1. Remembrandt Mogadon

    Remembrandt Mogadon New Member

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    Style Creating a Sense of Compromised Reality in Your Stories

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Remembrandt Mogadon, Jan 9, 2018.

    Hey there, everyone ^^ Remi here, with a question for all y'alls.
    How do you all go about making your story's reality fall apart at the seams? I personally love stories that play off your sense of what is expected from something, only to flip all that on its head and immediately make you uneasy. I find this all thrilling, but I usually never find this in books. I find this in videogames (Undertale, Doki Doki Literature Club) and movies (Your Name, Inception), namely in the form of fourth-wall breaking and meta narrative. I want to be able to incorporate this into writing.
    I'm writing two stories at the moment that use concepts usually found in video games like glitching and coding errors to create an unsettling layer to narrative, as well as to add a tinge of suspense to the story. I want to know, do any of you writers out there use any techniques and concepts to compromise the reality of your story, and if so, how do you do it?
     
  2. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    I don't do anything special when writing a scene that blurs the line between realities. I write it as if it's nothing more than real life. The stranger it is the more nonchalantly I treat it.
     
  3. KevinMcCormack

    KevinMcCormack Senior Member

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    I'm not sure I understand your examples... do you mean the POV character is struggling with reality, or do you mean the story exposes itself to the reader as just a story?
     
  4. Remembrandt Mogadon

    Remembrandt Mogadon New Member

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    It could be both, Kevin McCormack. What I mean to say is a writing technique that pulls the reader out of the mindset that the story is even a story at all. Characters, for example, could realize that they're part of a story, or perhaps even something like a simulation. But it becomes more than story at the point; some part of you connects to the characters, because they become more than just scripted lines and characteristics. They act as if they're real, they speak to the reader, as if they know the reader exists. There are plenty of techniques like this to break the fourth wall in other forms of storytelling, like videogames, but I'm trying to translate this into writing.
    By the way, if you haven't checked it out yet, check out Doki Doki Literature Club. It's a great video game with an impressive narrative, that really plays on your expectations of what its kind of videogame is. I mean, if you're into videogames-
     
  5. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    The problem with this, is literature is very much not like video games.
    I think what you're looking for is a story like Redshirts, by John Scalzi. The protagonist has an uneasy feeling that his life aboard a starship is just a bit too neat, and predictable. In fact he comes to find that his reality is being influenced by a badly written tv show from the past. So when he's sent to an alien world to gather samples of a deadly virus, and upon returning must unravel the deadly bug... within an hour!.. he starts to question things. But still, he goes about his job... puts the alien virus in a glass ampoule and places it in some super high tech device that interestingly enough only has a timer knob and a start button... of course it's just a prop, it's a microwave oven!
    It's an amusing story, was well written and had some good laughs... but that was it.
     
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  6. Remembrandt Mogadon

    Remembrandt Mogadon New Member

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    I see...well, I suppose I'll have to figure out a unique way to undertake this task ^^
     
  7. izzybot

    izzybot Deadly Jerry Contributor

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    I like writing about unreality from the perspective of mental illness. Highly unreliable narrators and all that - I have a few characters who experience hallucinations of varying severity, but there's also just the compromised perception that comes from things like gaslighting and paranoia.

    In these cases I normally like to start out subtle. I have this one short/novella (never finished it) where the narrator starts out obviously unwell and when he sees himself, he feels like he looks like a zombie - pale and sickly. He initially puts it down to being sleep deprived and physically unhealthy and not getting much sun. As the story progresses and his mental health deteriorates, he notes that he's looking worse and worse, and it culminates in him hallucinating maggots eating his eye, part of his face, and an injury on his hand - it's presented as a real and horrifying thing that's happening to him, and (hopefully) after the build-up of him and other characters noting that he looks like death, it's not coming out of nowhere. There's been foreshadowing that something was going to go down - or was already happening. After this the narrator goes along assuming that he's straight-up dead and therefore can't be hurt or killed, so reality is certainly broken for him.

