Every so often I read a book that really makes me stop and think about how stories are told. There’s a lot of theory out there stating the ‘rules’. But, at the end of the day, anything goes as long as it works… As long as a reader engages with it.
It’s really good to be reminded that sometimes boundaries need pushing.
The following post was originally published as Manipulating Death on this blog in January 2011. I thought it worth sharing again for new readers and I still find the subject fascinating.
I am reading a fantasy trilogy at the moment with rather a different structure than normal. I don’t think it all quite works, but one aspect of it I am finding particularly intriguing.
The first book opens with a short section (2 chapters) from the point of view of a character who dies. I was stunned by this, because the section is not a prologue, and as readers we come to expect that the character a book opens with will have some bearing on the whole story; most often that character is the protagonist. Certainly as writers this rule is drummed into us.
The main part of the first book takes part around 20 years later, with one of the main characters deeply affected by the death of character A. He dreams about her a lot, and towards the end of the book, these dreams become more and more vivid . . .
Then we reach book 2, which takes us back to the death of character A, 20 years earlier, and proceeds to explain that, yes, she is dead, but instead of her soul departing, she has been transformed into a semi-immortal being, one of several who were alluded to all throughout book 1.
What I like about this is the subversion of expectation. All the signs now are that character A is going to be a major character in the second book at least. The complete shift in perspective at the beginning of book 2 also opens the reader’s eyes in a big way as to what was going on in book 1. I’m not sure yet whether we’ll get some events retold from this alternate perspective, but it’s possible.
I think this is a really clever and interesting way to structure a multi-volume fantasy epic, that is obviously going to broaden quite substantially in scope.
I haven’t revealed which novels I’m talking of, because of the spoilery nature of the discussion, but tweet me @ellenvgreg or find me on facebook if you want to know!
Have you ever read a book that subverted your expectation like this?