1. Vickymarie

    Vickymarie New Member

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    Help!

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Vickymarie, May 3, 2022.

    Hi guys. I'm new here and new to writing books.
    I have an idea for a story after being inspired by and learning about the life of my X3 great grandfather.
    Anyway, the reader will believe that MC's wife and baby have gone. Gone missing? Left? He doesn't know. What actually is happening is he has developed psychosis after the trauma of losing his wife and child in childbirth. I want him to be an unreliable narrator. There's a back story to him to and the trauma he experienced as a child.
    Anyway, my question is how do I write the book from the unreliable perspective of the MC when everyone around him knows that his wife and child are actually dead? Is this even doable? I have many more questions and things I'm stuck on so any advice or ideas are welcomed.
     
  2. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    Allow me to recap to be sure I understand the concept:

    The MC's wife died during childbirth, and the child died at the same time. Rather than accept the reality that they have both died, the MC develops a psychosis in which he believes that they have "gone" somewhere. The presumption is that he believes they are still alive?

    So what's the story? What effect does this psychosis have on his life? Other than that belief, can he still function? How old is he? Does he work? Can he still perform his job? Can he still care for himself and his home? How does he interact with other people? Do arguments result if/when other people try to tell him that his wife and baby died? Does this result in fractured friendships? Is (or was) he a religious person? Does the psychosis change his relationship with God?

    Does he spend all his free time (or ALL his time) looking for them? Does he spend all his money paying private detectives to look for them? Do some private detectives take advantage of this and string him along with false hope because they're "onto some important new information"?
     
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  3. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "Alas, Babylon" by Pat Frank
    I'd have those around him be deliberately evasive about the missing wife/kid. They are aware of his problems and are trying not to exacerbate things. He can see that as a conspiracy or that they've given up, or maybe he thinks they're trying to spare him pain but assumes that they too believe they're missing. Yes, I think it can definitely be done.
     
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  4. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    One way I can think of would be to present things from his perspective through much of the story, and at first there are only subtle hints (maybe almost unnoticeable) that other people don't agree with him. But don't have them outright say anything. If anyone does, he edits that out of his memory immediately and reframes it. I'd come up with some way of showing that, but don't show it for several chapters at least. Maybe have some stock phrases he uses when people disagree with him, something like: I begged and pleaded with her to tell my anything she knew about them, and while at first I held high hopes, it became clear she knew nothing helpful.

    "Nothing helpful", through the course of the story, comes to be an identifier. When he says (thinks) that, it means they told him things that contradict his own version and he immediately ignored and reframed whatever they said. People might be telling him exactly what happened, but he's incapable of hearing it—he simply edits it out of his version of the conversation. I mean, obviously he hears the words, and quite likely he responds, but what the reader is getting is his own self-edited version that he cooks up after the discussion, in which everything they said falls under the rubric "She knew nothing helpful."

    As the story goes on, when you're ready to reveal the next stage where it begins to become clear that he's an unreliabble narrator, maybe he starts to let in some things. Nothing directly related to their deaths of course, he's incapable of hearing that as well as things like other people's exasperation at his refusal to acknowledge what they're saying. In other words at first present it entirely from his own edited viewpoint, and little by little start to reveal what other people actually said.

    So the conversations in the early chapters are presented mostly through narration rather than in actual dialogue. It can be dialogue up to the point where 'the subject' comes up, but at that point he doesn't tell us the words anybody said. Instead he reports how the conversation went through narration, for instance:

    "How much do you remember?" She asked.

    I told her everything as I recalled it, up to the point where things become addled in my mind—that night when (Whatever. I don't want to have to come up with a scenario here). I implored her—she was there as well, surely she had seen something or knew something that could help me. But no, she was no help.​

    And he doesn't even reveal why she was no help.

    Several chapters later maybe we get her side of the conversation, at least partially. Maybe they meet again and talk about the conversation and she reveals that she remembers it (the conversation) differently than he does. Just that much at this point, he doesn't report to the reader what she actually says—how she remembers it differently. Only that she said she remembers it differently, and maybe that she seemed exasperated by his inability to understand her (actually to listen to her, but he uses the word understand).

    As it goes on he reveals more and more that people he talks to tend to have this same exasperation, but he has some excuse, some reason he tells himself. Something a bit paranoid, like that they must know something they're hiding in order to protect him. Or maybe he even projects onto them, starts accusing them of being unable to accpet what happened. This is common behavior when someone is incapable of accepting some harsh truth. They'll accuse everyone else of doing what they're actually doing.

    This would work best told in 1st person, his own thoughts and impressions. It would also work in 3rd, but you'd have to tell it entirely through his own eyes and words, just as if it's in 1st.

    It would be an excellent idea to read a few stories with an unreliable narrator. I'll list a few I know of, maybe others can add to the list:

    • Rumblefish - S E Hinton
    • Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger
    • The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe
    You can at least look these up on Amazon and read the beginning by clicking the Read Inside link. I believe all of these are written in 1st person.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2022
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  5. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I just took a peek at the Read Inside for Catcher in the Rye, and it's subtly clear in the 1st paragraph that he's an unreliable narrator, or at least that he's going to tell the story his own way, and therefore the reader can assume he is.

    He says this halfway through the paragraph:

    I'm not going to tell you my whole goddamn autobiography or anything. I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean that's all I told D.B. about, and he's my brother and all.
    It's immediatley clear you're not really getting unbiased facts, but his own version of the story. And note the conversational tone, as if he's telling this to you verbally. This is probably the best way to approach a story with an ureliable narrator.

    Another thing that clues the reader in—right off the bat he tells us he's experienced something traumatic recently and uses the term 'this madman stuff'. So it's clear he's suffered something that can cause problems with mental stability and memory.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2022
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  6. Vickymarie

    Vickymarie New Member

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    Thank you for all of the great advice! You've certainly given me alot of food for thought and I will use it to help me Continue planning.
     
  7. Vickymarie

    Vickymarie New Member

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    I agree. I think the best shout is to have them be evasive. I'm a mental health nurse by background so definitely have experience in being evasive when it comes to responding to hallucinations and delusions!
     
  8. dbesim

    dbesim Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wonder about the angle you’re wanting to present your MC. What kind of mental health problems is he going through (besides thinking his wife and kids have not passed). I’d give him genuine scenarios why he would believe this. Has he hallucinated meeting them somewhere before? Also what if you lead your audience to assume that you MC has mental health problems but at the end of the story, there’s a double twist on the audience because somehow they appear and he was right to assume it and we (the audience) we’re wrong to doubt him.
    I would also bring out details that suggest why your MC may not be mentally stable for example does he talk to himself out loud in soliloquy’s or drink or smoke a lot or something. Then I would consider bringing out the part why we were right or wrong to assume it or doubt him.
    But, hey, it’s your story. You can do what you want with it.
     
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