Originally posted on Michael Runs the Gamut on December 3, 2013
In the last post, I talked about the idea of constructing the plot of If a Butterfly around a Monarch butterfly, on its annual migration from Canada to Mexico, interacting with characters who happened to be in its path. The original idea was that the novel would pick up each character’s story at the point of that interaction. This idea was eventually abandoned, but it led me to the process of constructing a framework for the plot, and the framework remained.
I had decided on all my characters: butterfly researcher, actress, teacher, deejay, quilter, astronaut (and the butterfly, of course). If the other characters were going to interact with the butterfly, I needed to know the typical path of the Monarchs, either as they fly south for the winter, or as they fly north for the summer. Adding what little I already knew about them to a little research at the Journey North website, settled it. South was the only logical choice. Each of the Monarchs who make it to Mexico are born in the United States or Canada. They rest somewhere in one of the northern states or Canada during the summer, then they fly from that northern location all the way to their overwintering site in the mountains of Mexico. In the Spring, those same butterflies start flying north (after having flown all the way to Mexico the previous Fall). The males impregnate the females and then die, the females lay eggs and then die. Several generations are born and die on the way back north. If the novel was going to follow one butterfly, it would have to be flying to Mexico; and to give it the longest flight possible, it would have to fly from somewhere in Canada.
I thought determining an exact path was going to be tricky, because, in truth, there isn’t one. Their summer nesting areas are spread all across North America. So, when the time comes, they gather in staging areas near where they’ve been resting and eating, then fly toward Mexico from these many gathering places across the width of the continent (there is no single point of departure).
That actually solved part of my problem for me. My wife and I traveled frequently in the summers, from Houston to Massachusetts, where my mother lived, and back. We would typically drive through East Texas to Louisiana, then up into Mississippi, then head east into Tennessee. In Tennessee we picked up Interstate 81 and drove northeastward on it across most of the country, not leaving it until somewhere in New York. From there we headed eastward across Connecticut and Rhode Island to Massachusetts.
On our way back home we often took a slightly different route, even jumping up into Canada occasionally. If the butterfly left from the right place in Canada, it could work its way south to I-81, and follow it through much of the South. Since I knew I-81 well, I decided to place at least some of my characters along that route. After a little more reading about Monarch migrations, and with November getting closer, I discovered that a provincial park in Canada, Presqu’ile, was one of the staging areas for Monarchs. They fly down into New York State from there, then begin to make their way to the southwest toward Mexico. I could now establish the butterfly’s route (leave Presqu’ile, down through New York, slip into the I-81 corridor somewhere in Pennsylvania, and follow it most of the way to Texas).
Now I just had to place characters along the route (or so I thought). That’s what the next post will be about.
What steps do you take to construct the framework for your novel? What are your major considerations?
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