Trouble with a Non-linear Narrative and Unreliable Narrator - Page 2


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Thread: Trouble with a Non-linear Narrative and Unreliable Narrator

  1. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    Now you're talking!
    That's a character with some meat on his bones.
    Do you have a person or actor in mind when you think of him?
    Absolutely not. I want the reader to be able to think of him however they want to. I suppose because of how innocuous he seems, I tend to picture him like a Clark Kent kinda guy--handsome, wholesome, guy-next-door type. If it's ever turned into a movie, I don't want to be disappointed when the actor doesn't match the literary expectations. The wife, best friend/lover and prostitute all get descriptions though (POV likes to describe other people). I don't so much care about if they get cast or pictured in other ways than I picture them though. Whatever the reader wants to see to keep him/her entertained is what I want to encourage most. Cheating nice guy husbands come in every color of the rainbow.

    Frankly though, I don't think this story's ever going to see the light of publication--let alone a movie/series.

    Pinocchio is the "Call of Cthulu" to the "Dagon" of "Joanna's Big Secret". Both feature sexually abused minor MCs who take out their powerlessness on other people/creatures/characters. POV is relatively innocent and innocuous in both stories but winds up with dramatic character shifts through the (graphic) abuse inflicted upon them by this minor. In both stories, this abused POV attempts to "save" this troubled minor. They're both posted in the erotica workshop, which is incredibly sick but what I get for discussing subject matter nobody wants to read. Joanna's 8, and Pinocchio is roughly 9 (however, he's been made to age artificially quickly, so he looks older than he is but still acts like an abused minor).

    Particularly with the growing movement to recognize pedophilia as a valid orientation, I felt the subject of what happens to these minors needed some examination. No matter what I do, I've had to come to grips with the story being offensive to decent people and potential fap material to sickos.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by JustRob View Post
    There are some parallels with my unfinished trilogy The Hermes Culture here. I called it a trilogy but never established how it could best be divided into novels as the planned outline contained six story segments, equivalent to your "books", and I originally thought that each novel would contain two segments, but in practice that left what I considered to be an unsatisfactory cliff-hanger ending at the end of the first novel. That might be good to encourage readers to buy the second novel but I considered it unfair to them. I now feel that the first novel would be rounded off much better by including the third segment in it, but that would result in it being too long for any publisher to accept it from a novice writer like me, not that that bothers me. Hence my "trilogy" may only actually be two novels. So much for the segmentation similarity.

    The narrative in my story is also in a sense non-linear as it involves parallel realities, but my main character experiences these linearly, building up memories as he goes. There is a twist though in that he enters each reality around age twenty, so then has to cope with suddenly acquiring memories of other childhoods alongside his original ones. Hence there is a reconciliation of memories within a single mind similar to the one that your character experiences. There is a subsequent twist though when he discovers that his experiences aren't actually as linear as he first thought, so I also had to tackle writing an earlier segment of the story so that a later part could work alongside it without revealing too much in the process. My main character is honest in his thoughts and statements at any time but actually unreliable from the reader's POV as he doesn't know everything about his own existence, much like yours, so I think I understand your problem.

    Thanks for providing a substantial outline of your work. Often members don't provide enough context for their questions.

    So, as I understand it your books one and two have the POV of two different personas although these belong to a single character. I think you should treat them as effectively being separate characters until book three and leave the readers to perceive the incongruities between the two for themselves. In my six story segments the only things that imply that the main characters in them are in fact all the same character are clues like them all having the same name and very similar lives. When their memories start converging it becomes apparent that they actually are the same character, but they are more surprised than the reader about this as they didn't previously know about each other's existence. In a way writing like this empowers the readers as they know or at least suspect something that the characters in the story can't.

    I agree with previous comments that you must take steps to keep the reader turning the pages long enough to see the true theme of the story unfold. This can be done as suggested by making the character himself particularly interesting although I took a different approach by putting my mundane character in an interesting situation involving a number of other characters. Consequently the first segment of my long story stood as an entire story and indeed short novel in its own right and has been read by several members here as that. My original draft contained both of the first two segments and a reader of that again saw it as a complete novel in its own right. The same would no doubt happen if I combined the first three segments into one novel as each has its own story to tell with the main character and his developing experiences providing the connecting thread. Therefore your first "book" should provide the reader with some form of integral payback with the revelation of the unknown memories presenting a new dimension to the longer story. Even at just 5k words it can be laid out as a complete short story to keep the reader interested.

    Rather than referring to the persona from the first book within the second I would suggest doing the opposite. In my writing I used the device of exposing characters to similar situations to ones that would happen later but having them behave differently. In your case you could expose your main character to situations in book one that make him contemplate behaving outside of his current character but nevertheless he refrains from doing so. This would suggest to the reader that he might be capable of such behaviour in other circumstances while at the same time apparently emphasising that he never would. (In my novel one example was a man shooting a colleague safe in the knowledge that doing this wouldn't kill him. Later in the story he is faced with the prospect of shooting him dead, but will he?) Of course the situations should only be vaguely similar to those in your second book and not direct copies. Also such treatment will emphasise just what a mundane character he is, which is why you need a spicier tale to be in progress alongside to keep the reader's attention. By making your main character appear mundane you could make him initially appear simply to be the irrelevant first person narrator. Think about how Damon Runyon used his first person narrator.

