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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Switching up tones on the reader

   
Author Topic: Switching up tones on the reader
wetwilly
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I had an idea today in the shower (where I get all my good ideas, for some reason) about my current WIP (cyberpunk novel) that I wanted to run through the mill here. Maybe some of you might have some insight, or I might just be thinking out loud, here.

The idea I had requires a major shift in the tone of my novel's third and final act from the first two acts. I won't put you through a full synopsis of the novel, but it's a cyberpunk story about a guy creating his own computer world that everyone will eventually inhabit virtually and having the opportunity to play god and, essentially, make a new universe from scratch. Obviously, a lot more than that happens, but that's the premise.

The first two acts are basically a character study of this guy. They dive into all of his many psychological and emotional issues, drug addiction, lots of personal stuff. Pretty dark stuff, but handled very sarcastically so it comes off as dark comedy (or so I intend). No real fighting or action scenes; it's just not that kind of story.

I'm thinking about changing tones completely for the third act and making it mostly over the top action/fight sequences, a lone warrior battling hostile forces in a virtual word where the mind is the only limitation, lots of sword fights with bizarre bad guys where the rules of physics don't apply, that sort of thing. Right now I'm excited about the idea, but I'm worried about making my book imbalanced.

My question is, do you guys think that's a problem? Would it bother you if a book made a fairly sudden and drastic change in tone like that 2/3 of the way through it? Or do you think you have a responsibility to the reader to deliver the kind of book your beginning and middle have led him or her to expect?

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Meredith
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Hmm. I think you might have to go back into those first two-thirds and foreshadow it.

I'm assuming that this relatively dark character becomes the hero in his own computer universe, so you might have to show some desire on his part to be that kind of person instead of who he is. Give the reader an indication of what's coming so it isn't a complete surprise.

Then . . . maybe.

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extrinsic
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Kurt Vonnegut, a master of irony and perhaps sarcasm, uses differing voices throughout Breakfast of Champions. The novel's preface begins with a litotes that is structured like a disclaimer for using the advertising slogan, trademark, "Breakfast of Champions," owned by General Mills.

When the action unfolds, the narrator's voice stays ironic, until the epilogue chapter that contains the denouement act. Then Vonnegut as character's voice takes center stage. Vonnegut joins the action as a character about two-thirds of the way through the novel and with a transitioning voice that slides from narrator into character voice.

I don't think an abrupt and drastic change in voice at any point in a narrative is a shortcoming, per se. It could work for me if the change was set up, as Meredith notes, or if the change is related to the dramatic action. If the large part of the ironic narrator as character voice in the front and middle comments with an emotionally strong attitude about the underlying theme. And if that leads into the action-fight sequences as a natural and credible consequence of his earlier attitude and actions, it could be delightful. After all, change in voice is a variety that spices a narrative.

Let's say the narrator-character is unrealiable. He imposes his will upon all that he can see and touch. Or believes he does, Don Quixote-like. And the later part is him seeing slip away what he never had dominion over in the first place. And that's why he fights to regain his domains. Then his voice can slip away by steps from ironically commanding to unsure to worried to afraid to maybe cowering. Maybe he wins in the end or imagines he does. Maybe he doesn't.

Just me projecting a scenario where changing voices might work.

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rcmann
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I agree with Meredith. It might come as an unsettling shock to the reader if you suddenly dump it on them after they got used to things being completely different.

Zelazny was a master of switching back and forth between differing viewpoints. He did it in several books. You might foreshadow things by inserting an occasional scene from the virtual world story line in the early part of the book, then pick it up fully in the latter stages.

I don't know if I could do that effectively or not. I know Zelazny did it. But not everyone is Zelazny. Anyway, good luck.

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genevive42
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In the beginning of your novel you make a promise to the reader. Ask yourself, does your new ending fulfill that promise? If it does, fine. If it doesn't, either trash the new ending or rewrite the beginning until the ending is appropriate.
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Pyre Dynasty
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I think that could be a logical progression for your story. It makes sense for a virtual world to break out in videogame style violence. It might even make sense for your character as the creator of the world to get involved. I say go for it, but here's the thing: Don't make it the end of your story because the story isn't about battle. When you are writing the battle don't make it about the battle, make it about how your MC feels about the battle. It's still a character study.

I'm thinking about Scott Pilgrim right now, that kinda shifts tone radically. Half the time it's about a kid trying to figure out adult life and relationships and the other half is over the top videogame style battle. It seems to work out pretty well.

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wetwilly
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Pyre Dynasty, that's kind of the compromise I've worked out with myself over the last week working on one of these fight scenes. "Video game style violence" nails it perfectly. In fact, I've been struggling not to let it descend (or ascend, depending on your perspective. Or maybe laterally shift. Whatever.) too far into the realm of video games. I don't want it to turn into reading a recap of somebody playing Call of Duty.

And the climax of the novel is not a battle, or not a physical one, anyway. It's a conversation in which MC has to make a major decision about his life that, hopefully, the whole novel has been building up to. The butt-kicking parts do lead to that conversation, though.

Guess I'll write it and see what happens. Thanks all!

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Reziac
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Wilbur Smith's novel The Sunbird makes a complete shift in mid-book, as it leaps from the present-day archeological expedition (generally low-key and personality-driven) to the relevant events of a fictional ancient history (largely a series of panics due to invasion and war). It's essentially two separate books about the same events, seen from on the spot and from digging 'em up ~3000 years later. Either could be read as a standalone, but in combination you get insights you couldn't otherwise see. Of what I've read, I think it's Smith's best work.

So, yeah, it can work. [Big Grin]

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