When Courage Came to Call is the debut novel of Lauren Fuge (aka LM Fuge). You can read more about Lauren Fuge and When Courage Came to Call in this interview with The Australian Literature Review, this Sydney Morning Herald article, this Adelaide Now article this review by Bec Stafford on Burn Bright and this review by Megan Burke on Literary Life .
Reading When Courage Came to Call, something struck me – The chapter transitions could be taken alone to convey much of the thrust of the story. Each chapter can be treated as a progression from one chapter transition to the next, while the bulk in the middle deals with the detailed specifics of getting from one point to the next. I thought to myself, “This would be a flexible way for writers to outline a story to get a general overview of how it fits together before writing it out in full.”
The problem with many outline methods is that many writers create content to fit the outline method they use rather than just using an outline to describe whatever story they want to tell and to help keep the progression of the story in mind. Using chapter transitions as an outline allows for a lot of flexibility while still providing guidance so you can get down to writing with confidence. Plus it avoids the pitfalls of conforming to story types that fit a theoretical design when you could be engaged in spontaneous and enjoyable storytelling instead.
Read the following to understand what I mean. Below is the first and last sentence for each chapter of When Courage Came to Call, up to the beginning of chapter 5. The first and last 2-3 sentences for each chapter give a fuller account of the main thrust of the story but the first sentences give a sufficient indication for demonstration here.
1 I was in the teaching house when the first bomb hit.
And then, in the flickering light and silence, I was wrenched into real life as it happened.
2 The first I knew of it was the low, rumbling engine of a plane.
This was war.
3 When light flooded my eyelids, I thought I was in my bed with the sunlight filtering through the window.
I was too frightened to move and I don’t think Saxon was going to move until I did.
4 I became unstuck when there was movement down the alley.
We sprinted for the river.
5 Shots rang out.
Hopefully you can imagine from the above how such an outline could provide you with a set of points in your story that allow you to write with the freedom of knowing that, as long as you progress from one point to the next in some way, you don’t have to worry too much about plot structure and your story will still stay on track.
This can help make writing fun as you improvise and explore the story while you get words down. If you come up with something so good you want to revise the following chapter transitions to allow it to feature more prominently in the story you can do that too. If you want more points for guidance, you can make a few dot points to guide you from a chapter’s first sentence to its last. You may want to write all the chapter transitions before you start writing the story, or just the transitions for the first few chapters, or the transitions for first and last chapter then one chapter at a time as you go. Do whatever you prefer.
In When Courage Came to Call, each first sentence in a chapter typically partially reveals a situation so a reader has to read on to get more and more details, until the final sentence (or few sentences) in the chapter promises something to come, which is partially explained in the opening of the new chapter, requiring a reader to keep reading for more details, and so on. This contributes to making the novel an effective suspense story.
This reminds me of Aristotle’s breakdown of story into beginning, middle and end. Between the first and last sentence of When Courage Came to Call, everything is truly ‘middle’ in Aristotle’s sense (from Poetics (available free in text or audio) – not in the plot template ‘three act structure’ sense which many now loosely associate with Aristotle). That is, it is necessarily both preceded by and followed by something – if you don’t continue or explain what came before, there are obvious questions raised but left unanswered. This could be contrasted with the stopping, starting and veering off in different directions of some novelists who have more of a ‘beginning, middle and end’ attitude to each chapter instead of ending each chapter in a way that implies something unfinished, to be continued in the next chapter.
While the chapter transitions are being focused on here, it is not simply a few writing techniques like those discussed above which make When Courage Came to Call a compelling novel – it is also the personalities of the characters and the overall context of how they are portrayed in the novel throughout the difficult circumstances they face, the clear and concise storytelling, and so on.
The first chapter of When Courage Came to Call is available here.
The Australian Literature Review