With her novel This Could Hurt, Jillian Medoff provides a brilliant insider’s look into corporate life. But it’s not just Medoff’s experience as a successful management consultant that serves to make this story so engaging – it’s the confluence of well-developed characters, witty and believable dialogue, and engrossing interwoven storylines. She also makes creative use of several well-placed organizational charts and footnotes that successfully drive the story.
Medoff astutely captures the struggles, sorrow, joy, loyalty, and betrayal that are part of the professional and private lives of a group of colleagues working in a human resources department. You can’t help but become invested in her characters as you follow all their experiences with interest.
I was working a day job and writing fiction at night right out of college, so even from a young age, having two careers never seemed unusual to me. Now I work four days a week, so I write all day Friday and most of Saturday. I try not to deviate, but I won’t kid you; it’s hard to find time. Still, it’s a priority. In fact, most of my corporate career decisions are informed by my need to have time and space to write.
I try to make the writing process interesting so I’ll be surprised. I’ll take a conflict from my own life, tweak it into fiction, and eventually it will evolve in a way I never anticipated. My novels are character-driven, so for them to succeed, I have to understand my characters on a granular level – who they are, what they think, even their politics.
For me, characters come alive through dialogue. Once they start talking, I get to know them through the rhythm of their speech, their word choices, what they don’t say. Silence is a very powerful tool. I like to cut to the chase of a conversation. I start with a block of words that I carve and carve and carve until I find the simplest and most powerful way to move the narrative along.
My goal was to create a sundial effect that would mimic the sweep of a day. My plan was to introduce character one, then character two, then three, four, and five in the first half; the second half would go in reverse: character five, four, three, two, one. In the end, I didn’t have a perfect circle but it’s close. I show each character’s life in and out of the office to give them depth and dimension, and to allow the reader to understand them in a way that their coworkers might not. This is how businesses function in real life; people make decisions based on inaccurate assumptions. Finally, the kaleidoscope-effect of different points of view helps to broaden and deepen the story itself; each character has a unique arc that dovetails with the larger story. So all the threads are braided together into one complete narrative.
The use of organizational charts came from the idea of a family tree, to give a sense of how everyone was connected. It’s shorthand to move the story along, and with a lot of characters, it can be used as a reference. The character of Lucy always has more to say – she’ll deflect or qualify things, so footnotes made sense as a way to have her add detail.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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