    Spinning a yarn like yours needs several threads and cameos to keep the action going with the main one not necessarily being that evident until the right moment. At that point the reader should be able to think back over what you have already shown them and put the pieces together. In other words you need to lead them on, but not lead them too far astray.

    As usual I probably haven't read what you have written here thoroughly enough and have wandered off into generalities, but then you have invited me to write what I think and you are the only one who can decide how relevant it is to what you are doing. Normally characters interact within a story but when stories interact within a single character one has to think a little differently.
    I've been pouring over this post in particular and trying to really understand it.

    It sounds that you'd rather have it stay how I've got it now. Book 1, Book 2 (no interjections from the present), Book 3 (the POV resumes, integrates and wrestles with the recovered memories, and becomes in effect, something between the two personas). No matter how I do it, it confuses some people. I may have to write how conflicted he is at remembering who he used to be/is with what he thought he was really like/was supposed to be. Right now, he's not wrestling with specific events/memories so much as knowing they've been messed with but not which events were changed or how they were altered, but it's a general feeling instead of specifically calling out what he suspects were doctored.

    I do love the suggestion of tempting him earlier so the reader can see/feel him more conflicted about it, then ultimately choose to remain faithful. He uses his wife's silent treatment as justification to continue having affairs after he gets his memories back, but that's probably too late for the reader. By that point, the reader's finished 22 chapters of Book 2 and is used to him having multiple affairs.

    I've been mulling over the "cameos and threads" too.

    There's an ongoing mystery as to what's warping the POV's memories (and driving hundreds of men mad, making them speak American English even if they didn't know English, forcing them to run off into the woods and look for something). A doctor turns out to be NSA. There are not-quite-fully-humans being engineered in labs and sold as slaves in other countries, and an ongoing debate about said creatures and their place in Western society--particularly after one murders its master in America, where they're quietly euthanized if discovered. Some of these are mixed with DNA that might be extraterrestrial in origin (prone to cancer, rapid aging and... mindpowers). One of these is the titular character and an underage prostitute mentioned in an earlier post. Plus, lots of drama on what the POV is going to do, seeing as how he's having affairs, his wife and father-in-law might find out, and all his partners seem determined to snag him as a permanent and faithful lover.

    Going to try to strengthen those sci-fi elements and improve the emotional context of the beginning (or try to).
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  3. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Absolutely not. I want the reader to be able to think of him however they want to. I suppose because of how innocuous he seems, I tend to picture him like a Clark Kent kinda guy--handsome, wholesome, guy-next-door type. If it's ever turned into a movie, I don't want to be disappointed when the actor doesn't match the literary expectations. The wife, best friend/lover and prostitute all get descriptions though (POV likes to describe other people). I don't so much care about if they get cast or pictured in other ways than I picture them though. Whatever the reader wants to see to keep him/her entertained is what I want to encourage most. Cheating nice guy husbands come in every color of the rainbow.
    I meant for YOUR mental imagery. You get better characters when you can envision them.

    But something else you said raises a red flag: "I want the reader to be able to think of him however they want to"
    You don't plan on writing one of those 'mysterious' characters with no illustration, expecting the reader to paint the whole image? Are you?


  4. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    I meant for YOUR mental imagery. You get better characters when you can envision them.

    But something else you said raises a red flag: "I want the reader to be able to think of him however they want to"
    You don't plan on writing one of those 'mysterious' characters with no illustration, expecting the reader to paint the whole image? Are you?

    I have a definite picture of him. Looks very much like he could play a nice Clark Kent--more like Christopher Reeve or a young Dean Cain than a lot of other incarnations. A comparatively normal, "nice", wholesome, next-door, farm boy kinda Superman. He's not buff or heroic enough to pull off the garish, cheekless, sharp-faced modern Superman. Never described as actively working out, but he does work a lot of hours and spends as much time as he can being outdoorsy--hunting, fishing, camping. If he wasn't about as obsessed concerning outward appearances as his wife, he might reasonably "dad bod". Many times, he's pondered ditching such expectations, but he never quite manages to stop caring what other people think.

    I'm not going for mot mysterious so much as vanilla. He doesn't describe himself but nobody acts like he's an outlier. He's generically handsome and just has this plastic Ken doll type life. So far the readers haven't complained, and I haven't asked for exactly how they've pictured him. He acts very upper-middle class, white suburbanite, so I figured most people would picture him like that. He's roughly normal in stature because he only physically looks up to three men during the book but never mentions looking down on another man (though I believe one or two might be described as short). He might mention being slightly shorter but stockier than one other man. There's a lot left up to interpretation about what he looks like for readers. He is described as tanning during a honeymoon cruise. He also runs his fingers through his sweaty hair at least once, so he's not bald. Just vanilla.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  5. #15
    Maybe you should aim for Vanilla Bean, instead of just plain old Vanilla.

