1. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    Writing in first person with dead story teller. Does it work?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Chad Lutzke, Jul 29, 2014.

    I have a great idea for something I've barely started, but I feel it will only work if I write it in first person. The only problem is the character dies at the end, and in fact describes his death. Will this work? Can anyone give me examples of this working? Thanks!
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Sunset Boulevard started with a body ( the mc ) and back peddled to show how he wound up dead. D.O.A. started with a man who is poisoned ( basically a dead man walking ) and the story is him trying to solve his own murder. I can't think of any others. And these are vintage noir movies. It could work - especially if he trails off in the end.
     
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  3. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I can see it working it's present tense and ends with the moment of death. Or he's narrating from the afterlife.
     
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  4. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've had the character narrate their own death but it right at that moment where they truly die the chapter ends and PoV switches to another character. It's kinda funky and usually needs a LOT of fine tuning.
     
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  5. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    The movie Looper. I'm not sure if it worked though.
     
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  6. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's fine, though you might want to telegraph the 'he's dead' fact (e.g. The Lovely Bones) rather than make it some kind of surprise reveal at the end. I'm sure it's possible to do it as a surprise reveal well, but it's hard to do without breaking the suspension of disbelief. In the first couple of paragraphs, you can say 'My name's Peter, and I'm dead. For completeness, you should also know I'm a purple hippopotamus from the planet Zarquab' and the reader will just accept it as part of the premise of the story. Once they've got an established idea of your MC as alive, it's far harder to accept anything that breaks that image.
     
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  7. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    Thanks everyone!
     
  8. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I can see this working if the main character can be anybody and not a specific type of person to say. Traits can be specific, but the overall persona of who this person is can help make or break the story.

    I am reminded of one of the stories in Sin City.

    I can also see this as a found journal. The character could die off in the end, but if the main character anticipates it, I guess it could work
     
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  9. feathersinflight
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    feathersinflight Member

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    If he's writing from an afterlife perspective, it may work. Also if he describes events leading up to his death, and someone (another character who was related to him somehow? I don't know if you have that) narrates the death and continues onward with the narrative.
     
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  10. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want a humorous take on this sort of thing, read Edgar Allan Poe's "How to Write a Blackwood Article" and its companion piece, "A Predicament."

    (Note that the latter story is not exactly PC. Thou art warned.)
     
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This sort of perspective always irritates the heck out of me when I encounter it. In the back of the logical half of my brain I'm saying to myself ...he's dead, how can he be telling us a story? Unless there is some device (a packet of letters, for example, like The Bridges of Madison County) that explains how this could happen after death, I get annoyed. For me, it makes it hard to believe what I'm reading.

    There is a song that was making the rounds of the Scottish folk scene many moons ago about a dead whale (yup) written in first person by the whale itself. (Do whales write songs? Oh, never mind...) This poor whale described how it had been harpooned, killed, torn apart, etc, in lugubrious detail, intoned in a minor key. I would look around the room every time this song surfaced, and sure enough. People blubbing into their tissues and intoning along with the dead whale's chorus ...and me thinking WHAT??? I mean WHAT????

    I hasten to add, this was not representative of the Scottish folk scene at all, and was a mere blip in the progression of wonderful music produced at those sessions ...but it irritated the crap out of me at the time. I kept my yap shut, endured, and often decided it was a good time to slip away for a toilet break. But I could never get over my initial negative reaction to the first-person dead whale narrator.

    However, this is a very personal view, and I know the reversal of 'dead men tell no tales' is a device that has been used many many times, to great success. But do be aware that it won't sit well with all readers. But you can't please everybody, can you?
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2014
  12. thewordsmith
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    Saving Private Ryan
     
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  13. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    @jannert LOL...love your response. I'm not sure I would have been fond of the song either, although I do believe whales do "sing/create music" do they not? :) Thank you everyone for your help with this.
     
  14. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    American Beauty begins with the Kevin Spacey saying he's going to die at the end of the film.

    Also, "As I Lay Dying" has a chapter narrated by the dead mother. I guess it depends on how you do it. It's not my thing, but it's also not my piece of work, it's yours.
     
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  15. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, but think of all the lamps it lit and the corsets it boned. The poor whale's death was not in vain . . .
     
  16. jannert
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    Oh, I'm anti whale-killing for sure. I hate the idea of whaling. I also am open to the idea that whales and dolphins are smarter than us. But until a dead whale writes a song after it dies, then comes to sing it for us at a Scottish singaround in the back room of a pub, I'll remain a skeptic. At that point, I'll eat my shirt...
     
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  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shoulda put the "this is satire" emoticon in my comment. :rolleyes: <--- this one, maybe?

    There's an old English folksong called "The Death of the Fox" that Magpie Lane sing on their album Speed the Plough. First person, from the fox's point of view, and it ends with its death. Not sentimental at all; rather the opposite.
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Now it's dead foxes writing songs? What next... I ask you... (satire emoticon here)
     
  19. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Twin Peakes and Desperate Housewives. Not too sure about TP but I'm sure DH was narrated by a character that died in the first series.
     
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  20. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Fire Walk with Me - hadn't thought about that one!
     
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  21. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    It works if he becomes more of a spirit, leaving the vessel...or, if it isn't addressed, but it just happens. It may not need an explanation to work.
     
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  22. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    The Lovely Bones springs to mind here, both the book and the film (which i had the joys of studying at college first time around)
     
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  23. Jakv6
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    Jakv6 Member

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    I explained this away by having the (not dead but missing) mc send his journals to his girlfriend in the last chapter. His girlfriend takes them to a journalist before duly going missing herself. The journalist wraps up the book. I don't know if it was the best way, but it took care of all the loose ends.
     
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  24. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    An update: I finished the story and submitted it. They loved it, and it was just published last week in Shadows & Light #4. It worked very well and it's one of my favorite stories: www.amazon.com/author/chadlutzke
     
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  25. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Congrats, Chad!
     
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