1. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    A Quick Question (about chapter transitions)

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Kirvee, Jul 21, 2009.

    I just got hit with a wonderful idea for my current novel that literally solves everything regarding revealing fine details about my villain to both the reader and one of my MCs. But the idea slightly concerns me and so I'm asking for opinions on it.

    In my story, I want my female MC to discover a (fairly old) diary that was written by the late wife of my villain. The diary would reveal to her (and the reader) things about the villain that I would not logically be able to reveal otherwise and also tell her things about the villain's late wife (who's just as equally important).

    The great idea I had to reveal such details was to have a chapter transition. One chapter would end where my female MC is getting ready to read some of the diary and the next chapter would be the events of whatever entry she was reading written in the way the rest of the novel would be written (through the eyes of the late wife, though, so I'd be going from 3rd person to first person, or I could always leave it in third person...).

    My concern is: Is this a good idea? Is it better for me to go with this idea or to just have my female MC regularly reading the entries and not be actively putting the reader into the situation of the entries?
     
  2. losthawken
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    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    Seems to be the mantra around here, but its true: It depends on how you write it.

    I think it sounds like a neat idea, IF you can pull it off. I've tried some unconventional formats for the sake of plot exposition and failed miserably...

    This doesn't sound too difficult though. I would recommend not leaving it in first person so that the reader can easily keep track of where the are in the story (past=1st person or present=third person). One thing I can imagine that could be tough to avoid is repetitive chapter openings, "Now understanding that X, the MC felt..." but there are ways around I'm sure.

    Another mantra: Give it a try and see what happens!!

    Good Luck!

    ~JG
     
  3. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    @Lost: Well, I wasn't gonna write it like that sample there, XD. I'm more creative than resorting to that kind of a transition for opening a chapter.

    I think I can pull it off, but I'm wondering if I should write the diary parts in first person (through the eyes of the late wife) while the rest of the novel remains in 3rd person. Since, like you said, the rest of my novel is happening in the present time while the diary parts happened in the past. Switching the POV between those chapters would give the reader a clearer idea that they're reading something outside the current timeline, but would it be effective? I think I was told that switching POVs is a bad thing to do in writing. Though Christopher Paolini did it, and it seemed to work fine o_O.
     
  4. losthawken
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    losthawken Author J. Aurel Guay Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I'm by no means a professional, but I think it would be effective. Its worth a try at least. I think its equally a bad thing to alternate time-lines in writing, so maybe two-wrongs make a right??

    Either way, you need some kind of signal that will remind the reader where they are in the story.

    What other ways could you keep the readers attention in the right time? A different style of writing perhaps? You could change the font but I think that would be lame. You could just write it as a journal itself and have it contained within the 3rd person narrative, might not be as dramatic, but it also wouldn't run away and become too much of a story on its own.

    I'm rambling now, but it might be useful to take a few min to think up other ways to que the reader as to when the events they are reading are taking place.
     
  5. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    I was thinking of perhaps writing the chapters with the diary events in all italics for a visual sign. But that sounds a bit cliche, but it might be the only good option, since it's my kind of style to actively engage the reader in the current story by making them feel like they're in it and experiencing the events as an invisible witness.

    Ques as to when the diary chapters end and the main storyline picks up again would probably be done by 1) the font changing back to normal and 2) something interrupting my female MC from reading further until another time at a later point. That's what I have in mind, anyway.
     
  6. vousmecompletez
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    vousmecompletez Member

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    In some of the fiction I have read, the most simple way to make that transition could be something as simple as a date and place, which would denote it was a journal entry, or a piece in which time would be elapsing. If you started out with present tense and your Mc, filling out a portion of the story and then describe the scene or even that she finds it in, or describe her flipping open the first page then shift to a new chapter and put in a vastly different date and place. as much as italics seem to crunch around the edges plenty of books have used them to denote different characters thoughts or messages. It sounds like it could def. work particularly if you need to allow for that specific foreshadowing of the villain and other characters.

    Good luck!
     
  7. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    You have to be careful when changing perspectives, especially to entirely different characters. Whats-her-name did that in the last book of the Twilight series and it threw me for a loop because it wasn't clear that she switched... and then she switched back.

    Honestly, if you're going to write a part of a book from a different perspective, I would prefer to see a different book.

    Also, switching characters can be quite jarring to the reader. There's a certain continuity when you maintain 3rd or 1st or with different characters. I remember hearing somewhere that 3rd person writing is considered more "prestigious" or something to that effect. I certainly prefer reading 3rd person to any other format, it's the most natural story telling frame to me.
     
