Double Narrative Structure

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writeitsideways
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Double Narrative Structure

Post by writeitsideways » March 5th, 2010, 12:45 pm

Hey all,

My novel is told from the perspectives of two different people. Their stories--though separate--depend upon one another to reveal the plot.

I'm wondering if anyone knows of either online or print resources with information on writing double narrative structure. I've been searching, but have found little on the topic.

Alternatively, can anyone recommend books or films that use double narratives? I'm looking for examples in either literary or mainstream fiction.

Thank you!

Suzannah
Last edited by writeitsideways on March 6th, 2010, 4:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

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polymath
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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by polymath » March 5th, 2010, 2:17 pm

I've looked for and found little tidbits on double narrative structure. Not much of consequence to discuss craft-wise. though. From one area I found some insight from interpretting other unrelated topical discussions. Transition from one viewpoint to another needs to be seamless, though the transition can be abrupt. Transitioning with different character voices, different settings, different depths of thoughts, and so on, provide notable degrees of separation between two characters who don't directly interact.

On the other hand, I found a majority consensus dictating that double narratives shouldn't be done. A minority consensus favors the form, though. I do like it whenever I encounter it. It's more common than it might seem. One common feature of subtler double narratives and overt double narratives is one or another character is more focal, more deeply accessed, has more time on stage. How much more focal varies considerably. Some insight into character prioritiaztion lies in the concept of multiple character transformations, and in protagonist, deuteragonist, and triagonist topics.

Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, novel and film, has a double narrative structure, Aida and Inman's focal viewpoints and transformations. E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, the novel has a double narrative structure through depicting Quoyle and Hamm's transformations mostly from Quoyle's viewpoint. The film, however, focuses solely on Quoyle's viewpoint and transformation.

Edit: One parallel topical area for insight into double narrative structure; Dave King's discussion of narrative distance, which I know as psychic access and motility;

http://www.davekingedits.com/pov.htm
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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by writeitsideways » March 5th, 2010, 4:36 pm

Thanks for the tips and the link, Polymath :)

I agree that, in most circumstances, it's best to stick with a straight narrative structure. That's what I intended to do when I first started writing my book. But, as I got further in, I realized that without a dual narrative structure I would be forced to plunk down a whole lot of important information within a relatively short period of time. Doing so would stop the flow of the story, which I want to avoid.

There's no way to gradually weave this information into the story with only one narrator. With two, it's possible. I believe, in this particular case, the story will be richer and better off with a double narrative than without. Also, like you mention, one of my characters is more focal than the other.

It's definitely not something I set out to do, but now I can't see a way around it. And frankly, I don't want to see a way around it anymore. I love my story! I think it's great!

I've read The Shipping News, but not Cold Mountain. I'll have to get on that :)

Thanks again for your help. If you think of any other good titles, please pass them along!

-Suzannah

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by polymath » March 5th, 2010, 5:59 pm

I'm reluctant to mention Homer's Odyssey as an example of a double narrative. Eyeballs tend to rattle around in eyesockets when I mention it at all and in most settings. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.

Odysseus predominates in Odyssey's narrative, but Penelope's viewpoint contributes to the story, as does Telemachus', especially in the ending when Odysseus must prove he's worthy of Penelope and his homecoming. The resolving crisis arises when Penelope isn't sure he's all he once was. He's aged. He's come home but his welcome isn't as enthusiastic as he expected. She considers whether one of the 114 suitors who have plagued her household during his twenty years absence might be a more suitable provider and protector.

It's not much of a character story. No one is transformed much in any internal way. Odysseus and Penelope are more or less the same in the ending as they are in the beginning. The 1997 television miniseries The Odyssey starring Armand Assante brings Penelope's role more into the forefront of the story. I believe as a consequence that makes it a somewhat richer character story.

Frazier's Cold Mountain closely parallels Odyssey, thematically and topically, but is distinguishably a character story. Aida experiences the greatest character transformations.

Each similar storyline is in its own way different enough for comparison and contrast value. I saw the film Cold Mountain first, several times, read again the Odyssey, and then read the novel Cold Mountain for the first time. Each became a more rewarding experience for having the others close in mind.

Oh, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the 2000 film starring George Clooney, lightheartedly parallels Homer's Odyssey.

I guess I'm saying that the alpha extant of the Odyssey entertainingly carries on in today's storytelling traditions.
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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by PaulWoodlin » March 6th, 2010, 2:56 am

Is there some reason you can't just have odd numbered chapters from one POV and the even numbered chapters from the other POV? That seems like a simple enough way to have two POV characters without confusing the reader. Or is that what you guys are talking about? I had the image of a double narrative slip sliding between both more often.

Regardless, CJ Cherryh juggles multiple POVs pretty well.

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by writeitsideways » March 6th, 2010, 4:29 am

PaulWoodlin wrote:Is there some reason you can't just have odd numbered chapters from one POV and the even numbered chapters from the other POV? That seems like a simple enough way to have two POV characters without confusing the reader. Or is that what you guys are talking about? I had the image of a double narrative slip sliding between both more often.

Regardless, CJ Cherryh juggles multiple POVs pretty well.
Thanks for this :) That's basically what I'm doing--alternating sections. It's not so much that I need advice on the structure, but more that I'm looking for examples of really well-crafted books that have double narratives. Also, maybe some information on common pitfalls to avoid, and any other tips to remember during the writing process. There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot out there on the subject, but maybe I'm not looking in the right places.

