Creating conflict within the reader

I love discontinuity between the readers and the character’s thoughts. Usually, it’s a benefit seen only in third-person, but here, Stross has created it within a first-person story – amazingly done – which only results because of his belief that memory can be altered through the use of back-up bodies/memories. This means that if something should happen to you, as in kill you, then at least there’s a copy of you somewhere (like a back up file). (Of course this also means there can be multiple copies of you running around, but that’s another part of the story.)

I’m not male. No, I’m female. I raise my other hand, explore my chest. Female and orthohuman. 

This in itself is no big deal. I’ve been a female orthohuman before; I’m not sure when or for how long, and it’s not my favorite body plan, but I can live with it for the time being. What makes me freak and stand up again, so suddenly I get black spots in my visual field and nearly fall over, is the corollary. Someone tampered with my backup! And then the doubletake: I am the backup. Somewhere a different version of me has died. (Stross 40-41)

This is great! I’m being lead along with the thoughts within the character: the turmoil of being female, the resulting recognition that she is the backup, and that somewhere – back in the other life that we, as the reader, can remember she died. It creates the thought of what did we miss? Who killed her? What about her old romantic relationship Kay, and will she remember her?? How much does she even remember??

By reverting to the backup body, backup memory, suddenly a multitude of thoughts are swimming out of control in the readers mind, creating possibilities within themselves. It creates the thought, what about Kay? How much does (s)he remember?

I blink. Then I reread the tablet, frantically searching for alternate meanings. I didn’t sign that! Did I? Looks like I did-either that or I’ve been hacked, but my having signed the release is more likely. (Stross 42)

Above we learn more specifics, detailing the situation even more, and I think what draws me in the most about this scene is not only do I read it, strategically interested, but I’m dying to know more information. I’m reading and re-reading bits, making sure I didn’t miss anything, and my brain is moving a mile a minute trying to guess what happened, what’s going to happen next.

My brain is engaged.

When you’re engaged with the text, you’re reading. And if you’re reading, you’re interested, making it a good book (most of the time.) I think what made this scene so amazing was the discrepancy of what we know and what the character knows. At the time of reboot, the character’s understanding was as far as that current lifeline while mine extended. Because I had greater understanding them than, there was this discrepancy, making it interesting to read. I was hoarding knowledge over the character.

I know quite a few authors, especially new ones, will try to do this in reverse. Hoard knowledge from the reader, not revealing until later, and a lot of English teachers will flinch over this. (I know this because when I did workshop with my creative writing classes, this happened…a lot.)

But, I don’t think everything has to be hidden. Actually, I’ve been going back in my current book and adding more subtle hints and obvious reflections of what my character, and readers, should be noticing. I think it’s important to bring them along for the realization because they’d be more excited on ‘figuring it out’ then for you, as the writer, to prove it to them, by later revealing the facts.

Maybe this is why I like this scene. We know more than the characters. Suddenly, I’m more in the know. For Stross, it took memory deletion. For third person, it requires scene reveals. Think about where you might use this.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2014.


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