    I also have this setting where physics/reality has been actually broken, for everyone, and in that I've just made impossible things happen. People no longer have reflections, for instance. It's only mentioned in passing because no one really likes to think about it. As things progress people begin to notice that the stars are disappearing. When the main group reaches the beach they've been headed towards, they discover that the coast is much closer than it used to be, and they're told that the tide only ever comes in, now. Towards the end of the world, it becomes winter and never stops being winter again, and at some point, overnight, all of the snow turns to ash. There are eldritch monsters roaming around, which - solely from what different people call them - the reader can assume that they may actually be seeing different things. To people who've been especially affected by the apocalypse, even regular animals and other people appear to be different somehow, and it's never clear (on purpose) whether they're messed up or are seeing an actual reality that other folks are refusing to acknowledge.

    It's lots of little things. Details.

    I think the thing about stuff like DDLC and Undertale and Imscared is that they break your expectations of how games work and will respond to you, which I'm not sure can be replicated in a non-interactive format. I'm reminded of some of the shenanigans in Lemony Snicket's books - the one that comes to mind is something like "The hole was as dark as this: [two pages of nothing but black lines]". But that's not really scary or concerning and doesn't challenge you in any particular way. You just go "Huh," and flip to the next page. Movies have an edge on it, too, because they can use more complicated audiovisual trickery. All we've got is words.

    You might want to think about chronology. People do tend to assume that, without indication otherwise, a story will be told in the proper order. @Kenosha Kid had a story in the last monthly contest on here (link, and spoilers follow) that played with expectations by setting up a scenario where we assume that a character is cheating on his wife or losing his mind or both, but when the wife reads through his journal backwards, she discovers that she's the one whose mind has been tampered with and the person she's worried he's cheating on her with is/was herself. It's a great little inversion of expectation, and telling it straightforwardly would rob it of that effect.

    It's difficult (but I can't say impossible) to tinker with the actual form of prose the way some games tinker with the form of ... games. It's a broader scope of things to work with, because I mean, Pong and Mass Effect are both games, but people will tend to be a bit less forgiving on what counts as a novel. If you're interested in this you might just want to explore other avenues of creativity. Do a web serial, make a text-based browser game? I dunno.
     
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  8. Kenosha Kid

    Kenosha Kid Active Member

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    In terms of characters realising they're part of a story, check out Samuel Beckett, particularly The Unnamable and Stories and Texts for Nothing.

    Personal breakdown of reality, or the objective breakdown of a character's identity come up in Thomas Pynchon's novels, particularly Gravity’s Rainbow.

    I gather you're more leaning toward a glitching simulation though. The obvious reference is the film The Matrix, but there are plenty of things that doesn't do that might work, such as events repeating themselves, contradictory histories, exchanged identities (like in dreams), linguistic discontinuities (like in The Twilight Zone episode Wordplay)... lots of things. Generally our framework for perceiving reality concerns time, space, identity and continuity, so breaking these is probably a good place to start.

    And thanks @izzybot for the kind words :)
     
  9. KevinMcCormack

    KevinMcCormack Senior Member

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    A movie example would be [Stranger than Fiction], where the character decides to meet the author and persuade her not to kill him off.


    ETA: and I guess pretty much anything by Philip K Dick. Through a Glass Darkly being the type specimen.
     
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  10. Remembrandt Mogadon

    Remembrandt Mogadon New Member

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    Thank you all for your feedback, it really helps!
    I'm glad you know what I was referencing, izzybot ^^ Glad I'm not the only one!
    And thank you, Kenosha Kid--I will definitely start off there :)
     
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  11. Orihalcon

    Orihalcon Senior Member

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    I was going to suggest Stranger than Fiction! :D Also, Through a Glass Darkly is a movie by director Ingmar Bergman. I think you meant A Scanner Darkly.

    @Remembrandt Mogadon: The above two suggestions are good. Try also The Man in the High Castle, also by Philip K. Dick, and If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino. Disclaimer: I haven't read any of the suggested books, but I added Stranger than Fiction and If on a night a winter's traveler to my reading list when looking for something quite similar, I think, to what you're looking for. I've seen the film medium adaptations of all of the above (except for Calvino's book, because there isn't one). They were all worth the watch. I stay away from PKD personally because I think his writing is shit. So you understand, I'm not recommending anything here, I'm merely suggesting. :)
     
  12. KevinMcCormack

    KevinMcCormack Senior Member

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    Oh, yah, well, if we're talking about this universe, then sure, the Dick novel is A Scanner Darkly.

    Also, I forgot about Inception, which probably fits the theme too.
     

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