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I'm writing a novel where a person who has decided to commit suicide can hire some murderers to kill he/him in the way he/she prefers. There are only two members running this service. A man and a woman.

The first chapters (20,000 words) are told from the eyes of a girl who wants to die in the arms of the boy she loves. Once her wish is fulfilled her POV ends.

The middle chapters (20,000 words) are seen from the eyes of the man I mentioned before (when he was young). Turns out he also had a death wish: to die saving someone. Once his wish is fulfilled his POV ends.

The last chapters (20,000 words) are seen from the eyes of the woman I mentioned before (turns out she also wanted to die in the past). The novel ends with her.

My concern is this: the reader will invest emotionally in the character of the first chapters, only to see her disappear in the middle of the novel.

Will this be an issue? If so, what can I do to fix it?

Note: the man and the woman running the service appear throughout the novel (the middle and end of the novel focus on their backstory).

Note 2: some characters don't die.

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    Intellectually, this sounds fine to me. But anecdotally, there are two books --by authors I love --that were ruined for me by abruptly switching the narrative away from a more compelling character after the first third of the book (Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand - Delany, and The Enchantress of Florence - Rushdie). Read those if you want to know how NOT to do this.... :o – Chris Sunami Feb 12 '18 at 18:01
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There are examples of separate stories connected thematically. I think the question is, when is such a work a collection of independent stories on the same theme and when is it a single novel.

One example that springs to mind is Alan Garner's Red Shift, in which the same story plays out three times, at three different times in history, all involving the same artefact. But in that case the telling of the three tales is intertwined, and the whole telling of the novel hangs on that intertwining. I don't think anyone would question whether Red Shift is one novel.

Having the three stories in succession will certainly suggest linked stories rather than one novel, unless there is something stronger than theme connecting them. I think there is also the question of whether and how the theme develops from one story to the next. Does the first story feel incomplete in itself, and do the second and third stories seem to complete it. Or is each one complete in itself. With intertwined stories, you don't face questions like this, or at least not to the same degree. But intertwined stories also work differently, the three stories don't so much build on one another as reinforce and/or counterpoint each other.

A reader's investment in a story does not have to rest on emotional investment in a single character. Novels are fundamentally about experience, but they can work either by involvement or by standing back and observing. A more detached approach might make it easier to have the reader follow the theme rather than the character.

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The book "Holes" (also a Disney movie made in the mid-2000s) features three stories that play out over the course of the novel that all contribute to the first story's conclusion to some degree or another. Part of the enjoyment of the book is the way the two side stories connect with the main plot.

One way this is achieved is that the stories are told concurrently to the events in the novel's main story (along with flashbacks to the main story's back story). So the first chapter sets up the main story and the only one to be set in the present. The other three stories (the Back Story of the hero, the first story in the past, the second story in the past).

It's been a while since I read the book, but to my recollection, the order was something like

  • main story
  • back story
  • recent past (early 1800s)
  • older past (late 1800s)

All so that there was a sort of order to them in a chronological sense (though not an order), though the movie has the First Story as a Flashback that occurs in the Backstory (and a small portion of the Second Story).

This allows the hero/view point character to experience the history behind the larger narrative with the reader. Both the Back Story and the First Past story are his own recollections of the events while the Second Past story is told to him from a source he meets in the main story.

  • The suggested edit I gave is far from complete. That piece of the answer really confuses me and you should work out a better way to outline the information you are attempting to share. Maybe a table or spreadsheet or the like: those parts which are in both book and movie, those which are in only one. Maybe split them up a little finer in details so that the different versions can be compared — or, don't even bother comparing them. – can-ned_food Mar 20 '18 at 19:56
  • I would recommend that you add information telling exactly how the other two stories link with the main story: when the “Second Past” is told during the Main Story, does the Main Story simply skip over those events? I.e. does the Main Story tell the reader where they could jump to the Second Past if they wished? Or, does the Second Story provide for its own anchor — i.e. does the reader need to go through the entire Main Story so as to understand how it would fit together? – can-ned_food Mar 20 '18 at 19:58
  • @can-ned_food: Yes. Again, these do have a common line through them that becomes apparent at the end of the book, and many of the flashbacks occur as elements of them are brought up in the book (there is one scene where a character tells the protaganist that the camp used to be a town that was on the shores of the now present dried up lake bed... we then flashback to the story that is set in the town when the lake existed). – hszmv Mar 23 '18 at 12:34

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