1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    a character not in present narrative

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by deadrats, Jul 6, 2017.

    What do you think about a character who is talked about and part of the story but never makes an appearance in the present narrative of the story? Has anyone tried something like this? Or can anyone give me some examples of this sort of thing? Thanks.
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I've certainly had dead characters that living characters discussed/dealt with. Seems legit to me.
     
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  3. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Depends what you mean by "part of the story". If that excludes dead characters, there are still other examples I've seen. Stannis Baratheon in A Game of Thrones, for one. He never appears during that first book, but people talk about him (his impact on history, his personality, and his role in current events) and he greatly influences the progression of events. The main POV character backs him as the legitimate heir, and it ends up costing that character his head and starting a massive civil war. All this, and Stannis doesn't physically appear until the prologue of the second book.
     
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  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    Are they in the past? Which would make more sense than being from the future.

    Sure you can talk about people in their past if you like. Plenty have done it.
    Though they don't get a narrative spot of their own, but can be spoken of
    by those in the present.
     
  5. Night Herald

    Night Herald Malfunctioning clockwork person Supporter Contributor

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    Second that. The whole series is filled with that sort of thing, mostly with deceased characters who still impact the ongoing events, the Targaryen royal family being perhaps the most prominent example. It's used to great effect.

    Something similar is done in R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing, both with people who lived and died thousands of years ago, and a certain somebody who is a driving force for the whole trilogy but doesn't appear in person until, I think, the third book.

    I can't, off the top of my head, think of a still living person who is particularly prominent in the story but doesn't appear at all in the writing. I'm sure there are examples, though. I'm doing something like that in my own work, but it's more of a stories-from-half-a-world-away type thing than an acquaintance of any of the main characters and cast.
     
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  6. rktho

    rktho Contributor Contributor

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    The Rishnaran is mentioned frequently and treated as an otherworldly being. But secretly, he's the one narrating the story the entire time and there's a surprise reveal at the end. Which I just spoiled... oops

    I also have two dragons who killed each other in a duel alluded to but since they have been dead for millennia they don't make an appearance.

    Also, an example-- Star Wars, BEFORE the special editions, Jabba is mentioned in both 4 and 5 but not seen until Episode 6.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Holden Caulfield talks/reflects about his parents, his brother, his sister (does he ever meet up with his sister in the book?) etc. It works.
     
  8. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Columbo's wife!
     
  9. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    Have you seen The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacy?

    Not to put any spoilers out there, but the movie hinges on a character that is only described.
     
  10. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, in my current WIP, one of my MC's has a boyfriend who died before the start of the book. He's referred to many times throughout the manuscript by various characters.
     
  11. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah it depends. I have two characters in mine that only appear in Flashback - one is the guy who founded the company that everyone works at, and the timing of his death ten years before the main narrative sets up a lot of what happened later. I have another who's a major flashback character, whose plotline ends with a traumatic break with the company - that one I hang a lot of signposts on their ABSENCE in the main narrative, but you don't find out what actually happened until near the end. Granted, by that point you figure out that the character IS in the main timeline as the source of a bunch of mysterious text messages that have been showing up. Actually, I kind of did it with a third character as well - the main character's sister only appears in flashbacks and a significant part of the third act involves people trying to figure out what happened to her - the present version doesn't appear until the last chapter. Although, in two of those cases, you have someone who is at least hinted at in the main text.

    In other books, I've certainly seen this done - especially people who've passed by the time the narrative starts. I mean, seriously, how many stories are there about orphans....
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks, guys. I don't know why I felt so stumped for examples. My character isn't dead. She's had quite a role in the novel as an off-scene catalyst that set the whole story in motion. But she hasn't made an appearance in the present narrative of the story. Now, I'm wondering if she should. What do you guys think about authors doing this sort of thing? I'm really not sure where I stand on this.
     
  13. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    I used it in my most recent novel. When the action of the post-apocalyptic alien invasion novel begins, an individual who helped the protagonist survive up until that point is now in his grave, recently died of a heart attack. It's perfectly normal in real life. I speak with my brother or sisters about my father, who passed away--things that happened or what he did, or said. There are teachers who've retired or passed away, who I and some of my colleagues talk about, examples of how they taught something or handled a situation. If it happens in real life, certainly can happen in fiction.

    So someone that does not appear (dead, or out of the country or estranged, or whatever) who had an influence on a character (decisions, path in life, outlook, etc.) can definitely be a part of the narrative and influence the plot and character actions.
     
  14. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    It's so normal to have this situation that I don't even think of it as a "thing." Like, I don't think it'd even occur to me that this character never made it onto the screen, so to speak.

    I think you're worrying about a non-problem.
     
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  15. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Maybe you're right. There are just so many decisions to make when writing a novel. This character was supposed to be a main character. That probably means she belongs in the present narrative. I think this character is just too dominant in the story that it might seem gimmicky if I don't put her in the present narrative. The novel is first person from another character's POV. I don't know if that makes much of a difference.
     
  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I feel the need for more explanation, because I too see this as a non problem.

    I suppose it would be a problem if this character were the primary or the only plot driver--if everyone else were essentially passive, their lives driven by this character. If, to put it another way, the only character with an actual plot arc never appeared "onscreen".
     

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