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Best way to discuss event the POVs didn't witness

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Chasejxyz, Oct 22, 2020.

  1. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

    The four POV characters in my WIP are all humans that have magic, which is a big deal because that's not "supposed" to happen. They got it (in some way or another) from a disaster that happened 20-something years before the subject matter of the book. Some characters weren't born yet or were somewhere else and didn't see it. If this was, say, a hurricane then the reader would know what that is and what it would look like. But it was a rampaging kaiju, whose fallout (both literal and figurative) caused all these things to happen, and I'd imagine that's something the reader might want to see.

    So my question is...how do I go about describing the event? Would a character who saw it just tell a POV character about it? Do I sprinkle in little tidbits throughout the text and hope the reader puts 2 and 2 and 2 together? Or do I fiddle with the history of one of the POV characters so they were there and show the event in a flashback/nightmare? There's no body/bones to see, and the areas that were affected the most are exclusion zones; there's no magic items to find, no characters hiding out there, no reason to go besides to get radiation poisoning and die, so that's out.

    Has someone had a similar issue? How did you solve it? Or did you encounter this in some piece of fiction and have thoughts on how they executed it?
  2. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

    The first option is to put the before-events into a prologue, especially if they are that important to the story. Otherwise, you can always reference them throughout your manuscript, either through dialogue or prose. You don't HAVE to put your main character there to witness or investigate it.

    A lot of stories will have some sort of timeline that gives way to the setting of their book, and it is especially common in fantasy so you're definitely not alone. ;)
  3. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    I would not put this in a prologue, but that might be just me. But it sounds like it would be the kind of prologue that a lot of people dislike. It feels like it would be a lot of info-dumping and worldbuilding in a prologue, instead of just getting on with the story.

    I would start by asking if it is 100% necessary for the story that readers know exactly what happened and how it happened? If not, then I would just sprinkle references to it throughout the story, perhaps explain part of it. For instance, if a character is standing near one of those exclusion zones, then have him remark that that is where the kaiju rampaged. You could even have someone describe what a kaiju is if you wanted to at that point.

    But leave a bit of mystery, add a bit of depth the reader has to figure out on his own. They're smarter than you think. As a reader I actually like slowly learning about the world and putting bits together. It feels a lot more real if I learn something from 3 different side remarks than if one character goes: "well, let me tell you about how it all came about..."

    And, as an added bonus, you can then also write the prequel where you tell the story of what happened. Either as a novel, or as a short story for your newsletter or as a deleted scene on your website. Bonus content for the win!
    Chasejxyz likes this.
  4. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

    In general, I'm a huge fan of just giving all information up front. But this is such a huge event that I think it could work pretty great as a teaser, leading up to a big chunk of raw exposition.
    But I would start out by writing the blurb and decide from there. If the blurb needs to describe the event, there will be no point in trying to keep it mysterious in the story.
  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    The way I feel right now (I might change my mind in an hour), I'd do a combination of these two.
    Add little tidbits here and there as necessary, and then, later on, add a quick conversation that fills out the gaps or ties unrelated pieces of information together.
    Chasejxyz likes this.
  6. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

    Does that past event really matters in your story? I mean, beyond being a worldbuilding element that gives you an excuse to have such magical characters and those certain restricted areas, does the story truly revolve around that event? Depending on your answer, your story could be in one of the following scenarios:
    • The event DOES matters: Then your story will be directly about that event and its consequences, and your characters will have to face it like a mistery to be solved. Therefore, the story itself will provide any necessary explanations on the go, meanwhile your characters will be the ones unveiling the details within the story your reader will live through their POV.
    • The event DOESN'T matters: The event is just your excuse for the story's settings, then you'll only need to give some mentions about why that world is the way it is. For instance, you could have opening sentences like the following: "After that day, all that was mythical became real. Then, the world became strangely renewed, although not necessarily for the better". Just hinting things here and there, suggesting things in dialogs, or giving brushes of that strange new world throughout the story, will do much better than forcing readers to swallow a lump of details from a situation quite outside of the story itself.
    • The event KIND OF matters: This is maybe the hardest one to nail down of the three, so you'll have to measure to what degree you'll have to give more focus to certain details of that event. Essentially, you'll have to identify which elements from that event are truly useful in your current story and, at most, just mention the rest as part of the scenario.
    To sum up, I'm completely against infodumping and all in for centering the readers attention in the story. I think a writer has to be respectful of the reader's time and patience, and don't force them to study our worldbuilding: what matter first and foremost is the story you carve out of it.
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Any consequential event will have stories told about it. Some of these stories might be spot-on, but others may be tall tales, entirely wrong, or some blend of truth and fantasy. If a major catastrophe has happened, something like a rampaging kaiju, then there should be tales about it, whether historical or more like legend—or even something like scary fairy tales told to children.

    Of course, if there were absolutely no witnesses at the time or everyone who could know anything about it was killed (during the event or shortly after), then perhaps you'd have more trouble weaving in these tales within the narrative.

    If there are those who witnessed it who lived, then twenty years later—not so long at all after such an event!—there should still be reminders scattered about the society. Maybe there's a cult that wears a figurine of that kaiju around their necks and prays for its return. Or there could be children's puppet plays showing it happening, i.e. a form of entertainment. And so forth.
    Kasper Hviid likes this.
  8. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

    The main political conflict stems from issues based on the response (or to be more correct, the lack thereof) of the government to the event, especially helping out allied nations. Things are pretty not-good for a large part of the population because of it, so the POV characters have wants based on this (I don't want my village to die out, I don't want to be poor and starving anymore). The villain uses this discontent and the fact that no one can actually see the hardest-hit areas for his own narratives (akin to the "California doesn't have wildfires, it's actually giant lasers destroying towns so that they can put in high-speed rail" and "god had this happen to strike down the wicked so we can be the one to rule.") So yeah, I'd say that the story is about the event in question.

    I've definitely mentioned that there's some cult-y worship of the kaiju but that it's Bad and Forbidden but I could definitely mention it more. I also really like the children's puppet show idea. Now that you mention it I know a really good time/place to put that in! Thank you (and everyone else in this thread) for the ideas and tips.
    Eduardo Letavia likes this.

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