that tells the story of a particular town, the details of how to organize that story can become a problem. Perhaps the story flows naturally through the era of time being chronicled, one part of the story following the other in a logical neat order. Or perhaps the story is disjointed, wandering off in one direction for a while before lurching suddenly back in another. When you come to the end of the story, after all of the writing has been done, then one has to figure out where the divisions or chapter breaks will fit into that story. An editor can start to dissect the story and look at presenting it in the form of a published book. Where are the chapter breaks; where should the graphs and maps go; which photographs should be included with the story – these are all questions that need to be answered as the book is edited and prepared for publishing.
As I write at volume II of my history of La Farge, I need to think about some of these editing questions as I move through the time period of 1962 to 2013. I am tempted to just write the story from beginning to end and disregard any consideration for organization while I write. I basically did that with my dam book, That Dam History – The Story of The La Farge Dam Project. Once I started writing that story, I just rammed forward with the writing and paid little attention to the format of the book or how that story might look in book-form. Interestingly, for that writing on the dam book, I wrote the story of the dam project first and then wrote the “Prelude To The Story” introductory chapter afterword.
I have received criticism from some about how the dam book was organized and I think those people who question the format and how the book was put together have valid points. Some have said that my “Prelude” chapter, which includes many of my opinions on the dam project in its eleven pages, should have come at the end of the story. I thought about putting it there, at the end of the story, but decided to put it up front in the book to sort of clear the air of my opinions on the topic. I hoped that after reading the “Prelude”, the reader would look at the rest of the dam story and see that it was hopefully written without too much prejudice or bias. As Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, sir.”
Something else that I hear from readers of the book has to do with the length of a couple of chapters in the book, particularly chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 3 - “Parallel Paths – 1968-1975” is sixty-six pages long and Chapter 4 – “The Wilderness Years On The Government Land – 1976-1996” is forty-four pages in length. None of the other four chapters in the dam book are longer than thirteen pages. There is some inconsistency there, to be sure. But as far as the story flowed, the chapters and their length seemed to be logical divisions of the telling of the tale. Looking back, I think the chapters could have or should have been divided better, especially chapter 3, but, as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Now I’m working on another book, and am trying to use some foresight in telling this story of my hometown. The story covers a fifty-year period, so there could be a simple way of dividing the book by coming up with a chapter for each of the five decades that the story covers. The story may play out that way, but I’m already looking at the first chapter as covering the years 1962 to 1975. Those are the years of the story framed by the first unveiling of the Corps of Engineers dam project at La Farge (1962) and the eventual stopping of the project by political forces in 1975. As far as how the dam project affected La Farge over that time frame, there is a lot of story to tell. It is a long and convoluted trail that has to be followed in telling that part of the story. Not only do I have to relate the amazing run of events that played out in the telling of the dam story, but the effect of those dam project twists and turns on the village has to be told as well. The loss of population and rural communities is one aspect of how the dam project affected La Farge. But perhaps of equal or even greater importance is how the divisiveness of the debate over the dam project tore at the town and its leaders for decades.
In addition, there were other things going on in La Farge during that time. There was a physical transformation of the town during that time. The town started the process of moving away from the river and relocating on higher ground. There was a great deal of change in the business community during that time, some of which carries through to the present. There was also a migration of new people to the community during that decade, people who would eventually make up the foundation of the town.
All of these aspects of that time frame need to be told. Is telling all of that part of the story too long for one chapter, especially the first? I’m not sure; we will see how it all plays out when I take keyboard to fingers and start putting it all down on the Word document. Regardless what I end up with in telling that part of the story, I think that I have a good chapter title for that first one. It is the title of this blog entry. So what do you think; does the chapter title do anything for you?