1. beccaisane
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    beccaisane Member

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    Using anecdotes in fiction?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by beccaisane, Oct 18, 2009.

    This may sound like a bunch of brain vomit, but here we go...

    To begin, the whole story is first person and past tense.

    The Problem:
    Whenever I'm writing, I always seem to want to put a sort of pre-writing at the beginning of each chapter. I don't think it would be considered an anecdote, but that was the simplest way I could think to describe it. :confused:

    When I begin to write a new chapter, I sort of go into a mental-diary mode, and it's usually pretty intricate... (not something you'd find in a "normal" teenager's diary.)

    Here's a very small, quick example:
    "It was never an invincibility complex. I never thought it couldn't happen to me. In fact, in a way, I expected it. But I wasn't ready for it - nobody could every be ready for something like that.
    There was no foreshadowing to my brother's death. There was no dark, looming presence, no chill in my bones. It wasn't a dark, stormy night. It just happened. And I wasn't prepared."
    Something along those lines.

    Not all of it is written like that, though... after the "anecdote" it focuses more on action and dialogue, less on the deep workings of the main character's mind (although there ARE thoughts in there, they aren't quite the same.)

    It also seems like there is some sort of POV change, although it's the same character. It's almost like the narrator is putting her after-the-fact thoughts in while telling the story while STILL talking in past tense.

    *I'm not sure if this is correct in writing fiction - if it makes the writing confusing or if it's just plain irritating. What do you think?
    *Should I put my little "anecdotes" in italics or have a break between it and the rest of the chapter? (I do not want to make it like a diary entry)
    *If it IS alright to do what I've described, would it throw the entire thing off if a chapter doesn't have one?

    (I apologize if it doesn't make complete sense, it was difficult to explain. If you need additional information or explaining, please tell me!)
     
  2. Mo Yeongsu
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    Mo Yeongsu Member

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    I think if you construct the rest of the chapter well you can make something like that work. It would need to be a consistent theme among the chapters, I would think. If you used it here and there the reader might not understand why you're doing it unless it's obviously significant.

    My suggestions for what you're doing:

    -Every chapter should have it or none.
    -The lines should be centered and italicized or something significant to make them stand out.
    -They should all follow a theme. They should all be quotes if the first one is a quote. In the case of what you showed us, it seems to be sort of an intro to the chapter. A summing up of what has happened before we enter the chapter, meaning that we'll be dealing with the brother's death and how it affected the protagonist vs actually seeing the brother die. I mean, there would be an explanation and flashbacks, but the main content of the chapter is the grieving and aftermath.

    It's a terrific idea, I think. And you should refine this to make your story just a little more interesting for the reader.
     
  3. beccaisane
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    beccaisane Member

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    Oh my goodness, thank you for your post!
    I've just been having doubts with it written all up in my head. I can't get anything out because I'm afraid it might be "wrong" (tsk, tsk... the 'w' word.)
     
  4. Mo Yeongsu
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    Mo Yeongsu Member

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    I don't think there's really such a thing as right and wrong when it comes to stylistic choices such as that. It's something you don't see very often, but you should strive to make your work stand out. The key is doing it in such a way that pleases both you and the reader. In "Children of the Mind", a sci-fi book, each chapter began with a quote that was very philosophical and had some relevance to the coming chapter. You can do it, but be careful not to just throw it in there as a gimmick or do it half-assed.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Personally, I don't think its a great idea...its really obvious and unsubtle. I would prefer to have the ideas it expresses worked into the story. Let the reader work out what the narrator thinks and feels rather than telling them like that.
     
  6. beccaisane
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    beccaisane Member

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    That's what I was afraid of. :(
    I think it could be done well, though... if done correctly. I'll work out a couple chapters with them and get some reviews on those. If not, I'll have to ignore the impulse to write those little anecdotes.


    Maybe if I kept them pretty abstract? :confused:
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Out of context, it's hard to say. If it summarizing events in the story, either in preceding chapters or in the upcoming chapters, I'd advise against it. But if it relates events outside the storyline but relates metaphorically to the events in the upcoming chapter, it could be very effective.

    For other approaches to opening the chapter with out-of-band material, read Frank Herbert's Dune and Orson Scott Card's Enders Game.

    Please don't use italics, though. Use a block quote, i.e. text indented on the left and right relative to the main chapter text. The publisher may choose to render it differently, such as in a different font, but that is a typesetting decision. In your manuscript it should be a block quote.
     
  8. beccaisane
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    beccaisane Member

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    The information given in the anecdotes would be otherwise unsaid (to an extent, I suppose I could write it another way and still give similar information.) It would also be fairly abstract. They may also keep some sort of religious tie in them, but that's a whole different conversation.

    My example was pretty close to the real one in the story (more concrete and poorly written :p..) After that, it goes into life after the fact - not to when her brother dies.

    (If anyone is interested enough, I'd be happy to give it to them in-context :p)
     
  9. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    I'd say do it. Don't ignore the impulse - even if you find it doesn't work, and end up editing it out later, it will help get your creativity flowing. You don't want to stump that before it begins.
    Besides, it sounds like an interesting start to the chapter, as long as it doesn't repeat what happened/happens, as people have said.
     
  10. Mo Yeongsu
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    Mo Yeongsu Member

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    Arron is worried it would be more like a "Previously on..." like a TV show recap or something just as cheesy. I'm of the firm opinion that if the rest of your writing can stand on its own without these lines at the beginning, then you should be safe to add them if you believe it will both enhance the reader's experience and not be over the top. It may also serve to reinforce some ideas. An example being that each of the opening quotes were from a deceased, unseen character and the protagonist mentions that character very often because they had been close, like a parent. It then let's the reader become connected with a character that is never interacted with in the story, but has had an effect on the protagonist.
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Actually, what I was thinking was that it would be like "I wasn't ready for it--nobody could be prepared for something like that" and then in the chapter we see the character dealing badly with the situation, being unprepared for it...I guess you could say I was worried that it would be a really blunt, obvious summary of the narrator's emotions in the next chapter when really it would be better if yu showed us her emotions and how she felt without just telling us like that.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think that is what arron is getting at at all. Perhaps he is saying that even if the lead-in narration is interpretive from a different perspective than the rest of the text, shouldn't that be left to the reader? It could be viewed as "dumbing it down" for the reader.

    In any case, I think it better to let arron speak for himself.
     
  13. beccaisane
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    beccaisane Member

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    I understand completely what Arron is getting at.
    Cogito, that's exactly what I was thinking would be the problem: dumbing it down and letting the reader mindlessly go through the rest of the chapter.

    I decided I'd keep anecdotes (because nobody has said "no" to calling them anecdotes) but I'm changing them so they are less blunt. They'll no longer say the way the narrator feels outright, but something more metaphorical and symbolic. Maybe childhood memories of her brother or something like that.
     
  14. Mo Yeongsu
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    Mo Yeongsu Member

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    I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't bluntly throw it out there like that and maybe that example isn't representative of what OP plans to use for the rest of them. My main point is that I like the idea of adding something like this to the beginning, but I probably wouldn't condone the example given. Well, let me take that back. Let's say that the premise of the book was that someone was reading from their old diary and was reminiscing about those events. The first couple of lines would be the quote from the diary followed by the actual memories from that person. I apologize that I'm not describing this idea very well, but if you use your imagination I'm sure you can get an idea of how something like that could be done well. When writing anything, it's all about the execution and not so much the format. If the story were written well and that tied in with it without, as you said, being overly simplistic and telling instead of showing (at an inappropriate time), then it can be successful.
     

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