I faced a very difficult balancing act over the past week and a half. What I had to do was to have my narrator tell a story for a couple pages. Now, I know that seems pretty straightforward, but the additional factor that created some complexity for me as a writer was this: about 99% of the book is a story being told by the narrator to a group of people that aren’t introduced until much later in the story. In effect, I was writing a story within a story. Crazy, right?
Most of the book is the narrator explaining his life and how he came to be where he is when he’s telling the story. The story that he tells within that story is of someone else, however. And thus, when I was writing it, I found that it was key to have the narrator not delve too deeply into details in his story. After all, you usually don’t remember every fine detail about a story that is not only about someone else, but passed down through the generations mostly by word of mouth. And, after all, my narrator was retelling this story even further into his own lifetime than when he originally told it, so plenty of details would’ve slipped his mind.
Maintaining the balance between being able to accurately/interestingly tell a story and use story-telling that is grounded in reality (with its tendency towards generalness) was tough. I don’t think I’ve quite mastered it yet, and even now I’m planning on going back and thoroughly editing what I wrote.
The idea of my entire book being an orally recited story was something that I’m proud to say I came up with myself. But that structure for my narrative was really solidified when I read The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, this summer, which is told in a similar manner. However, my idea, and my formula for that matter, of creating a story within a story was spurred by The Name of the Wind alone. In the book, which is mostly told from the point of view of the main character recounting his life from his earliest days to his most recent, the narrator sits down at several points to listen to others recite stories. Not only was this an enthralling and entertaining form of narrative, but it also gave me a deeper insight into the mythos of the world of The Name of the Wind.
So, with my story within a story, I aimed to deepen my “reader’s” understanding of the world my narrator lives in. The story he tells is of an earlier member of his group (four generations past) and his exploits. As with all “true” stories that are important to groups or cultures, there are parts of the story that are heavily fictionalized. This fictionalization stems not just from people wanting the story to be more exciting, but also from the unreliability of oral tradition (think a game of “telephone,” but over 100 years). What exactly in the story that my narrator tells is factual and what is fictionalized? Well, I can’t say. But there will be ways that an attentive reader could figure it out much later into the book.
Anyway, I thought the process of writing a story within a story was not only challenging, but fun as well, thanks to the fact that I can change my reader’s perception of the world of the book using the story.
Link for pic: http://cdn.funcheap.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/road-app-campfire-tales1.jpg