Experimenting With Parallel Narratives


My WIP book of short stories “Population Morpheus” is a bundle of experiments. I wanted to try out new cover design ideas, the short story format, first person POV and parallel narratives, among other things.

The cover design came together fairly easily, as did the transition from series novels to short stories. The first person POV was a little difficult to get into, I have to confess. In the Lightbound Saga, I use third person limited across the board with a few peeks of first person from the protagonist. Jumping into first was not easy. Complicating matters some more was the parallel narrative I decided to go with for this book.

Before we get any further, let me talk a little about multiple narratives in general. I spent a lot of time browsing the net and read a whole lot of Linda Aronson’s discourse on narratives. Here’s a summary on parallel narratives after the reading.

What is parallel narrative?

A parallel narrative in a story follows several protagonists rather than focusing on one main character. In some instances, these individual characters and their stories overlap with each other and make up the mesh of a bigger story. In others, the characters’ lives run in parallel and build up a bigger theme or establish the larger world that encapsulates them.

What are the different types of parallel narrative?

Parallel narrative can be broken up into two main subgroups –

1. Linear story lines (no time jumps)

  1. Tandem narrative – several equally weighted story lines exist within a larger common world
  2. Multiple protagonist narrative – a group of characters collectively change as a result of a common experience
  3. Double journey narrative – two characters in a strong relationship are traveling either toward or apart from each other

2. Non-linear story lines (includes time jumps)

  1. Flashback – the story is built with single or multiple flashbacks or jumps in time
  2. Consecutive stories – equally weighted stories follow each other and join in the end to make the complete story
  3. Fractured tandem – equally weighted stories in different time frames broken up and put together in a way that the suspense is scattered throughout the story and not just the end

All right, so where does my book fit in?

Population Morpheus has 6 short stories, each told by one person. These characters are all part of the same world, and their stories are within a time frame of ten years , more or less. The characters physically inhabit one geographical area also and their stories bring to life the political and sociological snapshot of the era. Population Morpheus is tandem narrative, pure and simple.

Now on to the issues with narration – telling every story in parallel meant getting really close to each narrator. So first of all I needed to understand each of my protagonist. I first had to have detailed character sketches for each one to get close to them.

Also, since I was telling the stories in first person, it meant making their talk sound real–like a different person was telling their own tale. Easier said than done. I discovered that I could manage the dialogue pretty well, meaning dialogue was distinct enough coming from different people. The trouble was with exposition. During exposition, instead of the protagonist of the story, it was my voice that came across the loudest. What a mess!

I started editing each story with a fine toothed comb so to speak. I had to find every instance of “my voice” and remove it so the protagonist’s unique voice would shine through. Okay, so that was taken care of in a few days. But even though I had removed myself, did the voices stand out in contrast to each other. Heck, no. If it were that easy, writing would be a walk in the park, or a piece of cake or . . . you get the idea. Writing is not any of those.

This is where I stand –

Total # of stories targeted                                                                       – 6

Stories completed (working voices)                                                        – 3

Stories drafted, not complete (non-working/cookie cutter voices)     – 1

Days left until my editor starts yelling at me                                         – 20


Net standing                                                                                      – HOT MESS!

I have to confess that a couple of days ago I felt like abandoning the first person multiple narrative thing altogether. Then the fearless in me came out and upset all the quitting plans.

Oh well, I better start on the fifth story tonight. If you have any ideas, tips, tricks, anything that could help me wrestle the “multiple first person narrative” monster, please post in the comments.

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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Posted in on writing, thoughtful thursdays

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