1. Pete Stockton

    Pete Stockton New Member

    Oct 22, 2019
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    I've got two different ideas for my story and I'm not sure which one to go with. Can you help me?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Pete Stockton, Oct 22, 2019.

    I haven't written a full book yet but I have an idea for one. I started with an original concept for a book but today I came up with a new way to expand the story beyond it's original concept. But I'm wondering if I should expand it or if I should go back to the original concept. Here are both concepts.

    Original Concept: The original concept was to write the biography of Lillian Virginia Mountweazel an American female photographer of the 1960s and 70s. If you've never heard of her it's because she never existed. She was a fictitious entry in the 1975 edition of New Columbia Encyclopedia designed as a copyright trap to keep other encyclopedia publishers from stealing their work. But the brief blurb they provided about her life was so interesting I wanted to write a complete story of this non-existent woman's life. The story would be fiction but it would be written in the style of a non-fiction biography. There would be occasional snippets from the Mountweazel's diary and other writings but most of it would be written in a third-person perspective of someone years later. It would chronicle her very eccentric upbringing and adult life (with emphasis on her personal relationships) until 1973 when she died in explosion while on assignment for Combustibles Magazine at the age of 31.

    That was my original concept but today I had an idea for a new spin on the story.

    New Concept:
    The story starts off as a straight up biography with an unbiased narrator. At the beginning of the story we hear a breif mention of Mountweazel's younger sister but then it's said that she decided not to be interviewed for the book. As the story goes on, and Lillian and her sister reach adulthood, we don't see much of the sister as she and Lillian have a strained relationship and their interactions are brief usually ending in arguments. What goes on in their interactions is kept vague as it's only gleamed from either secondhand sources or sometimes Lillian's diary. At this point the narrator is still unbiased and the information is based only on secondhand sources and Lillian's own words.

    But halfway through the story the narrative switches and it's revealed that the whole time the narrator of the story has been Mountweazel's younger sister. For the rest of the story Mountweazel's sister tries to stay third person but occasionally a first person narrative sinks in. As she writes the story in her own voice we start to understand the reasons for their strained relationship. Lillian was eccentric even by the standards of her very eccentric family, while her sister (despite having her own odd streak) was much more willing to conform to the expectations of American society. The split was further increased in childhood when the sister started to suffer from depression and Lillian behaved in a way that was seen by the sister as insensitive and even further increased in adulthood as Lillian became well-known for her photography and the sister developed an unrequited crush on Lillian's husband a famous African American Artist. The split had not been repaired at the time of Lillian's death and although the sister mourned Lillian's death there were still a lot of feelings that hadn't been resolved between the two of them.

    Several years later (approximately 20 to 30) her sister starts to write a biography about Lillian's life in order to contradict any unauthorized biographies that might come out and portray her in an inflammatory manner. She starts to write the story an unbiased as possible and in order to not lessen her credibility does not tell the reader that she is really Lillian's sister (always referring to herself in the story in the third person). But as she starts to do more research in to Lillian's life she discovers that her life was not as ideal as she originally thought and that Lillian often had her own personal problems and was even envious of her sister. The sister realizes that she and Lillian were not as different as she previous thought and she becomes very stressed an confused as she thought she had already made peace with her and her sister's relationship but now realizes she might not have. Eventually the sister realizes that Lillian had made multiple attempts to reconnect with her but the sister still holding a grudge against Lillian rejected almost all of them. She realizes that although Lillian may have not been perfect she always tried to keep her sister in her life and that any possible reconciliation between the two of them was destroyed by the sister's stubbornness. She finally makes true peace with her and her sister's relationship and drives out to the cemetery to visit her grave something she hadn't done sense the funeral. She ends the book saying that she doesn't know how it should be classified (as a biography or an autobiography) but that's it the only way how to accurately tell the story.

