Monday, December 28, 2009

When the past creeps up on the present

I just read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, and it made me think of Kristen Britain's First Rider's Call from the first page, which is interesting since they're not really similar at all.  I think the reason was the way that someone's diary from the past was used as at the beginning of each chapter to tell a different story that had a bearing on the main story.

I would just like to point out here that you should start from the last entry whenever you get a mysterious diary.  Just saying.

Orson Scott Card used a similar device in Ender's Game, although that was more of a parallel story giving insight outside the point-of-view character's sphere of knowledge.  I really liked that way of getting around the proscriptions of a limited POV.  It keeps the rest of the story more unified than varying the POV for each chapter, another structure I've been considering.

I've been paying attention to this device because I like what it can do, and I'm considering using it in The Napkin Epic somehow.  I thought it was quite effective in FRC, a tad less so in Mistborn.  If I do it, I'd kind of want my attempt to be more like FRC.  Although, for people like my sister who "read ahead" and try to figure out the twists, such a device could ruin the story.  Not so with Sanderson's use of it, which I guess is a strenth and a weakness . . .

So many ways to write a story!  It's quite overwhelming sometimes.

Have you read any other books that use this snatch-of-a-diary-to-head-each-chapter device well (or poorly)?


  1. My most recent encounter with something along those lines was reading Anathem, where there were quotations from the story's dictionary interspersed, and I liked how it worked out. I must say, I prefer tricks like that over being bounced around between plotlines and points of view all the time (especially when there are more than, say, 3, and the switches come just when it's getting intense, and the "chapters" are short). I've been getting peeved about being bounced around in stories lately. I like to kind of dig in and get really involved with a character, and just when I feel like I'm getting to know them, wheeee, we're off to that other war over there and wait, what the heck were they up to again? (I was getting a bit annoyed with Butcher for that in Princeps' Fury.)

  2. Yeah, that technique makes me slightly crazy. unfortunately, it's kind of popular now, which means it's hard to find something that just sticks to one POV. (Maybe that's why I like the Dresden Files a bit more than The Codex Alera ones . . .) A good omniscient POV might take care of that problem, but most writers nowadays avoid omniscient like they avoid . . . cliches. :)