I’m delighted today to be hosting Kerry Letheby, author of Mine to Avenge, who shares her thoughts on the differences between a generational saga and a regular novel.
Here’s how to connect with Kerry online:
‘The Differences Between a Generational Saga and a Regular Novel’
While writing Mine to Avenge, I was often asked who my main character was, and what he/she was aiming for in the outworking of the story. I realized then that maybe I was writing something other than a conventional novel with one main character, as my story had several characters who could rightly be called ‘the main character’.
Mine to Avenge covers a period of over 70 years, and depending on which decade I was writing about, a different character took the lead. What I was writing fell into the category of family or generational saga.
The word ‘saga’ has Icelandic origins, meaning a story with a sense of history. A saga can be related as a series, but they can also be written as a single book of over 150,000 words. Mine to Avenge has approximately 165,000 words.
Different parts of the history, or saga, will generally have different lead characters, although one character can sometimes have a special focus from birth through to death. This is generally the case with sagas that focus on the history of one family, but Mine to Avenge deals with a vendetta between two families through generations. In this story each family can collectively be regarded as a main ‘character’ – the Galanos family is the protagonist family, and the Anastos family is the antagonist family. To complicate things, one character in particular belongs on both sides – one by birth and one by sympathy.
At this time I have only had one negative review of Mine to Avenge, and this is precisely one of the things the reviewer didn’t understand about my novel. She didn’t like multiple protagonists, whereas there are really only two if we correctly view the story as family against family, rather than character against character.
The generational vendetta or family saga needs an overarching framework to hold the story together, and in Mine to Avenge, it is the impact of the generational feud on one family. The Galanos family has many individual members but they have one common goal as one family – to free themselves from the ongoing effects of that vendetta. The feud lasts for several generations, with different characters taking the lead at different times, giving multiple points of view, from both families. Family sagas can support multiple protagonists if they each fall into a larger group with a common interest.
Multiple characters through several generations can cause confusion for the readers as they try to keep track of ‘who’s who’. This can be managed if you put a family tree in the front of your book for readers to refer to. Initially I planned to put in family trees for both families, but I realized that if I provided the family tree of the antagonist Anastos family that it would reveal some relationships that couldn’t be revealed too soon without spoiling the plot. I wanted these details hidden until further on in the story, so the Anastos family tree was omitted.
Sagas vary in pace too, as opposed to a conventional novel which sets a constant pace towards a climax, or several, of them throughout the story. Of course a generational saga also needs to have such elements of climax and suspense, but it often has variations in pace or flow. The French term for these stories is ‘roman fleuve’ (river novel), to reflect the variations in pace as like a river, from fast to slow and then fast again, with an ebb and flow of drama and suspense.
One of the biggest challenges for the author of a saga is whether to write using a linear chronology. This isn’t necessarily confined to a saga as many conventional novels have a degree of backstory, sometimes related in flashback. According to the plot demands of Mine to Avenge, relating the story as a linear chronology from 1914 through to 2010 wouldn’t have worked well in terms of building the dramatic tension. Writing in a linear fashion often reveals certain things too early, where the best effect comes by withholding the information until a later time or era. However, it can work if the author makes it clear that certain characters don’t know everything that the readers do. If done well, the reader will be bursting to tell the characters the information they know.
So there are some differences between a saga and a conventional novel, which don’t necessarily appeal to all readers. Some readers like to have the one definitive lead character that they can identify with and cheer on all the way. , But if you enjoy the unfolding of a drama with several main characters and related from multiple viewpoints, a generational saga might be just up your alley as a reader, and an inviting challenge as an author.
Mine to Avenge
by Kerry Letheby
When Alcandor is blamed for the tragic death of his friend’s sister in Greece in 1940, little does he know of the repercussions this will have for him and his family for the next seventy years. Unable to forgive himself, and wanting to give his young family a new start, Alcandor leaves Greece and brings his family to settle in the Riverland of South Australia in 1948. Although Greece and his past are far behind him, Alcandor harbours a terrible secret and he remains a fearful man.
Alcandor subdues his fear, and he and his family adapt to an idyllic life of freedom and opportunity. However, eighteen years after leaving Greece, Alcandor learns that his past has caught up with him. His family needs to know the truth, but circumstances tragically intervene before he can warn them.
Years later, Alcandor’s sons show signs of odd behaviour hinting at possible mental instability, before disappearing without a trace. And in the next generation, Alcandor’s grandson exhibits the same strange behaviour not long before he is killed in the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It is not until 2010 that Alcandor’s great- granddaughter, Alethea, discovers that there is far more behind her family’s tragic history than mental illness, and little does she know that the threat against her family is much closer than she realises, and very far from over.
Excerpt (from chapter 9)
But even Caterina didn’t know the truth of that dreadful last day—the day when a threat was delivered through the hand of a stranger, the threat that meant Alcandor couldn’t hope to stay in Greece at all, the threat that meant he never wanted to return under any circumstances.
He recalled the awful note, word for word. Each time he thought of it, he winced with pain, the words etched in his mind by a cruel finger of fire. He had kept the note all these years, not revealing its existence or contents to anyone. On the one hand, he wanted to share it, as it was a heavy burden to carry alone. On the other hand, he didn’t want to show it to anyone, as it would alarm his family—and there was the threat against his family if he did reveal it.
What might happen if he did talk? Was his family being watched as the note had warned? Who was watching? How could he warn his family of any potential harm? Could he—should he—talk to the police? He tried to push the questions from his mind and pushed himself up from the chair to fetch the cocoa and sugar from the cupboard.
It was only recently that these memories had begun troubling him again. He’d almost lost his mind during the weeks in Athens waiting to leave Greece, and the first few days on board ship were a paranoid blur as he inspected, spied, examined, surveyed and listened to anyone and anything—watching, waiting, alert to any potential threat.
But why were his memories being stirred up again in this new country so far away, and after so many years? Why was it troubling him now? Was it because his son was going to Greece for his honeymoon? Was that the cause of his uneasiness? What if their family’s enemies found out Dymas was there? Could their enemies reach out to harm his son while he was in Greece?