thread: 2006-01-31 : An Awesome Line of Thought

On 2006-02-02, Walt Freitag wrote:

There are two aspects the idea of playing your character in another character’s memory that are interesting.

One is the in-flow justification it offers for negotiation, scene framing, and retroactive revision, using devices like (respectively) “That’s not how I remember it,” “I don’t remember much about this next part,” and “That’s what we thought had happened at the time—but later we found out otherwise.” There is indeed potential here—but those same techniques can be and have been implemented in many other ways.

What’s truly new and unique about playing a character in another character’s memory is the opportunity for exploration of the remembering frame-character and the effects that could have on the story. It could be, if you will, an additional lens sharpening the thematic focus.

Emily’s reference to Engine Summer is spot on. In a way that’s too marvelous to explain (and I wouldn’t want to spoil Engine Summer even if I could explain it; I honestly think it’s the best novel I’ve ever read), the first-person narrator is not entirely the same character as the protagonist he’s narrating. The story centers around a complex and often frustrating romance between the protagonist and the love of his life,  while gradually making us aware that this story is being seen through the distorted lens of the narrator, who is in love with the person he’s narrating to. We know almost nothing about these two frame characters except what we can infter from the distortion itself—but since we know the story only from what the narrator tells, and the setting is a rather alien future earth to begin with, clearly separating distortion from fact is impossible. We can only sense that both voices are there, juxtaposing love and the memory of love—and the distinction (or lack thereof) between love and the memory of love is what the story is about on other levels as well.

Of course, in more straightforward and subtler ways, first-person narrators are not and can ever be exactly the same perople as the protagonists they’re narrating, because if there’s a story worth narrating, they cannot avoid having been changed by it. And thereby hangs a possible technique.

The application could be as straightforward as assigning distinct traits to the character’s narrator-self, the future (and not necessarily still-living) character who’s remembering the events. These traits could be brought in as dice to influence conflict resolution in the story. The causality is reversed—instead of the trait being a cause increasing the chance of some pat of the outcome (the character is gung-ho and eager, therefore more likely to storm the enemy trenches successfully), some part of the outcome become more likely because it helps account for the future trait. For example, the future-self has the trait “bitter and disillusioned,” bringing in dice that make it more likely that the character will suffer worse fallout from storming the enemy trenches successfully.

That’s a little too simple (the future traits should weigh against themselves sometimes too—a character shouldn’t usually end up bitter from a whole series of minor frustrations, but from big reversals after initial successes) but I think it points the way.


This makes ecb go "Hi Walt!"
Great to see you here, by the way.

This makes WF go "Hi Emily, thanks for the welcome!"

This makes WF go "Hi Emily, thanks for the welcome!"

This makes WF go "Egad, how did that double on me?"

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