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Alternate Narrative Styles

EzzyB
Updated:

I was perusing http://best-sci-fi-books.com/ a couple of days ago. Just looking for a recommendation for something to read. A story called Emergence caught my eye. It's by David R. Palmer, (no not the Pink Floyd David Palmer), an author I'd never heard of.

It's the tale of an 11-year-old girl, who happens to be a hyper-genius, who's living through Armageddon (OK you're hooked now).

It's told, mostly, in the first person by way of her journal, which is written in shorthand. The young Candida has her own views on the English language.

English 60 percent flab, null symbols, waste. Suspect massive inefficiency stems from subconsciously recognized need to stall, give inferior intellects chance to collect thoughts into semblance of coherence (usually without success), and to show off (my twelve-dollar-word can lick your ten-dollar-word). Will not adhere to precedent; makes little sense to write shorthand, then cancel advantage by employment of rambling academese.


Yes, about 85% of the narrative is written as though it is in shorthand.

This does some amazing things. To say this story flies along would be an understatement. It's friggin supersonic in it's pace. Surprisingly it takes almost no time to get comfortable with it.

The contrast between the girl's intellect and her actual age allows for pithy quotes that make you laugh-out-loud at times, especially when talking about her "twin" brother (who happens to be a Macaw).

Terry is retarded, adoptive twin brother. Saw light of day virtually same moment I emerged — or would have, had opened eyes. Early on showed more promise than I: Walked at nine weeks, first words at three months, could fly at 14 weeks. Achieved fairly complex phrases by six months but never managed complete sentences. Peaked early but low.

Not fair description. Actually Terry is brilliant — for macaw. Also beautiful. Hyacinthine Macaw, known to lowbrows as Hyacinth, pseudointellectuals as anodorhynchus hyacinthinus — terrible thing to say about sweet baby bird. Full name Terry D. Foster (initial stands for Dactyll). Length perhaps 36 inches (half of which is tail feathers); basic color rich, glowing, hyacinth blue (positively electric in sunlight), with bright yellow eye patches like clown, black feet and bill. Features permanently arranged in jolly Alfred E. Neuman, village-idiot smile. Diet is anything within reach, but ideally consists of properly mixed seeds, assorted fruits, nuts, sprinkling of meat, etc.

Hobbies include getting head and neck scratched (serious business, this), art of conversation, destruction of world. Talent for latter avocation truly awe-inspiring: 1500 pounds pressure available at business end of huge, hooked beak. Firmly believe if left Terry with four-inch cube of solid tungsten carbide, would return in two hours to find equivalent mass of metal dust, undimmed enthusiasm.


It's an interesting narrative style that I'd swear wouldn't work, but it does spectacularly in this case.

REP

@EzzyB

As you said, an interesting writing style.

sunkuwan

When I first read the saga of Tuck I was intrigued by the style.
It is a timestamp first person style that i havent seen since.

Here are the three first paragraphs of the Story:

16:44 26 Oct

"What?" I couldn't believe what I'd just heard.
"Oh, come on. You're the one who said you wanted to 'give them a
mind fuck'..." she said cajolingly.
"Oh, but, this is, this... This'll get me killed!"
"No it won't. Now come on."
"No, no way. I take it all back."
"The hell you do! I already spent fifty bucks on this!"
"What?! You just, without, you-"
"Come on, it'll be great! Trust me. Have I ever let you down
before?"
"Oh my God, I can't believe..."

***
04:59 31 Oct

Sure enough, she tapped on my window right at 5am. "Oh, shit," I
said as I staggered to the window and waved at her. She left, and I
grabbed my clothes and shoveled myself into them. *Showing her the
signal pole was a bad idea,* I thought dimly.
I made it out to the car in about five minutes. "Come on, let's
go, we gotta lot of work to do!" she said in a low but urgent voice. I
got in, shut the door as quietly as possible, and we were off to
Debbie's house.
She was wearing a old-time zoot suit, and had her hair tucked under
a fedora. She looked really good, and I told her so. She laughed, and
said it was nothing much.

***
05:17 31 Oct

"You know that English lady's voice you do? Can you do it without
an accent too?" she asked as she took the suit coat off and dropped it
on the bed.
"Like this?" I tried. I don't know how I did it, but it sounded
really sultry sexy to me. Like it usually did. I could bug the hell
out of guys with that voice. Mike and George and Dan and I had done
some truly _evil_ pranks that way.
"Not too bad..." she said. "Try, try sounding more like a Valley
girl and less like the Queen."
"Uh... you mean, like this?" Not sultry any more.
"Yeah, that'll do. Sounds kind of nasal, but it works." She
rolled up her sleeves.
"Nasal, huh? Great, why don't I just tell everyone I'm from New
York?"
"Can you do a New York accent?" she asked excitedly. I sighed, and
gave it my best shot. I had a cousin who lived in Long Island, who I'd
spent one summer imitating. "Perfect!" she snapped with satisfaction.


You always know how much minutes or hours have passed with every paragraph. The story lets you experience every day of Tuck.
There is no "I did this and that in the following days." If something happened, even just waking up or going to bed, it is displayed in that form.

And a little twist: In the few instances where we are not reading the story from tucks perspective, there is no timestamp.

