This story needs to be carefully read, but it rewards that careful reading with a rich world (and the smug feeling that we’re really smart for figuring it out).
I read this story because another writer I admire raved about Aliette de Bodard’s writing. I wasn’t too sure at first, but this story of cultural taboos in a futuristic, post-war world, stuck with more more than I expected. Therefore I rate it ‘worth reading’.
de Bodard definitely created a fully-realized world. As such, it was confusing and I left the story not really sure what happened or that I understood the events. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A little frustrating if you’re not in the right mood.
Her handling of time was fascinating though. The story follows a mother on a final visit to her daughter, who is in jail. The story handles The Recent Past, During And In-Between Her Three Visits With Her Daughter; and The Far Past, During The War. All of them combine to illustrate the theme of the story while unpacking the details of what the heck’s going on (kind of).
She leaves a lot up to the reader to puzzle out. In a way it’s great, because the narrator doesn’t over-explain, the same way we don’t explain how smart-phones work to our friends. We have a reasonable expectation that our friends already understand what smartphones are. The narrator in this story talks us as if we live in the world, but the author gives us enough clues to put it together.
The story needs to be carefully read, but it rewards that careful reading with a rich world (and the smug feeling that we’re really smart for figuring it out).
The author’s mother-tongue is French and I felt the language was a little antiquated/formal at times, but not often. (Any my French should be so good! Her English is better than most English speakers’).
I’m not sure I enjoyed this. A bit bleak. But good world building, economical…not 100% successful, imo, but certainly not boring or predictable. And with a definite lesson for writer: less is more; leave some gaps for your readers to puzzle out.
Read the story here.
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Today’s prompt is inspired by a great book I’m reading on story structure. It’s called Book Architecture: How To Outline Without Using A Formula by Stuart Horwitz (who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference recently. If you get a chance to see him speak, I’d highly recommend it. Very engaging and he takes a VERY different approach to the idea of outlining a story from most pro-outline people.)
Write A Story That Contains More Than One Timeline
- Here’s a Flash Fiction example of the kind of thing I’m talking about: Comatose by Megan Manzano
- In Book Architecture, Horwitz offers a couple of great tips for keeping multiple timelines from becoming confusing: 1, anchor your reader in the ‘present’ timeline before jumping back to a flashback and b, keep your flashbacks moving in the same chronological order (i.e. start at one point in the character’s experiences and move in one direction from there. He uses the movie Slumdog Millionaire as an example of this structure).
- Here’s a longer, and more complex story that has multiple timelines: The Weight Of A Blessing by Aliette de Bodard (the timelines here are The Present, After The Last Visit With Her Daughter; The Recent Past, During And In-Between Her Three Visits With Her Daughter; and The Far Past, During The War. All of them combine to illustrate the theme of the story while unpacking the details of what the heck’s going on (kind of).
- For today’s exercise, try doing the minimum: weave two timelines together, and keep each one moving in a particular chronological direction.
- This might take more time than the usual Write On Wednesday “write it fast and loose” kind of exercise. What the heck, take the whole week.
- Try taking a story you’ve written before and reworking it this way. Choose one you’re not happy with, or that you never finished Good candidates are stories that sank under the weight of their own backstory. Split out the backstory and tell it in flashback.