    The Problem: It sounded like a good idea when I first thought of it (switching the narrative perspective from an ambiguous biographer to a close family member with a troubled relationship). But as I started conceptualizing it I came across some problems. Firstly why would the sister change the narrative halfway through. I know it's because her perspective and objective changed as she started writing and researching but if your story changes halfway through writing it wouldn't you go back and edit the previous parts? Would the reader find that clever or stupid? But I hit upon a much bigger narrative question that I needed to answer that would change the entire course of the story. Who is this story about? Lillian or her sister? If the story is about Lillian will all the parts with her sister seem superfluous. If the story is about her sister will all the parts about her sister seem superfluous. I guess you could say it's about both of them but which one is the protagonist. Are they both protagonists? Can you have a book with more than one protagonist? If it's about Lillian than I should go with the original concept but if it's about the sister then I should go with the new concept.

    What should I do? Should I go back to my original premise, continue on with the new premise or does the answer lie somewhere in between? Or should I just scrap the story completely?

    I want to hear what you think about my ideas so far and your opinion on what direction I should take the story in.
    Tralala likes this.
  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    It's difficult to answer definitively, as it all depends on how the story is written. Almost anything can be made to work.

    However, in your case, I'd focus on why. Why would the sister start out writing a biography of her sister from a neutral/narrator point of view, and then switch? You've kind of hit on the dilemma ...why wouldn't she then edit the two parts to match up?

    Maybe she could start to write a neutral biography, but she finds she just can't. She's too close to the subject. She could explain this to the reader as she makes the conscious switch ...which would be an interesting way to frame it. Basically she'd be going from the biography of one person, to an autobiography of the narrator. I think it would be more plausible (and unique) to handle it this way, rather than the sister just drifting into switch mode and not noticing it even after she's published the thing!

    So...what would be her deliberate reason to do this? See if you can pinpoint why, and I think you'll understand the approach you're trying to make. At what point in the 'biography' does she decide she needs to step into the story herself? Is she younger than Lillian? If so, she could make the switch with the first actual memory she has of her older sister ...but treats the part of Lillian's life that came before in a biographical way. Which she'd have to do anyway, wouldn't she?

    As to the protagonist question ...I wouldn't worry about it just now. Just write the story as it comes to you. To some extent your readers will decide who the story is actually 'about.' I sense that the more you think about this intriguing setup, the more will come to you. And pretty soon you'll know who is the real main character of your story. The protagonist is usually thought of as the character who experiences the most 'change' during the story. But it can also be a person who witnesses change but remains the same. I suspect your story lies within the relationship between the two of them.

    Anyway, that's my take on the situation thus far.

    By the way, I'm one of the moderators here, and I want to say 'welcome to the forum.' You sound as if you'll be an interesting addition to it. Your story idea and dilemma is fairly unique ...or at least I've not seen it done before.

    Just to help get you oriented, please do read these two links as soon as you find the time:

    New Member Quick Start
    Forum Rules

    They'll help keep you right as your find your feet and get to know us better.

    If you encounter any problems getting oriented, feel free to contact me via a 'conversation' ...click on my owl avatar and follow the signs. I'll do my best to help.

    Cheers, Jan
    Tralala likes this.
  3. mariaMonleon

    mariaMonleon Member

    Sep 20, 2019
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    Sorry didnt read the original post. But could there be a copyright issue?
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  4. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

    Aug 30, 2018
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    Norwich, UK
    They both have pretty much the same conception so is it possible to blend the two ideas?
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  5. Tralala

    Tralala Active Member

    Aug 26, 2019
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    It sounds great.

    Why not make have the biographer publish her pieces in periodicals...

    Or, Armistead Maupin was big in the 70's... possibly read him and see if his kind of radio broadcast format would work...

    Also, look up Phillip Roth, who handled this subject deftly eg in his novel The Ghostwriter.

    And I seem to remember a fake biography of an artist about ten years ago... Nat Tate, I believe it was called.

    Your idea ounds really original and fun.

    Regarding who is the MC, there's always the option of making sibling rivalry the theme...

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