  8. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    @Seta: Yuck, Twilight. Don't remind me of my school, please.

    But anyway, I don't really switch perspective in the main story, I only switch view points in certain chapters to focusing on either my male MC or my female MC (and possibly my villain too, but I'm still contemplating it). And if they're together in the same space at that time in the story, then the chapter takes a more 3rd person omniscient (I think?) perspective since it covers both of them and their thoughts as well as characters that might not be directly near them (like hidden characters and such). It's part of the theme of balance I'm trying to display in it.

    All of the main storyline is in 3rd person because it's happening at that time as the reader is reading it. With the exceptions of my prolouge and my (planned) epilouge, anything that happens outside of the current storyline of my story would probably be in a different perspective.

    However, like I said, the diary entries could be written in either third or first person. But, when making the entries that my female MC reads their own chapters (she doesn't read the whole diary, I should note. She opened to a random page and went back until she reached the beginning of whatever entry she had turned to), having them written in third person would definitely confuse the reader because they wouldn't know who that character is (because up until then the only characters I'd switch between in my story were my two MCs or my villain and no one else). On the other hand, first person would make it more personal and diary-like (since journals/diaries are written in first person to begin with) and alert the reader that something has changed. I do intend to make it clear to the reader that what they're reading is happening outside the current storyline (actually, common sense would hopefully tell them this at the conclusion of the first entry-specific chapter).

    @Vous: Since the world the major majority of my story takes place in is like an alternative Earth, I'd have to either be bland and boring with my dates and times or make something up. Plus, giving specific dates and times makes the timeline too specific. I'm trying not to make the timeline in my story so tight and constricted that nothing can be left to interpretation (and as I have learned from my many years of being in the anime/manga fandom, interpretation and speculation is part of the fun of being a reader). That's why instead of specific dates or times I simply use relative terms. I might give how many years apart certain events happened, but I will never say the day and if I choose to say a time I use a relative term like "late in the night" or whatever.

    The rest of your post was a bit hard to understand because the grammar was everywhere in there. Consider revising it?
     
  9. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    I think this depends on how long these diary entries are supposed to be and how much information you want them to cover.

    If they are relatively short, like actual diary entries, you don't need to give them a chapter of their own. You can just put in "and it read thus:" or something and then write down the actual pages from the diary word for word. Write it in italics if you want to; it's done a lot but that's because it works.

    On the other hand, if you want to go into a lot of fine detail you might as well give it a whole chapter and write it the same way you would the rest of your story, except it takes place in the past and focuses on the villain's wife. If the rest of your story is written in third person, so should this chapter. The idea is to imply that the MC gets the basic information from the diary while showing the readers what actually happened.

    Both of these work just fine; the distinction lies how you want to present it to the reader. If you think of it in movie terms, the first example would be a voice-over monologue with a few short scenes for illustration, while the second one would be a full-on flashback.

    What you don't want to do is have a whole chapter telling the story of the villain's wife in detail and still write it in first person. That would come off as a sudden stylistic shift that your reader might have a hard time accepting.
     
  10. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    @Anders: It varies. Some of the entries she'll read are short, some are long. The entry that she first turns to is one such long one, hence why I'd want it to have its own chapter. The rest that I'll show her reading vary from about that entry's length to short. The ones near the last written entry and the last entry itself are all relatively short for reasons I can't divulge.

    The thing is, would writing the chapter-length entries in third person allow me the chance to show things about the villain as his late wife saw it? First person seems like it'd make it more personal and therefore drive a point home about something (that I also can't reveal), but I don't want to do it if it breaks the rythm the story would've built up by then. But...I don't know...

    Oh, and it's not happening all in one chapter, lol. My female MC will only get through maybe half of the entry she turned to before something happens to take her away from reading the rest and thus finding out anything further. Since the villain and his late wife are both equally important characters, the diary is the only way I can really show the reader something about the villain and his late wife that they wouldn't be able to learn otherwise. And doing this also gives me the chance to show that the villain wasn't always a villain, in the beginning at least, and that he did have a small piece of humanity in him despite his race. So you can see that this is a very important fine detail that needs to be sorted out so it can be executed powerfully and appropriately enough so that it will fit the rest of the story.
     
  11. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    I'd really advise you try to pick one method and stick to it as much as much as possible. You want to avoid mixing these two up for stylistic reasons.

