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Trouble with a Non-linear Narrative and Unreliable Narrator (1 Viewer)

seigfried007

Senior Member
Current WIP uses a non-linear narrative. First-person, single-POV, past-tense.



Epilogue: very short, sets up POV in a dangerous spot with some mysterious entity in the future (possibly up to ten years in the future, it's not explicit)

Book 1: Adult male POV wakes up with no memories, gradually recovers a few (that have little to nothing to do with his personal life and relationships) and makes some more. A mysterious force appears to be actively preventing him from remembering certain aspects of his past. Hundreds of other men have had identical blackout episodes and amnesia, and most of them have died. POV is straight, very modest and chaste--despite not being able to remember his wife, just knowing that he has one makes it difficult to give a semen sample. Once reintroduced, he finds that his wife is very cold to both him and their infant son. Despite how cold she is, the POV never appears tempted to seek an affair. Several months after his episode, the POV abruptly gets the past two years of memories back.

Book 2: Two years worth of memories, told in the same past tense. Problem is that they're not his real, unadulterated memories. He "sounds" off, especially in some parts, and often acts or thinks in a manner which is wildly incongruous with the POV style set up earlier. Sudden, effeminate POV shifts. Wild, long-term affairs with other men. Wife is often portrayed as startlingly less 3D than other characters.

Book 3: picks up where Book 1 stopped. POV is confronted by these memories, and realizes that they feel off, but has no idea what the objective truth is. Proceeds to act as though these fake memories are the objective truth because he has nothing better to go on. The emotions are real, even if the memories aren't. POV is far more similar to the style and personality of Book 1, but will often do the same things the POV of Book 2 would do (even if he feels more conflicted about it). The source of the messed up memories is directly solved in Book 3 when said entity rewrites the POV's childhood to include graphic, nightmarish abuse. Once rewritten, the original memories cannot be recovered, which means the POV is never going to get his rightful memories back.



So, should I highlight what feels off to "present" POV (Book 1 looking back on the events in Book 2) while those memories are unfolding for the reader? If so, how? A beta reader mentioned a few times when she felt the POV should be more conflicted during Book 2, and while I know what's going with his memories and why he's not conflicted when he really should've been, I am sympathetic with the reader. I've dropped lots of hints about how unreliable these memories are since the beginning of the first book--by the end of the first chapter, the reader's aware that this man's memories are being deliberately screwed with (but not which ones or what was changed).

Part of the issue is due to mechanics. Everything's past tense, so if I interrupt Book 2 with the Book 1 persona, it would jumping into present tense (?). Not sure how to do it without skipping tense parenthetically. Anytime I've tried to allude to the feelings of the "present" persona, it confuses readers (even the same reader).
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
I gotta say, I think you are taking too wide a field of view here.
Focus on that first book.
Write that first book well, write it so it stands alone, then start thinking about sequels and all that jazz-hands stuff.



But to that first book, you are already headed for a problem: Your character is inoffensive.

Book 1: Adult male POV wakes up with no memories, gradually recovers a few (that have little to nothing to do with his personal life and relationships) and makes some more. A mysterious force appears to be actively preventing him from remembering certain aspects of his past. Hundreds of other men have had identical blackout episodes and amnesia, and most of them have died. POV is straight, very modest and chaste--despite not being able to remember his wife, just knowing that he has one makes it difficult to give a semen sample. Once reintroduced, he finds that his wife is very cold to both him and their infant son. Despite how cold she is, the POV never appears tempted to seek an affair. Several months after his episode, the POV abruptly gets the past two years of memories back.

This is a mistake that writers often make: they write inoffensive and boring characters. This guy sounds like a snoozer.
Remember when you are writing characters; their foibles and offenses are not yours, nor is your writing of those foibles an endorsement of those kinds of things.
In other words, just because your character is an asshole, it doesn't mean that you are advocating that conduct. He's just a character.
Spice him up.
How?
Imagine the actor you want to play him. How would they do it? Brash, cocky, Jackie Chan?
Talk out your scenes as if you are one of the characters, and see what comes out.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
Thank-you so much for replying!

"Book" in this case is not a stand alone novel--just the three separate arcs of one stand alone novel. Each of those arcs has several chapters. Because of the major difference in time and tone, I lumped them into "books" (lots of fat stand alone novels do this, but I didn't know what else to call them to avoid confusion). None of these sub-books could stand on their own--thematically or otherwise. I wouldn't dream of stretching these "books" into novels on their own. The first book is only 5K or so--just enough to set him up as a sympathetic amnesiac father in a frosty marriage, set up some worldbuilding, and set up conflicts with both the doctor and this mysterious head-crushing mind-wiping entity. No way I'd bore myself or readers padding out this section--setting the pins up isn't as fun as knocking them down. :grin:

I'm not sure how large the final novel's going to be once I'm finally done with it. It's been an off-and-on project for ten years now, but it's only 53k now, and I'm almost certainly over halfway (probably won't even get over 80k). Book 3 is half of the current length. There might be a fourth arc, but if I split that section of story into its own "book", there wouldn't be some confusion on verb tense issues because it wouldn't be another flashback that his present self would be weighing in on. I started the thread and offered that short synopsis of sorts to illustrate POV issues and ask for advice regarding the tense and time-skipping type issues.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
But to that first book, you are already headed for a problem: Your character is inoffensive.

