Saturday, July 28, 2007

Narrative Techniques

There's a trick I've noticed lately in some horror novels (it has to be a novel for the trick to work, as it takes some time to set it up and wouldn't fit in a short story). It's taken to Wagnerian excess in Tarantino's Grindhouse entry (taking up a full third of his time, whereas it normaly plays out as prelude), but here's the basic idea. For the first chapter of your novel, you get the reader emotionally involved in a character. Lot of background info, lot of empathy, lot of loose threads that have you wondering how they'll turn out. And then you splatter said character all over the last page of chapter one. I don't know if I like that. I admit how effective it is. Part of the challenge in this genre is surprising people, and this way of telling the story certainly lulls people to expect one thing - when they get all this info on a character, they compeltely assume s/he's the main character and they don't expect what happens. But I wonder about it. It seems especially it could backfire, once every author starts doing it: then any regular horror reader would just assume that the first character you meet in the story is going to die. And I do wonder about the effect that's created, if it goes beyond shock. Certainly at some point in the novel you'll meet characters you like and care about, and who stick around, then if they get hurt or killed, the effect is not just shock, but real empathy and loss. This technique seems to be toying with that. But I don't know.


Blogger David said...

As a writer, I find the problem with tricks is that if people can see how they are done, or worse predict them coming, then the narrative structure, the scaffolding, has become more important than the story. When that happens, you ain't doing it right.

7:00 AM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

Good way to put it. So I guess one would have to ask oneself whether the story needs this death early on (and it might, I'm just wondering whether it does or not), or if it's only for effect. Certainly that's my feeling about violence or sexuality at any point in the story: if it's just for titters, then it's wrong.

10:02 AM  

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