  6. #16
    I'll leave the bulk of his additives to the reader If they want to throw sprinkles, gummi bears, chocolate sauce, hot fudge, pineapple, and a cherry on top, I'll leave them to it. Vanilla is a good base to add onto. If I throw too many details, it would make adding toppings more problematic. More I put on, the less there is for them to put on, and the more likely a topping they want to eat won't jive with the flavor profile I've already put in.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  7. #17
    I personally find whenever I read stories where I am supposed to fill-in-the-gaps on a character's appearance or personality usually I get a blank. Not because I lack imagination, but because I don't feel it is my job to apply my imagination to another writer's story. I want the way a character is written to be sufficiently stimulating that I can *see* the character whether I want to or not.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  8. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I personally find whenever I read stories where I am supposed to fill-in-the-gaps on a character's appearance or personality usually I get a blank. Not because I lack imagination, but because I don't feel it is my job to apply my imagination to another writer's story. I want the way a character is written to be sufficiently stimulating that I can *see* the character whether I want to or not.
    If I wasn't writing first person, I'd put in more. There are tons of novels that have gotten away with very little description of the protagonist. The first I can think of is Twilight. Other than being a blank slate everygirl in high school, she's never described. This helps the teenage girl readership more easily see themselves in her position. She's not really her own character so much as she's a reader avatar.

    I can't remember what anyone in a Michael Crichton novel looked like (even if I can remember that Ian Malcolm wore only black and gray). I've loved most of his books, but they don''t feature characters that simply have to look "just so". He might give us a vague height and age, or whether or not a guy's got a beard (I can only recall two having a beard). He's not an author to describe someone's physical appearance in glorious detail, even if he gives a few hints or a short sentence here and there. What the character looks like isn't important unless that description implies something about the character.

    The more described a character's physical appearance, the less the reader can see themselves in the character's position. If I were writing anything but the most white-collar vanilla suburbanite, or if I were writing him from third-person (or someone else's first-person), I'd describe him. But, for the purpose of the story, I want the reader to fill in the details and make him their own. The more the reader feels Surrey's perspective, the more of a mindf*** the story is going to be.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  9. #19
    James Bond is a dark-haired green-eyed Scot in the books. Physically, he looks closest to Timothy Dalton. Fans of the series are eternally pissed that new Bonds don't look like the one in the novel. If they do (like Timothy Dalton), they crab about the tone of the story being different. Fans of the books are always going to get ticked when what's on the screen doesn't match their expectations.

    Fandoms all through history are being recast, getting "woke" and rewritten. Fans hate it. Contrary to Hollywood's belief, it's not because the populace isn't "woke" or liberal or PC enough to like a black, female spy character; it's because James Bond was written as a green-eyed, dark-haired white Scottish dude.

    The more specific I get in descriptions of a main character, the harder it would be to cast a person in that role without pissing fans off. I want any relatively charming, decent looking actor to be able to play that part because I care more about his character than what he looks like. If someone wildly different were to get cast in the role against reader's expectations, I want to be able to point back and say, "Well, he fits the narrative."

    He's got a strong enough voice to pull a narrative without making him pause to inspect himself in a mirror (oh, the cringe and cliche scenes that are thrown in just to "show" instead of "tell"). Although, after losing his memories, I might have him notice himself in a mirror anyway, come to think of it. Character is always clean-shaven and professional in the rest of the book, but after ten days spent largely restrained to a gurney, he's going to have some facial hair coming in, want to shave and not be allowed to get a razor. I hadn't wanted to draw those first five chapters out because I figured the reader would want to skip into the sex and weird shizznit. Maybe I'll throw it in when he realizes the catheter's taken out and now it hurts to pee.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  10. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by JustRob View Post
    Rather than referring to the persona from the first book within the second I would suggest doing the opposite. In my writing I used the device of exposing characters to similar situations to ones that would happen later but having them behave differently. In your case you could expose your main character to situations in book one that make him contemplate behaving outside of his current character but nevertheless he refrains from doing so. This would suggest to the reader that he might be capable of such behaviour in other circumstances while at the same time apparently emphasising that he never would.

    Woot! Finally got to the fifth chapter in the revisions!


    As a reasonably attractive man with a cute baby, I was suddenly, strangely enticing for beautiful women who often mistook me for a widower, I suppose because of the pretense of happiness I wore in public to cover my palpable loneliness. Sometimes, I would stare at the phone numbers they scrawled on napkins and wonder. But I always came back to my senses after sometimes getting as far as typing a few digits into my phone. Elena’s dad was my boss, I had gone into tremendous debt maintaining the lifestyle my old money wife had enjoyed in her youth, and I might never see my son again when she and her family were through with me.
    Yay! Now, he's tempted to start an affair (after months of the silent, sexless, cold shoulder treatment from his wife) but doesn't because he rationally concludes that the payoff isn't worth it--even if he's desperate for intimacy.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

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