1. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Would you consider this a suspense builder or blatant misinformation?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Alesia, Jun 6, 2013.

    Stating in an opening line something like

    "[character] had less than ten minutes to live."

    By the end of the chapter one they are severely wounded and it APPEARS they are dead, but in reality they actually are alive and shown to be as such at the beginning of chapter 2.
    I like to also apply the statement to the spiritual realm as well, because said characters "death" is more on the personal level. Their out look on life changes so drastically afterward that in essence who they used to be died if that makes sense.
     
  2. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    I think to make it not misinformation as such, it might work better to have it feel like it's something that the character thinks, rather than a statement of fact. I'm going to use the name Mary just because. "Mary was sure she had less than ten minutes to live."

    And then afterwards, to make it clear that there was sort of a death on the spiritual level, you might write something like this. "She didn't feel like the same person. She felt like she had died and someone else had taken up residence in her body. It was silly, but it made sense, in that odd kind of way that stupid things were perfectly logical."

    Just a thought :)
     
  3. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    In a way, you do already have a certain uncertainty about the outcome by saying: "less than..." Is it 9 minutes? 8 minute 30 secs? 9 min 59 secs? Question is: is it a prediction (in which case: who makes this prediction?) or is it stating a fact from a future perspective (if you take the pas tense of the narrative literally the event already took place: so who is narrating it?)

    An idea: you could try stating the exact time of your character's apparent death. "Marry had 9 minutes more to live." This makes it clear to the reader that something important happens - and the exact nature of her "death" is something you will deal through the rest of the story.
    But I think there is no need to elaborate on the event - "show, don't tell" would make a great story out of it. What's different about the character after the event? What is so strong about the event that you are not only comparing it with death ("it seemed to her as if she had died, etc") but you equalize it with death ("She died. Somebody else is now where she was.")
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the line itself would be a good hook... what you write after that and how well you write it is what will determine if it works, or not...
     
  5. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    "[MC] knew she only had minutes to live.
    But that's not what scared her. It was the fact she was helpless to do anything about it."

    I messed around with it like that, but something feels missing, like there should be something else before "But that's not what scared her." or it should be worded differently.

    Where we're coming in, MC is on her knees, arms behind her back, tied at the wrists and ankles with thick ropes that are secured around some kind of a post. Several hostile men are milling about, one of whom is brandishing a pistol. She's completely at these people's mercy, there's no way out of this situation.
     
  6. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Yes it is a decent enough hook, but really try to make it appear that the characters are dead, because there's almost nothing worse than having someone "die" either at the beginning or end of a book or film. There's nothing wrong with doing this of course, but usually their "death" is done in a terrifically cheesy way, so make sure your writing is good enough for this. :)
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The hook's fine. But it's too direct, and there is something missing. I'd write it in a way the readers could feel the impending death without just coming out and telling them.

    I'd describe the scene and bring in the MC's knowledge of impending death and helplessness in as inner dialogue or some equivalent.


    And I really like this ^ as a way to say what happens after the shots are heard. You can add something akin to, "the circle of blood on her blouse got ever larger", to leave the reader thinking she died.
     
  8. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Misinformation can be great for getting a reader hooked on the story and invested in what's going on. What do you think plot twists are? They come out the blue and they're unexpected due to new information being revealed. The reader is supposed to have the character's perspective or the perspective of what's happening around the character (depending on your pov of choice) not the writer's perspective. I say to go for it. What you write after that will determine whether or not it's good.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How would you, as a reader, feel about it?

    I'm inclined to say I would be annoyed and would feel cheated, but the truth is, it depends on exactly how you present it.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Misinformation I'd say - unless you make me so relieved that the character isn't dead that I forgive you for it, but you're unlikely to achieve that sort of emotional attachment within just one chapter I feel, unless you're like super duper skilled (and if you were, you probably wouldn't be asking us about how to start). Personally I'd be quite annoyed and I'd definitely see it as the mark of an amateur, because I'd know you did what you did only in order to get me to read Chapter 1 - only you now have no hook for Chapter 2. What you do have is an annoyed reader.
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    I just can't agree that the reader would be disappointed finding out the death was a near death, as long as it's clearly only an implied death. It's common in plots to have twists and turns. What's disappointing is when you guess the twist and you're right. :)
     
  12. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    I read a short story where the MC has a "spiritual change." The story is called The Things They Carried by Tim O Brien. You should read it and see if it helps you.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    But if it's clear that the death is only an implied death, or some sort of metaphorical death, how is that a hook? There's no suspense there left if it's not a real death.

    I agree with you, if it's clear that the death is not literal, then it's fine to keep it the way the OP has it - but then for me, that's just not a hook. Where's the suspense? To care about a character's spiritual state takes a lot more than a few paragraphs to establish (whereas physical death can be established a little faster) - not impossible, but again, you'd need to be a HECK of a writer.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think part of the answer to this question depends on who the narrator is. If the narrator is presented simply as a character - possibly the victim herself, possibly not - then I think you can get away with it, because the character is not omniscient. If, however, the narrator is "authorial" - some version of you, the author - and nothing else in the story this narrator presents is misinformation, then I think you're cheating the reader. You're giving the reader every reason to believe the truth of your narration, and then you lie about this one fact - what is the reader to conclude? He or she will conclude that you are blatantly being manipulative; you are providing misinformation just to provide some false suspense. In the first case, the character doesn't know the truth, so it isn't a lie; in the second, the narrator does know the truth and lies for no other reason than to push the suspense button.

