On Non-Linear Narratives and Tone


I just finished The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, which was just under 300 pages of wow. As those of you who have read previous posts know, I’m currently writing a novel for my senior graduate thesis. Part of that project is to compile an annotated bibliography of all the things, people, books, and thoughts that go into my creative process and influence my eventual product. Bank’s book is the latest in that effort.

I picked it mainly because of its description. It was described as literary, had a female protagonist, and explored topics like family and love. All related to my stuff. Sweet! When I got my hands on the book and flipped through, I realized I had hit gold. It was broken up into different sections, with the main character, Jane Rosenal, going through major life moments. In the beginning she is 14, meeting her older brother’s girlfriend, and by the end she is in her thirties.

What is extremely interesting about this book is that it is almost non-linear. While most of the sections/chapters follow her as she gets older, some break off into other families (for no discernible reason) and then sweep back to Jane, but maybe fifteen years later, as though that interlude was supposed to explain everything I, as the reader, needed to know. My own novel (title pending) is linear (for now) but non-sequential, meaning that everything happens in the same timeline to the same people, but the order is switched around. One chapter the MC is twenty-five, the next she’s ten, etc. In that way, I looked to how Bank made the changing timeline, characters, and setting flow together in such a way that the reader wasn’t lost in confusion. She did this by giving a big picture in the very beginning of the section/chapter, such as something like, “My brother brought his girlfriend to visit at the shore house for a weekend.” Tada! Who, what, where, why. The when comes as the story goes. I liked that. I had a frame of reference, which was vague enough that I could fill it all in no problem. It is a simple sentence, a minor thing, but it gives me a comfortable starting pace so that I don’t resent having to catch up on what the hell is going on every time a chapter ends.

I keep referring to chapter/sections. That’s because the book is broken down into separate sections, divided by a blank page and then a new title page. What followed was often extremely different from the previous. The MC would be older, the family would be dealing with an entirely new crisis, or (and this was super off putting) the writing itself would be different. The first section is in first person, then it’s in third, and then…what is that…is that second person? And yet, it was done beautifully. I loved the change of pace, it felt like discovering a new book all over again, but one that held comfortable familiarity.

Yeah, second person, though, that made me think I’d had a stroke or somehow turned the page into a new book.

Would you write a novel or part of a novel in second person? 

My own novel is in third person, but the different sections made me think about including something similar in my format. The narration sometimes moves to characters other than my MC, but it is her story, so I don’t want those other interjections to pull  the reader too far out of her storyline. I’m not sure. I’m still trying to write it, so thinking format might be jumping the gun.

Regardless, this book was a fantastic and quick read (1 day) and it has certainly helped me to settle into a more open and personable tone for my writing. I like my book better for having read this one, and I will continue to look for books, articles, posters, and even quotes that give me insight into how I can make my writing more effective and accomplish my literary goals.

PS: Good luck on NaNoWriMo to all those participating!


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