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Add depth to your novel or memoir with this structural technique

I’m always inspired to see the many ways authors add subtext and metaphor to their stories. As I read, I like to analyze the way an author creates a page-turning story so that I can learn how to apply those techniques to my work.

In The Speed of Light, Elizabeth Rosner uses a structural element to add meaning to the story. In the novel, brother and sister Julian and Paula Perel strive to find their voices in a home where their father struggles with devastating memories as a Holocaust survivor.

A scientist who exists by numbers and routines, Julian lives an isolated life. As Julian retreats from life, Paula throws herself into the world through her study as an opera singer. Both of them change when Paula asks her housekeeper Sola, who has struggles and a devastating past of her own, to stay at Paula’s apartment and look out for Julian in the apartment above while Paula travels.

Rosner tells the story in the alternating voices of the three protagonists. Then throughout the book, she threads scientific definitions written by Julian that reveal his character and create additional depth. The definitions leave readers with another way to interpret and experience the novel.

In this excerpt, two of Julian’s definitions are juxtaposed with his theory about the meaning of life.

“I had a theory that my father gave up his language because it belonged to the killers; he could not live with the sounds of their voices inside his own. In his new language, everything could be precise and unambiguous, he could speak in the vocabulary of science and never reveal his heart. I embraced it too, the premise that everything had a reason, an explanation. Logic ruled the universe. Even the unknown could be described by theories, equations; a solution always existed, somewhere…

mechanistic theory: the view that all biological phenomena may be explained in mechanical, physical, and chemical terms.

vitalistic theory: the view that life and all consequent biological phenomena are due to a “vital force.” “

Exercise: Analyze the themes and meaning of your story. What literary devices or techniques could you use to create new meaning and complexity to your work in progress?

In my next post, I’ll write about another example of this technique used by an author of a memoir.

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