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Graeme

Storytelling techniques

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Hi,

My initial question for this thread is for a particular situation that I want to write about.

The story is a first person POV, and the narrator is talking to another character. The other character is telling the narrator about events that have recently happened to them.

Now, I could do it aa purely dialog, but I thought that would be too cumbersome. I also thought about doing it as purely description, with the narrator describing what they have been told, but I thought that wouldn't have a strong enough impact for what I wanted.

What I was wondering was how best to go about telling the story of those events from the other characters POV, but in such a way that it is clear that this is the story as told to the narrator, and not a true POV shift.

Any suggestion?

If it helps, this is for a scene that will be in the next section of New Brother, where one character is telling the narrator about their day.

Graeme

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I have a feeling that dialogue is going to be your best bet. it needn't be too cumbersome, if handled well. This means doing all the standard things: clearly marking who is talking so your reader doesn't get lost, and not letting one character engage in a monologue. Give it a lot of back and forth, turn up the tension and let it roll. Your readers will be right there with you.

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Okay, I don't think I was clear enough on what I had intended to do.

What I was planning (and I may change my mind if it gets too hard) is to have character A tell the narrator what had been happening, including dialog that A had had with characters B, C, etc. Trying to write that was looking very messy and confusing, which is why I thought about trying a "temporary" switch of POV.

AJ, your comment on feedback from the narrator during the discussion is well taken, though. I think I'll need to experiment a bit before I come up with a series of dialog that will work the way I want it to.

Graeme

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I'm thrilled to hear more of New Brother is on the way. I wonder what you've decided to do with it, but I don't want to be spoiled. I remember you were considering changing to a narrator other than David for the next part, so it'll be interesting to see what you decided. Staying spoiler-free may be difficult.

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Hmm. I can't remember any POV / narrator shifts in New Brother, so I'd say you probably want to avoid that in the new part.

I have a couple of suggestions that might help.

One is to think of how you would think and talk during a conversation. So while A was talking to N (the narrator) about B and C, N would be thinking about what was being said. In other words, the dialogue is broken up by N's thoughts on what A is saying and what N is saying back.

The other suggestion is not to try to report the whole thing word for word, but just record the highlights and summarize the rest. You might also want to start in the middle of the conversation, or wherever makes most sense.

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I'm thrilled to hear more of New Brother is on the way. I wonder what you've decided to do with it, but I don't want to be spoiled. I remember you were considering changing to a narrator other than David for the next part, so it'll be interesting to see what you decided. Staying spoiler-free may be difficult.

Don't hold your breath, blue. I'm concentrating on Falls Creek Lessons which is growing at a furious rate. I'm just doing planning for New Brother as I want to get back to it in the New Year. I keep coming up with scenes I want in the story, so I just make mental notes as I think of them (and transfer them to paper when I get a chance). How I link all the scenes together is still on the drawing board....

Graeme

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I know I am a little late to this thread, but...

If you have ever read Frankenstein, then you know what can be done with the narrative perspective. The story is told by the captain of a ship. However, he relates in first person, from a second person PoV, the tale of Victor and the Creature. I thought extensively about the narrative structure of Frankenstein when I was writing Through Different Eyes.

One of the things that can be done is to segue into a story arch of a different character by stating something like: "And this is the story he told me..." Cheap and cheesy, I know, but it doesn't have to be. You are allowed to shift the PoV when a different character takes over the narrative position, and it can be assumed it is still be told through the pen of the original narrator. It can be convoluted, yet it can be done with tremendous effect (see Frankenstein).

One of the biggest pitfalls in writing when changing narrative perspective is shifting tense. That is when it becomes glaringly obvious that something is amiss in the structure of the story. Keep the tense straight, and the rest of the story will follow without a hitch. Inasmuch as Frankenstein is concerned, you might also want to watch the movie Rashamon, by Akira Kurasawa. An absolute classic film wherein the same story is told from 4 different points of view and, as most people forget, it is told by a fifth character who is relating it to a sixth. Very intense, and very good. I mention Rashamon because it deals with the situation that started this thread.

My $0.02 worth.

Drake

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One of the things that can be done is to segue into a story arch of a different character by stating something like: "And this is the story he told me..." Cheap and cheesy, I know, but it doesn't have to be. You are allowed to shift the PoV when a different character takes over the narrative position, and it can be assumed it is still be told through the pen of the original narrator. It can be convoluted, yet it can be done with tremendous effect (see Frankenstein).

