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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » A Beginning of a Nautical Tragedy

   
Author Topic: A Beginning of a Nautical Tragedy
extrinsic
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A narrative I've been researching for a couple decades, one that's been told and retold for one hundred years, of which I've read three dozen versions from the same point of view, is in the concept development stage. The true event upon which the narrative is based has two sides, so to speak. Seven individuals on one side, a few dozen on the other. The extant narratives are from the latter viewpoint and paint a sympathetic viewpoint of the parties and their compassionate ministrations to a disaster, but are heavy on author surrogacy.

I want to recount the event from the other side, the victims of a maritime tragedy, yet the landsiders offer a rich contribution to the saga, both self-sacrificing nobility and self-serving frailty, and cultural idiosyncratic traditions that blow out hatches.

I'm conflicted because I want to recount both sides from intimately close narrative distances, each respectively, with both sides having equal representation and sympathetic appeal and deeply flawed nobility. No one gets what they most want. No one experiences a signficant personal change, other than people die. Yet the ever important transformation has me stymied.

There's a third point of view involved, and a fourth, though they are peripheral.

Of course, a selective omniscient voice would do, but I want the narrator persona to be in person to the immediate times, places, situations, persons, events, and attitudes of the piece. Conundrum number two there.

Maybe each perspective as an episodic first-person account would do, for first person's intimate narrative distance, a modular story, complete in and of themselves dramatic units, some chronological order, not a nonlinear timeline, but the central organizing principle oriented around the unfolding events' causation, tension, and antagonism facets structured around the central ensemble cast characters' individual wants from the get-go.

The event did cause a significant transformation of national policy. Maybe I should invent a fifth viewpoint that could credibly be involved from that perspective and represent.

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LDWriter2
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I think I have read stories that might fit what you describe so it is possible.


I'm not sure if you just venting or want advice or a discussion but these are my thoughts on what you wrote.

I assume this is a true historical event. Sometimes writers will take a POV from one side or another or do both with alternating chapters. But sometimes a writer will take a real event but invent a character who was involved. Everything the made up character sees really happened. That way he or she can see how both sides react. Sometimes a writer will take a real side character but since there is very little info on that character the writer makes up most of his or her reactions, thoughts and emotions. But as before the event is real and everything seen or reacted to is historical.

I suspect you know that already and I don't if either suggestion will help but as I said those are my thoughts on the matter.

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extrinsic
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Not a rant or a vent, LDWriter2. An open-ended plea for inspired areas for consideration. Sometimes getting a fresh perspective or two might provide a novel (sic) approach to consider. I'm partly wanting a deeper meaning than the literal surface for subtext purposes and narrator perpectives that might go hand in hand with a subtext.

Yes, the event happened, though it's become a fictionalized legend of mythical proportions over the years. I have a comprehensive file of newspaper accounts and government reports from the time of the tragedy that contradict aspects of the generally accepted accounts. Navigating that shoal is one big complication, and thus a reason for reporting the event from the several sides of the event.

I'll consider the several suggestions you make. One area though which troubles me about them is whether there's a way not yet done that can be bold, fresh, yet eminently accessible. Like, what's the present-day relevance of a historic event at one time fresh in the minds of the entire Western world, faded from awareness of all but a small region, and still be timely and broadly appealing today without alienating the very core audience which could be the biggest promoters of the saga.

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genevive42
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As far ar relevance, make it about the people. You said,' no one experiences a significant personal change', but that's hard to believe if it's such a grand event. And no amount of research in newspapers and history texts is going to tell you how people were personally affected. As a fiction writer, you get to make that stuff up. Shape the character, and their journey around the events so that there is personal change. And if you're using someone very real, then imagine how that person might react and be changed by said events and pull the reader into that story. You're not writing a history book, but historical fiction.

I'm sure you can do that and still be true to the essential impact and meaning of the event.

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Pyre Dynasty
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I'm curious, is Tahiti involved in any way? In my own research lately Tahiti has been popping up fairly often.

Your story can make it relevant again.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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As I recommended to someone else recently, write it all up, both sides and all sides, in a rough draft, and then see how you want to organize it all.

Get it out on paper (or screen, though I'd recommend at least some of it on paper, if you decide to go with screen), where you can look at it and move it around.

At the very least, consider a kind of "storyboard" approach, where you make sticky notes for each segment (scene, chapter, POV, whatever) that you can move around in relation to each other.