This is a mistake that writers often make: they write inoffensive and boring characters. This guy sounds like a snoozer.
Remember when you are writing characters; their foibles and offenses are not yours, nor is your writing of those foibles an endorsement of those kinds of things.
In other words, just because your character is an asshole, it doesn't mean that you are advocating that conduct. He's just a character.
Spice him up.
How?
Imagine the actor you want to play him. How would they do it? Brash, cocky, Jackie Chan?
Talk out your scenes as if you are one of the characters, and see what comes out.

Is the inoffensive character only a problem because you thought I was going to pad that "book 1" into a full fledged book?

He's only "nice" for the first 5k. Even in that first 5k, the reader learns Surrey's thrown chairs through windows and broken arms in the attempt to bust out of that "hospital". He might be nice, but he's at least been occasionally... not so nice. There's also the issue of "Why does this guy's wife hate him?" While some might think she's just heartless and evil, the more likely scenario is that he was an abusive husband, she no longer trusts him due to his lies in the past, and/or she's suffering severe post-partum depression/psychosis. The stronger part of the first 5k though is the focus on thriller aspects--What's wiping his memories/giving him crushing headaches and nose bleeds/killing hundreds of men globally/causing mass hysteria? Is it a disease or something else? Why is this doctor forcing this patient into unnecessary circumstances that could kill him? What is the shady doctor up to? Why is Surrey the only straight man afflicted with this condition? That sort of stuff. I set up a lot of pins in that first arc.
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
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.
 
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Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
Thank-you so much for replying!

"Book" in this case is not a stand alone novel--just the three separate arcs of one stand alone novel. Each of those arcs has several chapters. Because of the major difference in time and tone, I lumped them into "books" (lots of fat stand alone novels do this, but I didn't know what else to call them to avoid confusion). None of these sub-books could stand on their own--thematically or otherwise. I wouldn't dream of stretching these "books" into novels on their own. The first book is only 5K or so--just enough to set him up as a sympathetic amnesiac father in a frosty marriage, set up some worldbuilding, and set up conflicts with both the doctor and this mysterious head-crushing mind-wiping entity. No way I'd bore myself or readers padding out this section--setting the pins up isn't as fun as knocking them down. :grin:

I'm not sure how large the final novel's going to be once I'm finally done with it. It's been an off-and-on project for ten years now, but it's only 53k now, and I'm almost certainly over halfway (probably won't even get over 80k). Book 3 is half of the current length. There might be a fourth arc, but if I split that section of story into its own "book", there wouldn't be some confusion on verb tense issues because it wouldn't be another flashback that his present self would be weighing in on. I started the thread and offered that short synopsis of sorts to illustrate POV issues and ask for advice regarding the tense and time-skipping type issues.


Then those are chapters, not books.
You said books, I simply believed you.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
Is the inoffensive character only a problem because you thought I was going to pad that "book 1" into a full fledged book?

He's only "nice" for the first 5k. Even in that first 5k, the reader learns Surrey's thrown chairs through windows and broken arms in the attempt to bust out of that "hospital". He might be nice, but he's at least been occasionally... not so nice. There's also the issue of "Why does this guy's wife hate him?" While some might think she's just heartless and evil, the more likely scenario is that he was an abusive husband, she no longer trusts him due to his lies in the past, and/or she's suffering severe post-partum depression/psychosis. The stronger part of the first 5k though is the focus on thriller aspects--What's wiping his memories/giving him crushing headaches and nose bleeds/killing hundreds of men globally/causing mass hysteria? Is it a disease or something else? Why is this doctor forcing this patient into unnecessary circumstances that could kill him? What is the shady doctor up to? Why is Surrey the only straight man afflicted with this condition? That sort of stuff. I set up a lot of pins in that first arc.



Had nothing to do with the books/chapters.
Your character description is a classic case of trying to write an inoffensive character. Writers do it all the time.
See, people often write boring characters because they feel that writing bad characters is an endorsement of the things they do.
So they try to create these politically correct heroes who are totally blameless. But that's neither authentic nor interesting.

Ever watch reality TV? They don;t let just anybody on Survivor.
Nope, they use a shrink to find the people who are prone to conflict, who disrupt, who may be a little sociopathic...
Why? Because it's more entertaining.
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
I started the thread and offered that short synopsis of sorts to illustrate POV issues and ask for advice regarding the tense and time-skipping type issues.

