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[Comments] (6) Category:Fictional Fictions: I feel a sense of unease whenever I'm revising a story and I change what happens. I feel like there's some residual sense in which A "really" happened and B is a lie to cover it up. But if the story is published, most people will think B "really" happened and A will seem a curiosity if they know about it at all. How do we discuss different kinds of fictional events? Lay some vocabulary on me.

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Posted by Brendan at Thu May 31 2007 21:55

If you leave evidence of A lying around in B on purpose, it's usually called an unreliable narrator, which lately I feel is too broad a term and could use a disambiguation page.

Posted by Holly at Sat Jun 02 2007 06:54

So the other word used when there are relics of A still visible in B is "palimpsest", which is a great word, and not so much related to unreliable narration as to re-narration. It's not, as far as I'm aware, a closely-defined technical term in lit-crit-world, but searching for articles which use it is a handy way to come up with stuff discussing the concept of rewriting and change and relics of previous narrations - like this one on art and erasure. Or this examination of Coleridge's various revisions of "Christabel".

Wikipedia suggests the idea of architectural palimpsest, which I hadn't encountered previously but which is a charming way of looking at the stuff that gets left over when old buildings are taken away, and new buildings are erected in cities made for the old ones. I think this suggests some useful analogies to a fictional structure that's no longer neccessarily practical but is left over from a previous version of a story. The things that are taken away can act as positive influences as well as constraints or a "real" version of the building. I'm thinking particularly of the Tate Modern, which I suppose you didn't see when you were here but which is built inside an old power station, so there are all the relics of that - a huge weird hall that they have enormous commissions in, a big tower, etc. I have some issues with the building which I won't go into here, but I like a lot of the stuff that's left over from its previous incarnation, and - and this is the important bit - did so before I knew it was built into an old power station. Because that's the main difference between architectural palimpsest and rewriting - you can write a story and then rebuild it, but as you say it mostly won't be seen within the context of its previous draft, and so any relics of that previous draft have to stand on their own.

Architectural palimpsest needs to do this too, ten or twenty or a hundred years down the line, when the original buildings are forgotten or relegated to a little explanatory plaque in the corner.

This whole subject is maybe also interesting in relation to fanfiction and arguably-fanfiction like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and all the numberless Greek tragedies retelling the same myths to people who already knew them, in slightly different ways. Writing where there is a "real" version of the fiction, where that's being used as the basis of a "this is an idea I like". Revisions as fanfiction of your own work? But like architectural palimpsest, fanfiction is built in a context where people will generally be aware of the original.

I like Brendan's disambiguating-unreliable-narrators idea. Biased narrator, deliberately deceptive narrator, naive narrator - not sure what the other main categories would be. Putting it in third-person as a transformation that can be applied to any of the primary types, rather than a type of its own. Has there been much second-person unreliable narrator? Playing with the fact that people are generally alienated by second-person, because they aren't doing what the "you" character is supposed to?

Posted by Holly at Sat Jun 02 2007 07:01

So mm, I don't believe there's a specialised vocabulary for discussing the different types of fiction involved in iterative drafts of a work, but maybe something could be adapted from fanfiction? First-draft-canon becomes canone, second cantwo, etc! Or, er, something.

Posted by Leonard at Sat Jun 02 2007 08:01

Holly, when you said "interactive fiction" I immediately realized that my game Degeneracy is entirely based on this sense of unease.

Posted by Rachel at Sat Jun 02 2007 15:40

My french teacher said that definitive editions of all the classics include their notes with things that were changed in the "final" editions. But I'm not sure that's what you're talking about?

Posted by pedro at Sun Jun 03 2007 00:52

I think that 'palimpsest' should be a kind of monster in nethack. When you kill them their body gets reanimated as a different kind of monster!

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