What he said. Almost.

You can't shift too much or your reader will get lost. And when you do it, make sure it's clear you've done it. If you reader has to stop and go back to re-read something, you have failed miserably.

-- wbms

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You can't shift too much or your reader will get lost. And when you do it, make sure it's clear you've done it. If you reader has to stop and go back to re-read something, you have failed miserably.

What he said. Almost. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

If you are a fan of EL Doctrow, then you'd best be prepare for a series of narrative jumps that will leave your head spinning. He does it all the time. His classic work, Ragtime, opens with six chapters that have six separate stories... with not transition from one to the next. Moreover, as the tale draws together, Doctrow leaps from one story to the next without any explanation or warning. The strange part is the fact Ragtime is an absolutely engrossing read. I could not stop reading it, despite the headache it gave my by chapter 3.

Doctrow is not alone in this. Zora Neal Hurston was found of the narrative interchange. Gunter Grass does it as well, on top of the fact he writes the weirdest stories. F. Scott Fitzgerald did it, albeit infrequently. Toni Morrison. Eugene O'Neill (in his plays no less). Kurt Vonnegut. Tom Robbins. All of these writers would make ludicrous leaps in the narrative PoV in their tales, and they never apologized for it.

I suppose what I am saying is that it is not only permissible to do this, but it can be done in the harshest of manners without alienating the audience. It comes down to the craft the writer employs. Audiences can be forgiving of the worst crimes in a story so long as what was attempted serves the tale in the end. There is a rule I follow that I find makes the readers generous in their estimation of a work:

"Never let the reader feel as though his/her time was wasted. Every sentence should matter and add something to the story."

You can lose a reader as much as you want in the telling of a tale, just as long as the reader walks away from the experience feeling as though something was gained from the effort. If they think the writer is doing nothing more than jerking their chain, then they will turn around and rip the writer's head off... with reason.

Okay. Simple thoughts from a simple man.

Drake

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Tolkien did it with just about every chapter...I can't think of a better reccomendation for the technique. I remember how LoTR was the first work i read where story lines just changed with no warning...i loved it.

Yes, Tolkien did it in LOTR (my favourite book), Doctrow did it in Ragtime, and other authors did it as well.

No offence to anyone here but nobody here (I include myself) is Tolkien or Doctrow. We'd all like to be, I'm sure.

Some writers can do ANYTHING and get away with it, throw all the rules out the window. However, when someone asks advice, it's always good to remind them that whatever you do, if you confuse your audience, you're probably in trouble.

My two cents

-- EL Doctrow :D

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Now I wonder what he almost said, but didn't, and why he didn't say it. :grins:

I think aussie_gw was asking about a particular portion within a story that is otherwise 1st Person POV.

If it works better, then give some cue like, "The traveler sighed and began to relate his tale of several days' rough journey..." and then launch into his retelling. Then when the old windbag finally decides he needs a room and a bath, much to the appreciation of the listeners, who'd been edging away steadily, you can return to the original story frame of the first person POV. No, I have no idea why a weary traveler just crawled up to the innkeeper's bar in the middle of this discussion. Go ask him yourself. But be warned, he might be in the tub. It could be scary.

Something like that can give you the chance to shift POV narrators or to shift time and place.

If that doesn't work, well, there's still my original recommendation.

OK, I haven't read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein either. Shame on me. I'll have to pick up a copy.

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Graeme;

Brew Maxwell shifts his stories narrative POV on a regular basis in the Foley-Mashburn Saga. He simply starts a section off with text in italics indicating who (which character) is picking up the story from that point, until the next shift of POV.

It seems to work well for him and enables him to explore the same event from another persons perspective....

Rick

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Yes... and our own Sequoyah does the same in his A Special Place by simply separating parts of a chapter with the name of the person whose POV is taken.

Of course, as Sequoyah does, you have to be ready for a quick shift of gears as the writer to make it really appear to be a different character's POV. The reader will follow you without effort if you succeed.

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Robert Jordan, a particularly considerate writer, has a system that makes it a little easier to follow when he shifts pov in his epic "Wheel of Time" ...he assigned each character a personal insignia, and that insignia makes up the header of each chapter that is going to be told from that character's pov. Since it's an enormous work (9 volumes and counting!), and there are several story lines going all at once--3 main ones and several ancillary ones all at once--it's an invaluable technique.

cheers!

AJ[/i]

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