As a routine time-skipper (Hence the several clocks in my picture) I suggest you try using the future perfect tense. "Will have" covers a multitude of possibilities as it doesn't state whether something has happened in the past, is happening now or will in the future. All it does is state what will be true at some undefined time in the future, i.e. when the reader reads or has already read some other part of the story. Writing in the first person future perfect might be quite a novelty and certainly an interesting challenge, but it might just solve your problem in a unique way by placing the story time past first person POV in the past relative to the story time present first person POV. It's worth a thought, certainly more of a thought than I've just briefly given it. I may have no idea what I'm talking about.
 
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seigfried007

Senior Member
Had nothing to do with the books/chapters.
Your character description is a classic case of trying to write an inoffensive character. Writers do it all the time.
See, people often write boring characters because they feel that writing bad characters is an endorsement of the things they do.
So they try to create these politically correct heroes who are totally blameless. But that's neither authentic nor interesting.

Ever watch reality TV? They don;t let just anybody on Survivor.
Nope, they use a shrink to find the people who are prone to conflict, who disrupt, who may be a little sociopathic...
Why? Because it's more entertaining.

Surrey's "nice", but he's not a "good person" at all. He just seems like one.

He has long running affairs with two other men--and starts both of them before he even gets married. Indeed, the only reason he proposed marriage was in part as an apology for screwing around on his long-time girlfriend earlier the same night. He consistently neglects his intelligent, educated, beautiful wife and doesn't even have the decency to properly hide his many affairs (even though he works for her father--they're not divorced because she doesn't want to publicly expose herself to the shame). He consistently portrays her as basically a brainless sex Barbie when she's not some ice queen harpy, but if viewed from her angle, she's the most decent adult major character in the book. He pits two close friends against each other for his affections, makes both believe he could be all theirs, and continues to screw around on both of them til one of them dies (which he kind of blames on his wife, who wasn't involved at all). He hides a lot of income from his wife and their shared finances in order to fund all kinds of illicit behavior. He also has a long term affair with an enslaved underaged youth, which he proceeds to hide in his house under his wife's nose, and lies to her all the time about it. He continues that affair even once he finds out said youth is definitely underaged. His toddler son is brought along on some of these sexscapades, too, and is sometimes even in the room. As bad as sneaking an underaged prostitute in the house is, Surrey's also exposing his son to living with this person--someone he knows to have major psychiatric issues. He knows that kid's dangerous, but brings him in the house to live with the family anyway.

He might not remember exactly how things happened objectively, but he did all of these things. He's not some blameless person. While he does have his memories and emotions deliberately altered by outside forces, he's not always under mind control when he's doing awful things. The worst stuff he does has nothing to do with mind control, depending on which actions are viewed as "worse". Without any outside influence, Surrey's very proud but also passive. This leads him into awful things that he refuses to apologize for. He gets cajoled into things when he should stand up for himself, and then abuses people who call him out for doing awful things, failing to prevent awful things, or failing to stand up for himself. He's always blaming loved ones for his shortcomings and the awful things he does, and won't own up to mistakes. All while appearing outwardly nice to people who don't know what an awful person he is.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
Surrey's "nice", but he's not a "good person" at all. He just seems like one.

He has long running affairs with two other men--and starts both of them before he even gets married. Indeed, the only reason he proposed marriage was in part as an apology for screwing around on his long-time girlfriend earlier the same night. He consistently neglects his intelligent, educated, beautiful wife and doesn't even have the decency to properly hide his many affairs (even though he works for her father--they're not divorced because she doesn't want to publicly expose herself to the shame). He consistently portrays her as basically a brainless sex Barbie when she's not some ice queen harpy, but if viewed from her angle, she's the most decent adult major character in the book. He pits two close friends against each other for his affections, makes both believe he could be all theirs, and continues to screw around on both of them til one of them dies (which he kind of blames on his wife, who wasn't involved at all). He hides a lot of income from his wife and their shared finances in order to fund all kinds of illicit behavior. He also has a long term affair with an enslaved underaged youth, which he proceeds to hide in his house under his wife's nose, and lies to her all the time about it. He continues that affair even once he finds out said youth is definitely underaged. His toddler son is brought along on some of these sexscapades, too, and is sometimes even in the room. As bad as sneaking an underaged prostitute in the house is, Surrey's also exposing his son to living with this person--someone he knows to have major psychiatric issues. He knows that kid's dangerous, but brings him in the house to live with the family anyway.

He might not remember exactly how things happened objectively, but he did all of these things. He's not some blameless person. While he does have his memories and emotions deliberately altered by outside forces, he's not always under mind control when he's doing awful things. The worst stuff he does has nothing to do with mind control, depending on which actions are viewed as "worse". Without any outside influence, Surrey's very proud but also passive. This leads him into awful things that he refuses to apologize for. He gets cajoled into things when he should stand up for himself, and then abuses people who call him out for doing awful things, failing to prevent awful things, or failing to stand up for himself. He's always blaming loved ones for his shortcomings and the awful things he does, and won't own up to mistakes. All while appearing outwardly nice to people who don't know what an awful person he is.


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?
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
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.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
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).
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
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?

 

seigfried007

Senior Member
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.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
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.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
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.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
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.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
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.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
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.
 

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