I offer two Justin Heckert pieces to talk about manipulation of time in structure. Heckert’s works, “Reversing Field” and “The Coach Will See You Now,” use timestamps in contrasting ways to showcase protagonist growth and to develop theme.
I enjoyed the way Heckert approached “Reversing Field.” Instead of writing a traditional linear structure, Heckert begins with present action and works backward. I would be interested to hear why Heckert chose the strategy. Was it a personal decision? An editor’s? Did the protagonist's development make it possible? If you are familiar with Heckert’s work at ESPN The Magazine, Atlanta Magazine or the Columbia Missourian, you know that he has been more than willing to stretch the craft’s boundaries either through a piece’s structure or his figurative language. In comparison, “The Coach Will See You Now,” is structured in a linear way, but Heckert has reported it so well that the protagonist’s world seemingly leaps to life.
I would be interested to hear Heckert’s immersion-reporting techniques. What details are important to him? What are “defining” scenes to him? Obviously, I am early in my development, but I hope a decade from now I can say I broke "rules" for experimentation’s sake because I was brave enough to do so. Don’t we all want to grow?
Such “bravery,” if we can even call it that, has a lot to do with voice development. For the longest time, I was fascinated with the subject. I considered the topic cosmic. I asked questions such as, What did a writer read to make him or her write the way they do now? I thought voice was the product of a person’s life experiences and that pool of trials, tribulations and joys revealed itself as a window into a writer’s past with each piece that tumbled from his or her fingertips.
Well, I can see that I was over-thinking the topic – as I tend to do – but there remains a glimmer of truth in my immaturity. As young writers, we need to familiarize ourselves with bold examples. We need to form a curiosity about what makes certain writers “different” and why they are effective. In the end, a work's quality is subjective because, after all, it is art. But there remains no substitute for sound reporting, imagination and a willingness to be bold.