You may see patterns that way that you might not have noticed while it was all in your head, and it may help you figure out what you talk about and in what order.

BTW, can't help wanting to guess--everything from the Titanic to the Edmund Fitzgerald.

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extrinsic
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Wooden sailing ship, three-masted schooner, a coastal freighter loaded with guano bound for a gunpowder factory caught by human error, equipment failure, and a severe winter storm between wreckers on shore, government bureaucrats, newspaper sensationalists, well-meaning but ineffectual Good Samaritans, greedy owners and investors, insurance companies, and a salvage commissioner.

I've written out the accounts but they're flat on the page and on the storyboards. I'm looking for the Spark that sets the story ablaze and apart from the other accounts of the event.

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Owasm
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IMO, you need a unifying thread. Someone or a small group that touches as many people or plot lines as you can. When you get down to it, the spark has to be the human interest angle that the events accentuate.
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genevive42
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I think Owasm has an excellent thought there.
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extrinsic
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Yeah, genevive42, your prompt about being about people (and their complications and outcomes), and Owasm's about unity identify what's problematic. Theme's job is building unity. People, so society as a thematic anchor, thus for narrative's sake individuals in society. I've got a broad theme: An individual's identity is shaped by place in society. The assorted characters believe in their individual, self-sacrficing nobility to the point they are oblivious to their self-serving motivations. There's an edge of an idea I'm struggling to wrap my mind around.
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Robert Nowall
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One of the best pieces of writing advice I've ever gotten was this: Find the person affected most deeply by the events of the story, make this person the main character, and start.
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extrinsic
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The person most deeply affected is the sole survivor of the tragedy. That portion of the saga tells itself. It's a simple plot, no major revelations or reversals. So far all I have is a superficial action that doesn't include larger situations impacting the action. One of the more critical ones is what the survivor wants most that puts him in harm's way to begin with, and that speaks to theme artfully. That he lives is the main outcome of the extant legends. For my purposes, I don't have a sufficient enough departure for the saga to stand apart from the others.
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Pyre Dynasty
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Perhaps you are too close to the subject matter. I know you want to portray this event, but perhaps a more loosely "based on" would suit your purposes here. The reason I say this is I'm noticing an undertone in your posts of being hand-cuffed by what actually happened. I could be way off here, but that's what I'm sensing.
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extrinsic
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I am caught by the complication of a quarter million people knowing the extant myth from the landsiders' perspective, growing up hearing it on a granddad's or great aunt's knee and able to recite it by heart, grade schoolers retelling it for class writing projects, raconteurs retelling it to willing audiences in bars and hotels and anywhere anyone hasn't heard it.

The tale must be faithful to the original, yet with what's been left out, because credibilty is at stake. The patriotic geocentricism and self-idealization and self-efficacy of the extant myth will not be tolerated messing with, not if I'm going to show my face in public. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth will suffice. But be persuasively engaging and just a mite less than noble; in other words, more true to human nature than the myth recounts.

There is room for invention, a mite from the landside, a heap more from the ocean side, a grand lot from other involved parties' viewpoints.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Then incorporate the myth into the story. Start each segment with the relevant part of the myth, and then go on to tell "the rest of the story" in that segment.

That way you'll be giving credit to the myth while adding to it and deepening and strengthening the story.

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extrinsic
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That will work. Thanks.

John Grisham's legal thriller novels do that. Selective omniscient narrator but the narrator is estranged from the action report, multiple character viewpoints and multiple settings and events, bald reporting relying on reader sensibilities to build emotional context, not much introspection, mostly relating internal complications through external observations, the so-called reaction shot closeups of cinematography.

The Perfect Storm, novel and movie, also do that.

And storyboarding galore.

Since the external outcome is s foregone conclusion, I still need a few personal outcomes for the central characters to add the depth I'm after. What the survivor most wants from the beginning that puts him in harm's way to begin with, for starters. He's the ship's cook. He had a Merchant Marine ticket as a cook. Maybe he wants to open an automat vending machine diner. Maybe. An object quest personal journey of some sort.

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LDWriter2
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If you are still writing your book you might be interested in this one. To see how this writer did it.

http://tinyurl.com/7qrkcak

As far as I can tell it's the same type of book. A different event but still historical with real people in it.

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