Aug. 22nd, 2014

jennygordon: (Froud)
I've read a couple of books recently which deal with a series of events that took place in the past, and a series which take place in the present. The point being that the former impacts on the latter in some way. In telling the stories, this particular author opted to alternate chapters between the two time periods. So far, so good. It works. The chapters are fairly long, so the reader has the chance to immerse themselves in what's taking place in each before the switch to the other. There's also a narrative ploy involved in that you want to keep reading in order to return to the events of the other time zone, which are usually left on a cliff-hanger of some kind at the end of each chapter. There's the comfort in knowing that you will get your chance in the next-but-one chapter.

It's a pretty basic structure. It works perfectly well, and the books are a good read, however ...

You could sense there was going to be a 'however', right?

However, I've found myself pondering the different ways the author might have approached the telling. I'm mainly thinking, I guess, of books like 'Rebecca', in which events that took place in the past are crucially intertwined with those taking place in the present. The ghost of the first Mrs de Winter haunts every page. And it's that 'ghost' aspect which intrigues me from a writerly pov. It's a classic Gothic narrative ploy. We see the events of the past through the stain they have left on the characters in the present. There is very little narrative 'telling' of what actually took place; instead, we have the various characters memory of the first Mrs de-W, very much coloured by their feelings for her.

Other other books include 'snapshots' of the events that took in the past, rather than devoting whole chapters to them, perhaps in the form of memories, diary entries, or ghostly visions.

While there's certainly a place for the first approach to a dual (or multi) time-period telling of switching between the periods and showing the reader the events as they took place, I continue to be intrigued by the narrative tricks and manipulations of the 'Rebecca' approach. After all, the purpose of this sort of story is often to explore how the events in the past impact on those in the present. And, more to the point, how they impact on the characters. Of course, if the characters in the present don't have any sort of connection to those in the past (or if they're not aware that they do, and past of the discovery is precisely that connection), then it's trickier to use the 'Rebecca' approach.

Since FallingBook is very much this sort of story — the devastating events of twenty-five years ago have badly damaged the characters involved, along with characters who weren't even born then — the pondering of different approaches to the telling is a regular pastime for me. I'm constantly asking myself, "what's the best, most impactful, most effective, most engaging way in which I can tell this story?" I want to do my very best by a story that has been with me for the past 15 years.

So, I was wondering, can anyone recommend a book(s) in which they've found the handling of this sort of story tackled particularly effectively? Do you have a preference for the way such stories are best approached? All and any thoughts welcome.


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January 2016


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