Replies:   EzzyB
EzzyB

@sunkuwan

Hmm, I have put date/time stamps on my chapters, but each scene seems a bit too.. precise. Or maybe it's lazy, dunno.

One would think an author could easily work around it: "early next morning", "it took a week to get the details down then,".

sunkuwan

It's a style that only a few genres could pull off, I think.

Tuck is the epitome of "Slice of Life". It works great in the High School, day-to-day accounting of the story.

It probably wouldn't work in a story that has different POV's, many different settings or skips days and weeks often. And of course, the style wouldn't work in some genres were time measurement isn't precise, like Fantasy. Or would take you out of the setting, suspension of disbelief, etc.

In some stories that have no date whatsoever, I would like a date at the start of the chapter. Some stories are notorious for taking ages before you know what date it is after the end of the last chapter.
I read "John Carter" a week ago and there were often timeskips. Some chapters took several paragraphs before you knew how much time had passed.

Replies:   EzzyB
EzzyB
Updated:

@sunkuwan


It probably wouldn't work in a story that has different POV's, many different settings or skips days and weeks often. And of course, the style wouldn't work in some genres were time measurement isn't precise, like Fantasy. Or would take you out of the setting, suspension of disbelief, etc.


Yeah, I ran away, screaming, from first-person long ago. Everything is third now. Never felt I could tell "the whole story" from one side of it.


In some stories that have no date whatsoever, I would like a date at the start of the chapter. Some stories are notorious for taking ages before you know what date it is after the end of the last chapter.

I read "John Carter" a week ago and there were often timeskips. Some chapters took several paragraphs before you knew how much time had passed.


Yeah, I think that's why I did it. I subscribe to the "less is more" school. I really don't care what you had for breakfast, the exact method and ingredients you used to cook it, nor the temperature of the burner you used to cook it on. Actually I simply prefer to assume you ate breakfast at all unless it has something to do with the plot.

Unfortunately, and this is, of course, an opinion, more is better on SOL. Everyone wants LONG stories. Sadly they are filled with things such as what I had for breakfast, how I cooked it, etc.

One of the most popular stories on the site made me cringe as the author (in first person) did that, then described driving into work (complete with each street name). It's nothing but another two-hundred words to toss into the mix to make a story longer. This is certainly most prevalent in serials where the author needs a word count in order to post the next chapter.

On the other hand, readers don't seem to mind, (perhaps they need cooking tips), so who am I to judge?

Replies:   sunkuwan
sunkuwan

@EzzyB

I like very long stories and it doesn't have to be day-to-day script of everything the MC does. Also it doesn't work in some settings and stories and some authors can't pull it off enjoyable for the reader.

I have reading phases where I want some chill CoA or Slice of Life story like "fresh start" or "Dance of a Lifetime" and then the next story I need a fantasy adventure like "mother of learning" or space opera like "Three meals" or "Wolfs and Dragons"

But some Long stories are very bloated. The friggin' weddings from "Arlene and Jeff" where I skip whole chapters because I want to know what happens next with Situation xyz .
Or nonsense sex scenes like "Six times a day", that I have on hold after Chapter 7 or so.

StarFleet Carl

@EzzyB

A story called Emergence caught my eye. It's by David R. Palmer


Yeah, I read that years ago. As in, probably 1982. Great book. So was his other novel. It'd be nice if he'd been more productive - Threshold was a wonderful novel, too.

Replies:   samuelmichaels
samuelmichaels

@StarFleet Carl


@EzzyB

A story called Emergence caught my eye. It's by David R. Palmer

Yeah, I read that years ago. As in, probably 1982. Great book. So was his other novel. It'd be nice if he'd been more productive - Threshold was a wonderful novel, too.

Palmer wrote a sequel to Emergence -- Tracking.

EzzyB
Updated:

Yes, there is some contrast evident in the two books that show they were written quite sometime apart. For instance the first book, novelized in 1984, though StarfleetCarl could have possibly read it earlier in Analog, doesn't mention anything like cell phones and other technology that was featured in the sequel.

Nevermind, I found it, it was again published in Analog in 2008 which explains the weird format i found it in (pdf in 3 parts with a synopsis the the previous story at the beginning of each part). It's a good story as well, no idea why it was never published in novel form.

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@EzzyB

For instance the first book, novelized in 1984, though StarfleetCarl could have possibly read it earlier in Analog


That's why I said probably 1982, when we're talking 30 plus years ago, things get a little fuzzy. I had (and may still have, in our storage unit) the original paperback book. If I was still in Indiana, I could have just gone to my bookshelf and pulled it off the shelf. I went from 12 4' wide by 6' tall bookshelves (that were FULL) to 4, so a LOT of books went to charity, book resellers, and there's still a dozen boxes in storage waiting for us to get a bigger house.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@EzzyB

It's an interesting narrative style that I'd swear wouldn't work, but it does spectacularly in this case.

I don't think the 'narrative style' of this story is all that radical.
The "narrative" of this story, written in 1-POV, is actually the (internal) dialogue of the MC. As long as it's true to the voice of the MC, all dialogue may be a grammar-free zone.
In this story the author has created an MC with an extremely unusual voice. That can work for stories written in 1-POV, but I swear it could not work if you're writing in 3-POV!

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