    From the sound if it, it might be best if you go with Option B: write the entries out as they are and try to make the longer onces fit as scenes inside the chapter. Keep in mind that this is a diary we're talking about: the woman isn't going to write down a chapter-length detailed retelling of what went on that day anyway.

    By the way, about how long is your average chapter? That's kind of a factor to keep in mind here.

    Having it as third person perspective doesn't make it less personal. Even when you are writing third person you still have a leading character who's the focus of the scene. You probably do the same thing with the MC's in your regular chapters.

    You just have to describe the scene as the wife experiences it, which isn't the same thing as writing it from her perspective.

    You know, considering how important it is, I hope there's an interesting story to how your character gets her hands on this diary. I think we can all agree that it's a plot device, but the reader will buy that if you make the delivery seem exciting or meaningful. If she just happens to find it, it might give the impression that you are helping your characters along. Just a tip.

    Anyway, don't get too hung up on details. You'd be surprised what you can get away with just implying. Plus, if you seriously think your readers need that much detailed information, how do you expect your poor main character to get by with nothing but an old diary? ;)
     
  12. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    I've read a quadrilogy before where the POV changed between the different main characters and I didn't like it. That being said, if you're going for a diary entry exposition of the antagonist, then you should keep that as 1st person. Have the rest of the novel as 3rd person.

    I noted that you don't want to put dates... This may make it hard for the reader to understand where and when certain things are happening. You may want to revise that decision. Otherwise, you could just have the cliched "Journal Entry 82" etc.

    Don't do the diary entries in italics if it's a whole chapter to itself. You could also consider having a small part of the diary entry as an opener to a chapter (put this in italics). The chapter would ideally mimic a certain theme that was apparent in the diary entry. It would solve the complete disjointment that a reader may experience with whole chapter perspective changes and still allow a certain exposition of your antagonist.

    I like your idea, but have not seen this pulled off well before. Good luck.
     
  13. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    @Anders:

    Well...she (the late wife) lived in a castle. She very rarely had to make many decisions and so she had a lot of free time. I actually have a diary book that came from a series and it's the diary of one of the princess' from Hawaii (apparently it's her real diary). Some of the entries in there are so long, they last three-five pages. That makes me think that people who live in a castle and don't make a lot of decisions therefore have nothing else to do but write a lot in their diaries.

    My average chapter length for any story I write is maybe 3-4 pages. Depends on the structure of the chapter. I can't exactly gage it for this story because I only have the prolouge and half the first chapter done. But based on the fanfics I've written before, I tend to write chapters with a minimum of 3 pages and a max of maybe 6 or 7 or whenever I feel the chapter is done structure-wise.

    I suppose you're right about the perspective...

    Eep...I was thinking that she'd find it hidden in an abandoned room or it fall on top of her head from a high shelf. But I suppose I could think of an interesting story as to how she finds it.

    @A2: It's not through the villain's eyes, it's through the eyes of his late wife. And before my female MC opens the diary she notes that it looks ancient, making it really old and therefore all entries therein happened a loooong time ago. Listing specific dates, as I said, binds the timeline to those times. I want the reader to think of when the time might've been by thinking about the various indicators I'd put down that would tell them the relative time. The exact time can be determined by them if they want to.

    The character who wrote the diary wasn't the kind of person who'd mark her journals by any sort of indicator like that. She'd just start writing and tell in that entry how long it'd been since the last entry.
     
  14. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    Point seen. Still, it goes both ways: you can motivate either short or long entries depending on what you need. That's up to you, I guess.

    So, let's say about five pages on average. That's, what, about 3000 words assuming you write in Times size 12? That's not too bad. Make it a seven pager and I bet you can fit a long entry in and still have space left for your MC to contemplate it.

    (Just for comparison, my chapters tend to average in about 10.000 words these days, though like you, I usually keep writing until I think the chapter is finished.)

    Squeeze the lemon! Make your heroes struggle for their rewards, and don't miss a good opportunity to tell a story. ;)

    Even if she does simply find it by chance, try to make the circumstances surrounding that entertaining. Why is she in the abandoned room/library? Was she actually looking for something else? And so on.
     
  15. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    @Anders: Oh don't worry, the circumstances with how she stumbles upon it are interesting.

    Seven pager, I can do it! I'd just have to use a line break to seperate the end of the entry from my female MC being interrupted in her reading.
     

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