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by polymath » March 6th, 2010, 10:34 am

One of many tension driving features in double narratives is keeping the involved parties apart until they credibly and timely come into full contact. Posing central parties separate in time, place, and/or situation adds a layer of subtle foreshadowing that tells audiences the parties will come into full person-to-person contact. Audiences consciously or nonconsciously expect the parties to come into contact.

Complex double narratives have ensemble casts on either side of a double narrative structure. For example, Tom Clancy's novels pose heroes and villains of different ideogies in opposition. The sides themselves aren't entirely in internal agreement. Each side has supporting character's ideological complications causing problems for the central hero or villain's goals. Grisham's novels do that too. And when the parties come into full contact is frequently where the resolving crisis sets up the resolution of a plot.

Therefore, a potential pitfall of double narratives is an untimely or incomplete occurrence of contact.

I recently watched Heaven's Gate, 1980, starring Kris Kristofferson. The film is widely considered the worst movie ever made. I don't agree, but then I rarely do agree with outspoken critics. The plot starts slow. Once the plot does get moving it barrels along fine enough, but doesn't resolve satisfactorily within the internal context of the story.

It's a story about expectations in its parts and wholes. In a weird parallel, the failure of the movie at the box office also speaks to audience expectations. It has sort of a high-art premise that fails to meaningfully connect with audiences, just as the story depicts failures to connect meaningfully. Its failure to meet audience expectations I find an intriguing and amusing outcome.

The opposing class expectations of the wealthy and the poor are the two sides in contention. Much of the first half of the film revolves around depicting the forces approaching opposition. The middle depicts the opening of the clash and motivations of the eventual full conflagration of forces in opposition. The resolving crisis brings them into timely and complete contact. However, the clash fizzles out from being defused without a clear winner or an unequivocable transformation of any character, milieu, idea, or event. The more or less factual account of the Johnson County, Wyoming range war is faithful to how things were and how they stood in history after the events depicted in the film. Unresolved from equivocable transformations. In other words, it's squarely in the Realism art movement camp. Most audiences expect unequivocable transformations in resolutions.

Therefore, equivocable transformations are another potential pitfall of double narratives, if not all stories.
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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by writeitsideways » March 6th, 2010, 4:05 pm

Thanks for the tips, Polymath. I appreciate your help. It all seems to be going well at this point, so maybe I'm just over-thinking the whole process. I just don't want to get to the end and then find a lot of weaknesses in the execution.

Cheers!
Suzannah

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by GeeGee55 » March 8th, 2010, 11:10 pm

House of Sand and Fog is a more recent novel utilizing two POV

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by Holly » March 9th, 2010, 9:53 am

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE is another one. I think they're going to make it into a movie. The narrative structure confused me, but a lot of people loved the book. I bought it for the title.

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by polymath » March 9th, 2010, 10:13 am

Niffenegger's novel The Time Traveler's Wife, 2003, sold 2.5 million copies. The movie was released in fall 2009 and enjoyed box office success to the tune of $80 million on a $40 million budget. Reception to the movie was mixed, about half and half favoring and panning. I think the movie doesn't quite translate the figurative premises of the story as meaningfully as the novel does. Low-concept premises--abstract concepts or figurative premises--are more difficult to portray effectively in audiovisual formats than in written word formats. The movie came out in digital formats in February 2010.
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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by Holly » March 9th, 2010, 10:23 am

polymath wrote:Niffenegger's novel The Time Traveler's Wife, 2003, sold 2.5 million copies. The movie was released in fall 2009 and enjoyed box office success to the tune of $80 million on a $40 million budget. Reception to the movie was mixed, about half and half favoring and panning. I think the movie doesn't quite translate the figurative premises of the story as meaningfully as the novel does. Low-concept premises--abstract concepts or figurative premises--are more difficult to portray effectively in audiovisual formats than in written word formats. The movie came out in digital formats in February 2010.
Thanks, polymath. I'd heard rumblings about a movie but didn't know it came out. You can tell I reside in a cave!

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by writeitsideways » March 9th, 2010, 5:37 pm

Thank you for the recommendations! (re: House of Sand and Fog; The Time Traveler's Wife).

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by A.M.Kuska » March 9th, 2010, 7:53 pm

Also The Valley of HorsesBy Jean Auel used a double narrative. I can think of several that pulled it off successfully, now that I stop to think about it. The trick is to be sure your POV changes don't confuse the reader. Best way to find out for sure is to write it, give it to someone who will be honest, and ask.

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Re: Double Narrative Structure

Post by marilyn peake » March 9th, 2010, 8:49 pm

Barbara Kingsolver is a master at this. It took her ten years to write THE POISONWOOD BIBLE. She’s said that she spent a long time writing in each character’s voice until she got to the point where the reader should immediately know which character was speaking upon opening to any page. I think she definitely accomplished that!
Marilyn Peake

Novels: THE FISHERMAN’S SON TRILOGY and GODS IN THE MACHINE. Numerous short stories. Contributor to BOOK: THE SEQUEL. Editor of several additional books. Awards include Silver Award, 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards.

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