I'm working on a story which is focused on the conditions of its world and its society and I want to tell the story of its people as a collective, the problems they create and have together and the solutions they can achieve together. No heroes, no villains.

I want the story to focus on people's actions for addressing the conflicts on this world, not their inner thoughts or similar narrative devices.

How can I approach this?

  • How do you plan illustrating the conflicts you mention here "the problems they create and have together and the solutions they can achieve together" without referring to individuals?
    – iamtowrite
    Mar 20 '19 at 5:12
  • Is it much more of a we/us society than a me/they one?
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 20 '19 at 6:51
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    Asking for examples of existing literature is off topic for us. It's called "list question". The problem with it is that it could potentially have an infinite number of equally good answers. It is thus ill-fitting for the Q&A format. Instead of asking for examples, you can edit your question to ask how to do what you're trying to do. In answering how, people are sure to provide some useful examples, and how is what you really want to find out anyway. Also, if you have time, take a look at our tour and How to Ask pages, you might find them helpful. Mar 20 '19 at 10:59
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a list question. Mar 20 '19 at 11:02
  • 2
    Vote to close retracted. Mar 20 '19 at 14:29

Collectives are important, but individuals in a collective are a driving force. The first thing you would need to do is establish POV.

Because you don't want inner thoughts, you don't want 1st person narrative. 2nd person narrative is interesting but a bit gimmicky.

So what you want is 3rd person. Not limited, because that's from the point of view of a specific individual. Third Person Omniscient fits, BUT, you can limit that omniscience--if it's in news story form for example, it's only what the "reporter" or narrator knows.

Strictly speaking that would make the narrator 1st person, HOWEVER, in most 1st person, it's about the point of view of that person rather than a reporting. Basically, they aren't participants so much and they aren't presenting their thoughts on a particular thing that has happened, like an historian. They may or may not use I.

In many of the examples that user37393 cites, there's a "distanced" narrator. A person without omniscience that's telling the story of a city, or a group of people. That's the framing device you would need--this person won't know everything and might not have even witnessed everything, but they can relate the tale. They might be part of the happenings, but they are less a full participant and more of a reporter of events.

Something like this:

On the eve of the revolution, the encampment was quiet, with a few lone voices singing out. In the capital city, we heard later, decadent parties continued far into the night, and when we raised our banners and marched through the streets we saw evidence of the night's revelry, empty liquor bottles shattered, tissue paper streamers now damp and dissolved. In the early morning light it was Jon who knocked on the governor's door with his oaken staff, but it was the whole of us that chanted "Freedom for all!" to the confused lady's maid who opened the door.

You might also look at newspaper articles and how those are structured. Because this is event reporting. It can be cinematic, or it can tell rather than show. In this example, the narrator is part of the revolution, but they distance themselves and say WE rather than I and they aren't offering their personal inner thoughts.

  • 1
    Thank you for your thorough response, I have a more clear view of how i'm going to approach this right now.
    – Accretence
    Mar 22 '19 at 18:58

You might choose to do a series of vignettes.

Break the novel down into many short chapters, each one with a different set of characters. You won't be spending much time on any one character but many of them will have names and descriptions and some of them the reader will learn a few things about.

For example, you might have some chapters like:

  • A hospital emergency room. The team of doctors, nurses, aides, paramedics, and other staff work together over a long shift as victims from a bridge collapse pour in.
  • Rescue workers free people trapped by the bridge collapse.
  • Police officers help get people home safely, (re)direct traffic, and keep onlookers at a safe distance.
  • People from nearby neighborhoods mobilize to bring emergency workers meals and coffee and to help out with people from out of town left stranded.
  • Mechanics check out the damaged cars.
  • Engineers visit the bridge and come up with a plan to fix it.
  • The mayor and city staff figure out the logistics of funding and everything else needed for bridge repair.
  • Concerned citizens have a peaceful protest, saying the bridge never worked well in that location and it's time for better long-term planning.
  • The urban planners come out in force!

And so on...

While my example is almost certainly not one you want to write a book about (which is why I used it), it shows hundreds of people from all walks of life working to solve the same problem and better their world.

  • Thank you for your response, that's an interesting approach i will surely keep it in mind.
    – Accretence
    Mar 22 '19 at 18:59

In fact there are such books.

J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an encyclopedia of imaginary beings and Milorad Pavić's Dictionary of the Khazars describes (a fictionalized version of) an actual historic event using the form of an encyclopedia. While Rowling's encyclopdia has creatures in it, they don't act out a story and thus aren't characters in the sense of being agents of a plot. Pavić's Dictionary does have characters (in the same sense that the Wikipedia article on World War I has people in it who were relevant to the unfolding of that war), but no plot in the sense that the book is the story of certain protagonists.

In Translated Accounts, James Kelman portraits an occupied territory under martial law through monologic descriptions by an unknown number of witnesses. The novel does have people in it, but no individual protagonists or even a clearly discernible number of narrators.

In 253, Geoff Ryman describes 253 persons on a London Underground train, each with 253 words. While each person is the "protagonist" of their section, the book itself does not have any main characters and isn't about the individual characters but about their similarities (or differences). In a similar way Donald Antrim's The Hundred Brothers narrates not the story of individual men but purports to portrait men in general.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is written in the first person plural. So while it does have a protagonist ("we"), it doesn't rely on individual characters but rather on a group as an entity.

Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood is composed entirely of questions. Possibly the protagonist is "you".

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić begins with the story of Mehmed-paša Sokolović, who eventually orders the construction of the bridge, then turns into a historic account of the Austro-Hungarian period, which makes up the last two thirds of the book.

Stanisław Lem's A Perfect Vacuum, Wielkość urojona [Imaginary Magnitude], Prowokacja [Provocation], and One Human Minute are collections of reviews of and prefaces for non-existent, fictional books.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino describes a number of fictional cities. The book is written as a conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, but this conversation is just a framing device for the descriptions.

  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino seems interesting, i'll definitely check it out, thank you.
    – Accretence
    Mar 20 '19 at 14:16
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    Parts of Stephen King's Carrie are told via newspaper/magazine "clippings" -- an assemblage of them can be a way to grant a more distant perspective on parts of the story. Reporters are more likely to group people together: "The Parkland Students", for example. There may be quotes from individuals, but the focus is on the collective. Mar 20 '19 at 15:08
  • @April Thank you i will definitely check it out.
    – Accretence
    Mar 22 '19 at 18:54

It could be an ensemble bit like most TNG/Enterprise-Era Star Trek series. You have a core cast of characters, but which character is focused upon is going to be based on what the dilema of the day is. A Medical dilema would feature the doctor character... an investigation would feature the security officer/police officer. Leadership problems would feature the Captain or the XO, depending on the nature of the question. I highly recomend watching Deep Space 9, which is more of a small town political discussion, then a scifi element and explored established governments or fleshed out new ones (most of the roles were tied to Western Characters in a frontier settlement... the doctor even calls his practice Frontier Medicine in the first episode).

Another option is that you do a procedure with a focus on the courts over the enforcement of the law. This means that the drama of the stories is arguing about the ideals of the society, and one party represents one side and the other represents the opposing side. It could work out that your characters are civil attorneys rather than criminal as civil trials tend to allow a grey area to the opposing sides, rather than the black and white nature of criminal courts.

The more criminal side of the drama could explore the limits of the imposed rules in your world and what is and isn't allowed.

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