Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Time Handling: an ongoing commentary

This post will be updated periodically as I come across devices authors use for unfolding their stories back and forth through time.
  • June 12, 2011--Laurie R. King provides details about backstory in and interesting way. When The God of the Hive opens, you are immediately thrust into the middle of action. Clearly much has happened that is yet to be explained. Ms. King weaves descriptions of previous events throughout the first half of the book, maybe even farther. She incorporates them judiciously, leaving many questions unanswered in order to keep the reader wondering how this or that happened. The technique may be easier to pull off when you have as many books in a series, like this one. Most readers are familiar enough with the style, characters, and approach to plot that they won't find it off-putting. Not sure it would work so well in a first book or a standalone piece. She also leaves a few cliff hangers unanswered, about which fans have commented on her blog. Not sure why she did that Maybe the scenes ended up on the editing room floor without editorial clean up of the pages that survived. Perhaps the book traveled too quickly to print?
  • June 1, 2011--Margaret Atwood is a master, plain and simple. The Blind Assassin is all about shifts forward and backward in time, and she handles it very simply via changes in chapter. Clean and elegant.
  • May 10, 2011--This morning I finished reading Nicole Seitz' The Inheritance of Beauty. The book centers around a group of childhood friends who come back into each other's lives when they are elderly. The sense of secrets and mystery is slowly developed as the pages turn. The author uses several devices to tell the story of what happened years ago. She uses letters as a form of confession tool, memories from the one lucid central character, and the daydreams and mind wanderings of two other elderly characters who no longer communicate with the outside world.
  • May 6, 2011--Goldie Goldbloom (in The Paperbark Shoe) weaves events from the past in and out of the present in a free form style, as mini-stories inserted into the ongoing first person narrative. The heroine will be talking about one thing and then smoothly segue into a story which provides explanation about why she was in a lunatic asylum, or how her little girl died, or why she puts flowers on the grave of a man she never met. It works very well in the overall piece which reads like a stream of consciousness. (BTW: You can't quite determine if she is telling the story from the future or in the present as it unfolds. You might even wonder if it could be both, though how could that be possible? This weird wondering somehow adds to the book's dark magic.) I like the way Goldie handles the unfolding of backstory... it reads the way you talk when telling your own stories. You have to interrupt the main tale periodically to explain why your aunt was wearing that green shirt, or how you came to discover your seafood allergy, or how surprised you were that it happened on your parents anniversary. She uses a narrative style that is natural, which probably helps the story feel so real.

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