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I wrote a story that starts like this:

My girlfriend, Hitomi, is in love with my elder brother. But refuses to accept it. Not in the sense that she doesn't want to reveal the truth---she doesn't know the truth herself.

Then in the final scene, I write:

The present, however, still haunted me. "Where's Satoshi?"

"At the apartment---oh, you won't believe what he did." Hitomi cupped my hands with her ice-cooled ones. "He did this and told me that he loved me."

"Really?" I said, coating my voice with faux surprise. "How ... did you reply?"

"How else? That I'm with you and that I love you.'' Hitomi bit the inner side of her cheek. "I think we got a big problem with Satoshi."

It took me a few seconds to digest this new reality. So perhaps I had been paranoid after all? I'd probably never know, which was probably for the best.

As you can see, the first bolded part doesn't match the second bolded part.

However, I wonder if this is permissible in first-person narration where the MC doesn't know what is going to happen at the end of his tale? (Or at least, wants the reader to think that?)

  • Permissible on what grounds? There is certainly no law against it. – user16226 May 14 '17 at 9:35
  • @MarkBaker On the grounds of fiction (at least the good kind). – alex May 14 '17 at 11:14
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    Depends on intent. Is the character supposed to change over the course of the story? (Hint, it's normally considered a good thing if a character changes over the course of a story). If the character is meant to change then you might want to use events in the plot to see the change happening so that the fact that the beginning is contradicted by the ending doesn't appear wrong. – GordonM May 15 '17 at 12:18
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Unlike other forms of writing fiction deals with 'thoughts' and 'opinions' as opposed to 'facts'. Thought and opinions can change - facts do not.

Your story starts with a statement of fact. All your problems would be solved with a point of view.

I'm convinced, my girlfriend, Hitomi, is in love with my elder brother. But refuses to accept it. Not in the sense that she doesn't want to reveal the truth, maybe she doesn't know the truth herself.

  • All Fixed. More natural sounding. Improved voice.
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    While I agree with you in general, the phrase "I'm convinced" can take away some of the power of the character's belief. More than believing that X is true, he may accept X as a fact. In that way, opening with 'my girlfriend is in love with my brother' simply transmits the strength of the character's belief, whether that belief is right or wrong. I'd advise the OP to consider how certain the character is about X before choosing how to present it (as a fact or as an opinion). – SC for reinstatement of Monica May 18 '17 at 13:16
  • There is a misconception about the craft of writing, Fiction writing is a totally different beast to other forms. I've heard many speak the power of statements. Whilst 'power' is applicable speech writing and articles, fiction is more about dynamics and nuance - there's a reason that the majority of journalists want to write best-selling novels and fail. The addition of "I'm convinced" says one of two things (1) "I have only circumstantial evidence" or (2) "I have no evidence but I feel it in my gut." – Surtsey May 18 '17 at 20:02
  • Exactly! A friend of mine one told us, her friends, that her boyfriend was cheating on her. She claimed that, at first, it ess just this impression she had. Thencshe paid attention to the little signs. She had no hard evidence, but there was a plethora of little things that she read as pointing in that direction. Yet she never said she believed, or was convinced or even just "I think". No. She said "he is cheating on me". Because she accepted her belief as a consumated fact. It turned out he'd got involved in a radical sport and, knowing she worried about dangerous activities, ... – SC for reinstatement of Monica May 19 '17 at 7:50
  • ... wanted to keep it quiet. But the way she expressed herself stuck with me. If a person believes that something is as sure as bees making honey, they will not dilute the strength of their believes with a petty (in their eyes) 'I think'. They'll present it to you as the fact they see it for. And I see no reason why a reader won't incorporate that into his writing. – SC for reinstatement of Monica May 19 '17 at 7:55
  • In real life we tones and visual cue. When story-telling we do not. We create narrative voice by characterising the narrator. I think Dad's cheating on Mom - definitely. - That statement makes no sense. What it does do is characterise the narrator and engage your imagination for the purposes of interpretation. – Surtsey May 19 '17 at 10:30
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Some advice that Ayn Rand offered was to start character with a false philosophy and to openly state it. By the end of the book, their arc should gracefully have delivered them to a true philosophy - these are the "book ends" that readers look for and which help them find satisfaction. Think Frodo between meeting Gandalf and throwing the ring away; each of the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy; etc. It's the conflict between these two points which delivers the storyline.

Rephrase your prose so that these opening and closing parantheses reflect each other in substance but not belief. Remember - the closing statement should contradict the original situation.

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I wonder if this [opening statement doesn't match conclusion] is permissible in first-person narration where the MC doesn't know what is going to happen at the end of his tale? (Or at least, wants the reader to think that?)

I'd say that it's where it would be the most permissible.

In first-person narration, the POV is biased, since it depends on one character's opinions and ideas. It's perfectly acceptable for the tale to open with the character/narrator believing something only to reach the end and discover they were wrong in their initial belief. Or, at least, weren't quite right about it. In fact, it's a great twist and allows the character-narrator to evolve.

Obviously, the same can be said of other types of narration (which means that opening and closing statements at odds are permissible everywhere). Any character, or even an ironic narrator, can make a statement that turns out to be wrong at the end.

The way I see it, this change (or, better yet, evolution) mimics an important aspect of real life: one draws conclusions about others based on the actions one sees, but are our conclusions accurate?

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Your problem isn't that the opening and conclusion don't match. It's that your conclusion doesn't resolve anything.

With an opening like that, your plot options are:

  1. Get Hitomi to realize the truth.
  2. Have your protagonist uncover the real truth, that it was Satoshi who was in love with Hitomi.

But in either case, discovering the truth is only half your story. The second half needs to have your characters make use of this newfound knowledge to take control of their lives. In the first scenario, Hitomi needs to choose between Satoshi and your protagonist. In the second scenario, your protagonist is the one who has to make a choice/sacrifice.

But ending a story with, "We've learned the truth, but we'll never know what comes of it" isn't satisfying at all. That's the real problem here.

When a story ends, it needs to answer the most primordial question posed early in your story. That question isn't whether Hitomi is in love with Satoshi or the protagonist. That part is already asserted, and it is known as The Lie. The real question is: Who does she choose once the lie is exposed?

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The important thing isn't who the narrator is, it is what tense you use.

If you use the past tense, the narrator is looking back to something that already happened and the narration needs to reflect later events unless the narrator is unreliable and hides them on purpose that the reader can understand.

If you use the present tense the narration follows the timeline of the story and not only do you not need to account for future events and future knowledge, you really shouldn't.

That said, you are correct that having the narrator say things that turn out to be untrue makes the story weaker. There are two ways to deal with this.

You can use unreliable narrator. I am guessing this mostly involves making explicit that the narrator has some reason for telling this story, an agenda of his own. Your story doesn't seem like there is actual need to deceive the reader, so just mentioning that he is telling the story as he saw it at the time it happened should be enough to warn the reader he might be wrong.

Alternately, you can show not tell. Instead of the narrator saying his girlfriend is in love with his brother, narrate what the girlfriend does to make him think that and how he reacts to it.

For your story the first option is probably easier.

And for the record, if someone is convinced of something, they believe it to be a fact and would narrate it as such. The word "convinced" would be used if the narrator knew he was wrong, in which case past tense would be used, or if the focus was on the feelings of the narrator not on what the girlfriend feels.

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