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Author Topic: Would it irk you, as a reader...
Member # 1345

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If a major event (and the catalyst for everything that was to come) went unexplained?

Here's my dilemma...

My main character, Ethan, wakes up to find himself in a primieval world, with no knowledge of how he got here. In fact, he doesn't remember anything of the entire day before the event.

I had different theories as to what had happened to him , but looking back, they seemed hackneyed at best. Cheesy, and ill-concieved.

So would you, as a reader, be irritated by this lack of explanation? Would you feel cheated? Would it bother you if he [/i]never[/i] remembered?

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It all depends on how the rest of the story goes. It's possible to go without, but I think that it would be very difficult. Especially if you make any references to the event. That would only wet the reader's appetite and lead to disappointment later on. Giving a background would add so much more to it as well, so leaving it out would be a handycap. The part about him never remembering depends a lot on how big a deal it is in the story. If the whole story ties into this event then you need it in there.
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Member # 2442

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I'm not completely unbiased on this question as I have a protagonist in my novel who has suffered memory loss. In my case, it becomes one of the subplots of the story to find out why she's lost her memories and to find a way to get them back.

My question to you is, why have the loss of memory thread if you don't develop it? I would suggest to either get rid of that thread, or develop it.

Leaving it unexplained would make me think the writer was simply using it as a manipulative device to make the story go a certain way and had been too lazy to come up with a convincing explanation.

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Member # 1345

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Well, it won't go undeveloped. He'll occasionally stop to wonder how he got to where he is, and whether or not the hand of something...bigger is to blame, but he can wonder till the stars burn out without coming up with a concrete explanation.

I'm still trying to decide whether he figures out what happens, or if that part of his life will forever be an infuriating question mark.

[This message has been edited by cvgurau (edited May 16, 2005).]

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Member # 2136

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I would want an explanation, absolutely! That's what speculative fiction is all about: asking what if? and then ANSWERING THE QUESTION.

Sorry if that came across too strongly. My 2 cents.

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This may be what they call a promise: what are you promising the reader, implicitly, when you begin the story?

I think if you have Ethan an amnesiac, you're promising to tell us why -- at least, I'd want to know. If you didn't want to tell us, you could let him remember. If he can't get back to our world, how would it harm the story for him to remember? Also, even amnesiacs know how to, say, dial a telephone, or might say, "Do you have an Internet connection?" -- which gives major clues as to his previous life in our world. Flesh out your world, and your character! I hope you won't snip off interesting inquiries like that, but bring them in, and enrich your world.

But as to how he got there . . . he may have absolutely no way of knowing, ever. If he gets an explanation, it will probably be purpose not mechanics (as in, God wanted me to learn something). I think that's ok (although exploring mechanics might also be interesting).

Bottom line: I suspect you may be trying to save yourself work. Don't! Give us a richly imagined situation.

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Doc Brown
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It would only irk me if the POV character didn't care. As long as the POV character wishes he could remember and struggles to do so I will be satisfied. The day he stops struggling he must have a darn good reason.
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Member # 1681

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Yes, it would irk me.
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Member # 2563

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Have any of you read Kafka's Metamorphosis?

This exact thing happens in the first sentence of the book, and the whole book is about how everyone around him is irked by his transformation. It's been a long time, but I'm pretty certain the transformation itself is never explained. But, because it happens in the first sentence, and it is so shocking and strange, you have to accept it without question. Or put the book down and read something else.

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My first reaction is, yes, it would bother me. I like having things explained in books. When I read, I don't want to be the writer. I want it all laid out and explained.

I also think your motivation is kind of lazy - no offense. I know that every reason you've come up with so far is not what you want but giving up is not necessarily the best choice. I would keep trying. Believe me, I know how this feels. I haven't done any books on memory loss but I did write myself into a corner in my novel where I could not figure out WHY my Lead was doing what he was doing. It came time to explain it and everything I came up with was so lame. But I felt it needed an explanation.

My solution...I changed the story. He didn't do half the stuff because there really was no good reason for it. That may not be an option for you. If it isn't, keep looking for an explanation.

You have to try and turn off that uber critical part of yourself though. If you think about it, some of the best stories of all times have the lamest plotlines if you try and explain them in simple terms.

"This little two-foot guy has to take this ring that some long dead sorcerer put all his power into, and throw it into the lake of fire. Along the way he will have to battle wizards, trolls, orcs, and this creepy, slimy guy that keeps following him around. Oh, and a gigantic spider. But he gets through it all with the help of his friends and throws the ring in the fire and saves the world."

STUPID!! But not if you figure out how to tell it right. Then it's the best story of all time. It's not always whether it's a plausible explanation as much as whether you can make the reader believe it.

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The metamorphosis is explained after a fashion. Not a literal, scientific or even fantastic explanation, but just the observation that his outer self had changed to represent the degenerate nature of his will, crushed down by his own repeated self abolition and so forth. Not that it has anything to do with this discussion

If you have Ethan wake up with memory loss, then you're promising that eventually he'll recover his memories somehow and those memories will explain how he got sent to the primeval world. On the other hand, if he remembers everything that happened, but there is nothing in there to explain how he got where he is, then you're promising nothing.

More people will keep reading longer if you make the promise. But in the end they will be furious if you don't deliver. Fewer people will read if you're up front about never explaining that event at all, and some of them will regard it as an implicit promise that you will eventually reveal what happened, but by and large you won't arouse as much fury when you never reveal what happened.

Of course, rather than really explaining what happened, you can show regularity in what happened, by having it be something that just happens occasionally. If there are other people in this place that got there in a similar unexplained fashion, then it becomes part of your milieu rather than a plot event, and thus doens't need an in depth explanation.

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For me it depends on what the story is about. If the story is about him being in a primeavil world and you just need a way to get him there, then I can tolerate no explanation or some handwavium. If the story is about how he got there then I'll be deeply annoyed if it's never explained.
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The story is about what happens after he gets there. I'm pretty sure that he never gets home(as these are the early, early stages of the story, almost nothing is set in stone), so the entire story is about what he does, and how his presence affects the world around him.

Also, I think I spoke too soon when I mentioned amnesia. It was a split-second decision I made as I wrote the message. I do that too often, I think.

In any case, the plan all along was to have him wonder how he got there, then resolve to find a way home without really knowing what happened. His adventures throughout this world are all a result of his intense desire to go home, and to see his family again, to get back to the life he once knew. The how was never as important as the why, or the why me?.

Besides, if he (or I) never figures it out, he/I could always blame God.

Regardless, if he does end up with amnesia, I promise you, the reveal, the shocking moment when it all becomes so clear will be there, and it’ll be satisfying.

And I suppose was trying to save myself work, but not because of laziness. I’m at a stage where I can’t move on to the next scene, the next chapter, without having this scene down pat. I’ve been working on two chapters for three weeks. This phase might not last (I’m still struggling to find my writing style and habits, I suppose), but right now, it’s what works. If I skipped the explanation, I could move on.

But I can’t do that. Oh well.

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Member # 1345

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Oh, and you know what irks me? When people say [/i]irk[/i].

I don't know why I did that.

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It sounds like to me that you're describing a lack of resolution... but as long as the memory loss isn't the sole issue of the story, it should at least direct a reader a little bit away from it, but it wont keep the reader from still wondering... a plus point to leaving something unresolved like that, would be that it leaves it open for sequels (but for only a day's loss, that might be a bit flimsy)...
Basically, unless you plan to make the lack of resolution work along with the story somehow, I wouldn’t do it…

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