    So, who is your narrator?
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    Clear in retrospect, not clear when you first read it. In other words, clearly implied, the reader has no reason to think death did not occur. But when you find out it wasn't a death, it's a plot twist the reader would have no reason to be disappointed by.
     
  16. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    Great story and one I highly recommend to anyone. The chronology of the story is a bit wonky, though, and may thus be less helpful for some. However, the narration of Lt. Cross's change due to trauma is beautiful.

    minstrel's got a good question. While we wait for the answer to that, I'll throw in my current two cents.

    I imagine this is set up to where the MC is told and comes to believe without a doubt that she has 10 minutes to live. There's probably some stipulation or something, like "we want two million dollars delivered to this location or else our hostage dies" or something. In that sense, it would not be misinformation, even if the narrator speaks from a place of truth. Because the 10 minutes till death is a promise. However, I also imagine your MC fights the odds and comes out by the skin of her teeth, breaking that 10 minute promise. As for dealing with the spiritual death/rebirth, I am 100% for showing rather than telling, which could be tricky since we've only gotten to know your MC through one chapter so far. However, we the readers are experiencing and discovering her new identity along with her so we can marvel along with her at the changes that occur through the juxtaposition she draws.

    I hope that makes sense. Sleep and I haven't been on good terms lately.
     
  17. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I feel 'this person only has [insert time] to live' hook has been done before... a lot. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a bad thing but I agree that it will take some solid writing to create a connection between the audience and character in a chapter or two. If the death isn't a physical one you'll have to work even harder. Audiences may feel betrayed by the narrator which may make it more difficult to establish a relationship throughout the book.
     
  18. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is there such a thing? An author shouldn't be present in a story - the narrator's voice, however distant and omniscient it may look like, should be as differentiated from the author's voice as possible. Another character, in a way.
     
  19. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Aww thanks! :D

    Now that we know the situation [and yes, Alesia, I agree with you. Something is definitely missing.] we can help a little more.

    "[MC] was on the executioner's block.
    Or so she felt. Really, she was contorted into an incredibly uncomfortable position, tied to a post with ropes she couldn't hope to break and utterly at their mercy. It wasn't the thought of death that scared her, however; what frightened her most was that she could do nothing about it."

    Imagery and implication are your friends :)
     
  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I think it can work if you write the chapter in very close third person limited, something like "Rachel had less than ten minutes to live." Then describe it as if she knew that was all the time she had to do anything she can in order to try and change the certain destiny. Showcase some unique skill or a uniquely ingenious way to escape, or whatever, it's actually a great way to characterise a protagonist through action.

    I'm not so keen on the following sentence "But that's not what scared her." That strikes me as overdescribing in a typically beginner way. It isn't necessary to spell things like that out during action scenes, just say what scared her and move on.
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think this was well put, something to think about in general.

    But in this context: if this is chapter 1, and this is your opening line, I know the the character survives, spiritually or physically or however-ly, I know that first line is a lie if e.g. the blurb says she's the MC. So I don't care if you tell in chapter 2 she survived. I don't feel cheated. I'm more like "okay, what was the point of that opening line, then, except make me think something sinister is going on cos someone's about to friggin die!"
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Where did you hear this?

    Of course there's such a thing. You can't remove Hemingway's personality, values, attitudes towards life, etc. from his work, even when he's writing in third person. Or Robert A. Heinlein's. Or any number of other writers'. The authors come through powerfully in their third-person narrators.
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    I think this is an important point. In addition to the question the Alesia asks in the OP.
     
  24. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    On the contrary, one could argue that their work is powerful because they managed to suppress their auctorial voice. Putting an equals sign between the author and the narrator is a miss-lead. In first-person narration you should NEVER do this. There is a whole universe of distinction between the character who "tells the story" and the actual author. And the same goes for third-person narration - although it's much harder for the reader to keep this in mind, falling for the illusion of omniscient, god-like author. This illusion is, of course, what the magic of reading is all about - and if the author manages to achieve it, you get a good book - a book that was "written by X.Y" not "narrated by X.Y"

    (...Audio books come in mind: you will find an actor credited as the narrator of audio books.)
    (also: the whole idea of intertextuality, breaking the forth wall, etc is about the text becoming aware of itself, and the author coming out as the author. If there wasn't a different voice, the narrator's voice, something like that couldn't be achieved.)
     
  25. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You could argue that, but you'd lose. I know a fair bit about both of those guys, and they usually made no attempt to hide their own authorial voices. I'd argue that their work is powerful, in part, because they let their powerful and distinctive personalities shine through in their narrators - even their third-person narrators.

    But that wasn't really what I was arguing ...

    Agreed. Often they are not the same.

    Do what? Make the equation between writer and narrator? Or write a narrator who has your own personality, values, etc.?

    Yes, obviously there is (often) a distinction, especially in first person. But equally often, if not more often, there is not. I'm not saying that these writers write autobiography, but I am saying that they proudly let their narrators share their own worldviews.

    You can get a good book even if the author doesn't bother trying to achieve it.

    What I'm basically arguing against is your position that an author must NEVER allow his own self to bleed through into the character of his narrator. I know some writers have made it a point to write that way, trying to remove themselves as much as possible from their works (under the theory that god should be invisible and intangible, never intervening in his own creation), but there's nothing to say that that is a better way to write. What you stated as a hard and fast rule is anything but. That's why I asked where you heard it. I'd like to check the source.
     

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