1. Graham Penman
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    Graham Penman Member

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    Help please

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Graham Penman, Oct 6, 2014.

    I am trying to write a novel where my protagonist is telling a story to his son. It starts in the present, then goes into the past. I am not sure how to do it without, literally, having my character speak the whole thing. Can anyone help me?
     
  2. jonahmann
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    jonahmann Active Member

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    Paragraph break, then tell the story without quotation marks.
     
  3. Graham Penman
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    Graham Penman Member

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    Wow, really that simple?
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Or you can begin with the story telling scene, then change to the next chapter where the story is occurring in real time.

    All you need is something that ties the story telling to the story and something that makes it clear you've changed time frames.

    Like this:
    ... "It was the most beautiful Christmas tree I'd ever seen," my father said, his eyes glazed over.
    #
    "Over here, over here, I found one, this is it," I said barely controlling my excitement. "This is the tree I want!"

    My feet sank in the snow up to my ankles. Each step of my boots crunched underneath...​
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Be aware that some classics, such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness, are written in exactly that way. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow is the narrator and he appears at the beginning with some guys he knows. They're on a boat on the Thames at sunset, and something about the mood of the scene causes Marlow to start telling the story of his trip up the Congo River many years earlier. For the rest of the book, every paragraph starts with a quotation mark, because it's all Marlow's speech.

    Of course, that book was written in 1899, and that style might have been more acceptable back then than it is now. But you don't have to think it's a mistake - Conrad is one of the greats, and Heart of Darkness is a legitimate classic.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think I'd be disinclined to use the Conrad model exactly. I think the notion of every paragraph beginning with quote marks could get clumsy, especially if you want to include dialogue in the tale.

    Instead, I'd find a way to establish that the tale is going to get told. You could start with the father talking to his son. It would help if we know the father's name, if the tale is going to be about him. Then you could have some exchange between the son and his father :

    "Tell me, dad, what did you do in the war?"

    Should I tell him the truth, or just the parts he's old enough to understand? The last thing we needed was more nightmares to keep him awake. "Okay," I said, watching his eyes light up with the promise of a story." "But you've got to promise me. If you get bored or scared, I want you to let me know. Okay? Some of it might be scary. And some of it might put you to sleep, right here!"

    He chuckled. "Okay, dad. Now tell me."

    "Well," I said, stalling a bit. I looked out the window, hoping the day would remain sunny. I sure didn't want real clouds rolling in to heighten the gloom and reluctance I was already experiencing. "You know when I was little, they called me Petey? Well, when I enlisted I became Peter, pretty quick. Private Peter Allan Piper. And I was nearly always in a pickle, that's for sure...."


    Then start a new chapter, maybe even moving into third person (rather than "I") with the protagonist, a young man named Peter Allan Piper, heading off to war with a song on his lips and visions of glory swirling in his head. You can carry on all the way through to the end of the story in this mode, or you can break off whenever you like to have another present-day exchange between Peter and his son. But make sure you let the reader know IMMEDIATELY that you've made the switch. Don't let them swither around in the wrong time frame even for a sentence or two.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
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  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the entire novel IS the story (more or less) you can present it as an omniscient narrator POV that frequently breaks the fourth wall, ie, addresses his son to whom he is relaying the story, but the audience takes the son's place, so he is talking directly to the reader.
     
  8. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wrote a short story ("Vegetable Matters") where a father is telling his version of a story to a reporter. It's a pretty long section. It got tricky with double and single quotes and such, but there are techniques to break up the dialogue, and help maintain reader interest. (Horn tooting: It's a SF story and was a Derringer Award Finalist back in 2009.) It's no longer available online via MindFlights, where it was first published :(

    But that was for a short story, and I am not sure you want to structure what you're attempting that way...although you might, if you keep going back to the father and son in the present. But with an entire novel, do the setting with the first chapter or whatever, the father and son...and then tell the rest of the story in first person POV, of the father telling the story. It'd be just like any first person POV novel.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Doesn't Anne Rice do this in Interview with a Vampire? - I can't remember I read it in the 90s. I think she kept everything in quotes. Might want to check out her technique.
     
  10. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I didn't remember her doing that, but a glance at the amazon "look inside" seems to reveal that you're right.

    Of course in Rice's situation the interviewer has to ask Luis questions to move the plot or explain his character, so it's understandable.
     
  11. Graham Penman
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    Graham Penman Member

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    Thanks for the advice all. I'm just going to try a few different ways and see which one works best for the story.
     

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