Stringing your reader along

I don’t know where it is in this book, but I swear I remember it saying that King Arthur had disappeared. You see, in Ishiguro’s book The Buried Giant, there is a man and his wife traveling to their son’s village. And in the midst of their journey, they encounter a warrior.

“That warrior’s an admirable fellow, didn’t you think so, princess?”

“No doubt,” [Beatrice] replied quietly. “But that was a strange way he had of staring at you, Axl.” (73)

At first, this made me think that this warrior was their long lost son. What irony that would be! But, without the author revealing more, I had to continue, at least until this came up again. This time the warrior, Wistan, was asking another knight to gaze upon Axl’s face.

“I beg you, sir, look at this man beside you and say if you’ve ever seen him in days past.”

Sir Gawain gave a chuckle…But as he gazed into Axl’s face, his expression changed to one of surprise—even shock. Instinctively, Axl turned away, just as the old knight appeared almost to push himself backwards into the tree trunk. (108)

Again! There’s something in Axl’s face that everyone recognizes, which leads me to believe, what would two knights have in common? A king perchance? I don’t even remember if it  King Arthur was missing, or what was his role in the plot, but with this ‘fog’ causing all the people within the land to forget, I have to wonder that if Axl plays a bigger role than we thought, especially with the way he keeps remembering more and more of his warrior-like past.

Then, finally, I get more of a reveal on page 180! Tell me if this isn’t irksome.

“Sir Gawain, were we not comrades once long ago?” [Axl asks.]

“The mist hangs heavily across my past,” Axl said. “Yet lately I find myself reminded of some task, and one of gravity, with which I was once entrusted. Was it a law, a great law to bring all men closer to God? Your presence, and your talk of Arthur stirs long-faded thoughts, Sir Gawain.” (180)

Right now I’m on page 204, trying to find out more but really struggling, not because I don’t like the book, but because I think the constant jumping back and forth between memories has thrown me for a loop. With my skim reading and how subtle Ishiguro’s style is, I miss a lot of the transitions taking me into a character’s memory, and it really pushes me away when I get confused in the layers of action. I’ll have to focus on this later, and discover why it messes with me so much.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

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Subtlety within Stories

Fact: No one likes being slapped in the face.

Not that I’ve tried it, but it’s kind of one of those things you learn over time, mostly from hitting your brothers, and then your parents getting angry at you, eventually learning, yep, it’s bad to punch people. They don’t like it, and it hurts.

And you know what? Same rule applies to books – you shouldn’t punch your readers.

Take for instance this paragraph:

As an isolate polity, disconnected from the manifold while the research project runs, it should be about as safe as anywhere can be. Just as long as none of my stalkers are signed up for it… (Stross 37)

Here, the character is saying that while he hides in this private society, he’ll be safe from his enemies…as long as his stalkers aren’t signing up for it. And of course this is a hint. Why? Because if this is what he fears, then it makes sense for a story to make the character face and conquer his fears. So really, this is telling the reader, FYI – expect this to happen soon!

Not exactly the most subtle approach, but it is a warning for the things to come so that it’s not unexpected when it occurs – AKA foreshadowing. Plus, it makes the reader feel like they have insight, making sure every reader (not just the writerly ones) are on the same page in terms of expectations.

Here’s another example: 

“I had such a void that I-well, I made the mistake of falling in love again. Too soon, with somebody who was brilliant and fast and witty and probably completely crazy. And they asked me about the experiment while I was miserable, trying to figure out whether I really was in love or was just fooling myself. We discussed the experiment, but I don’t think they were too keen on the idea. And in the end it all got too much for me: I signed up, backed myself up, and woke up in here.” (Stross 94)

To readers, those who read the beginning of the story, this will sound familiar. That’s because in this scene, the author is hinting, drawing parallels between an old character and this new one. He is foreshadowing, hinting, that they are the same character.

I haven’t seen a lot of foreshadowing lately, and thinking back, I’m not sure it’s because books lately haven’t included a lot of foreshadowing, or if it’s because it’s too subtle for me to notice. I know this is my first instance, so it was probably more obvious than usual, or maybe I was more attuned to it.

But what I would like to point out is the face that these foreshadowing hints help readers align expectations, so that either the character’s and reader’s thoughts align, such as in the first example, or so that the author’s and reader’s thoughts align, such as in the second example. Either way, alignment helps everyone follow along, keeps people interested (who feel like they’ve succeeded in decoding the book), and keep readers from feeling put off by random events.

It’s a good technique, one I’m still trying to integrate.

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