May 8, 2014

Plot Talk #3: Inventive Narrative Structures!

I just finished reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and the novel really got me thinking about inventive narrative structures! If you haven't heard of it, the first 75% percent of the novel is told completely through letters, papers, emails, and other such notes. (It's also really entertaining, by the way!)

Thus far, all of the books I've written follow a pretty normal narrative style. The Midnight Fire was linear third person following a single character, and The Shadow Soul uses the same structure but for two protagonists (there is an alternating POV, but nothing too out of the norm). And a new novel I'm working on uses first person narrative.

However, there are a ton of AMAZING books out there that follow really interesting narrative structures, so I thought we could explore two different styles together--epistolary and nonlinear!

Epistolary Narratives


Epistolary is just a fancy term for novels that tell the story through documents, i.e. letters, diary entries, emails, newspaper clippings, interview transcriptions, and more. There are so many reasons I love these sorts of books! One, because you really get into a character's head (especially with diary style novels). Two, because the story often reads like a prolonged dialogue so the distinct voices are very strong. Three, because they're often harder for me to figure out so the mystery can be fun. 

However, these books do stretch reality a little bit. For example, characters often confess way more in an email than might be normal in the real world. Or diary entries may have unnaturally precise dialogue and description. I'm not sure about you, but my diary was never so detailed! Still, that's never stopped me from enjoying this narrative style.

Nonlinear Narratives


Nonlinear narratives are stories that don't start at the beginning and finish at the end, but rather jump around a bit (usually through time). There are some really cool ways to accomplish this! 

The Time Traveler's Wife uses the character's magic ability as the tool to tell the story, so the readers, just like the protagonist, must make these leaps in time. Pandemonium oscillates between chapters told in the present and chapters told in the past, so you bounce back and forth in time with each chapter. Another Lin Oliver novel, Before I Fall, forces the main character to relive the same day over and over. The Post-Birthday World uses a parallel structure, where in there are two different versions of each chapter based an earlier decision the protagonist makes. And then there are the "Choose Your Own Adventure" style books, like the upcoming Summer Love, where every book can tell a bunch of different tales based on reader decisions. Slaughterhouse-Five is a classic example of the nonlinear style!

Any writers who might be reading, I thought this article brought up a lot of great points to consider when trying to create your own nonlinear story. 


Are there any books you love that I missed? What do you think about these narrative styles? Leave a comment and get the talk started :)


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