Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


Discovering Narrative Structure in the Dordogne

During our recent month-long vacation in France, we spent a week at an Airbnb rental in the Dordogne area. You, dear reader, may be wondering what this post has to do with writing or reading. But bear with me. You’ll eventually see the connection.

Located near the village of Pellegrue, our accommodations originally were constructed 700 years ago. At that time, the farmer lived in the upper level with his family, and his animals were housed below.


Having spent some years on a farm myself as a girl, I have some idea of what the smells and sounds may have been like! Fortunately for us, they hadn’t lingered.

But the external structure has retained its original shape, though its interior has been remodeled. My husband and I were impressed with how the owners, Jane and Mike, originally dairy farmers in Australia, transformed this ancient stone building essentially themselves, calculating how to move beams and hoist them into place, stripping the roof tiles and replacing their under layer before resetting the tile, merging the original stone walls and beams with modern trappings. Modern Italian tile floors meet the authentic stone enclosures on the ground floor, while hardwood floors graces the upper level. The four bathrooms and kitchen all have modern appliances. It’s the ideal blending of old and new, filled with character and charm.

It occurred to me that Jane and Mike’s work was similar to how a novelist constructs a narrative. Sometimes we start out with a basic structure in mind that might not even be conscious yet, but in the process of writing we uncover it, our words like the items needed to construct a building. We link them together until they eventually take shape and tell a coherent story. The story that the Dordogne Airbnb tells is many layered, still resonating with echoes of its past, just as our novels also have multiple levels, the images our words create transporting readers (and writers) into a new (novel) place. And while readers might not be aware of the work that goes into writing long fiction, it involves a lot of heavy lifting!

2 thoughts on “Discovering Narrative Structure in the Dordogne

  1. drstephenw

    Lovely thoughts here, Lila. I use a process where for each chapter I have a set of structures I have to fill in with details, and as I organize the answers the inner narrative emerges, the Aha of what that chapter is really focusing on. Also, my family spent a few weeks in the Dordogne a while back and I love that area of France. We also visited, a little farther away, the area near Cognac and Nantes. My wife’s name is St. Onge and we knew there were many villages using that name. We were surprised to learn that the original name is Santons, the group of people that once ruled the western half of France. Later it was Christianized to St. Onge, but there ain’t no St. Onge. Except for my wife.

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