My story can't hide the fact that it is bildungsroman, but there really are few linear year-by-year character reveals on the shelves today. Nothing like The Curious Life of Benjamin Button is coming out today, or am I just missing it?

Test reads suggest that I have an engaging and identifiable story like this about a protagonist suffering years through a hidden epidemic. The character eventually becomes an antihero if this followed through chronologically. It could fit the classic Greek tragedy structure up until the finale which has reconciliation.

As the tags suggest, this is a question of reception in the contemporary market. Does an audience have the patience for the bildungsroman today, or are stories which span years finding reception by a different delivery?

I want to unfold my character in a way that doesn't just paint them as a loser and a coward—their early life looked like this—but the reader should empathize with their sins as a product of the system rather than a character flaw. This creates a concern with a linear plot structure typical of the bildungsroman. The story is to steer the anger toward everyone who crushed the protagonist. I think that effect is a matter of timing the connections between bad choices and their external causes. That is simple enough until your external cause is the surprise, hidden off-camera for the end. Yes, it sounds like I painted myself into a corner by choosing how to dose out the good and bad news, but if I can publish a linear bildungsroman today, then the dilemma is solved. Hence the question.

I did recently pick up a book that has the elements of my story without the fall from grace, in a strict linear delivery: The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. It appears to be well received. A doctor delivers his own twins and keeps the healthy boy but abandons the girl who had Down's Syndrome. The book follows the lives of both twins in separate homes, while the Doctor carries the secret of their relationship to the grave. Both kids grow up robbed of a sister/brother; his wife never once even touched her own daughter, having been told that she died at birth (they even held a mock funeral). Another key difference here is that the doctor is not a villain but reacted to a past trauma, and carried the grief through the whole book.

Now, Edwards’ delivery works for the angle she chose, which really doesn’t focus on the daughter Phoebe as the protagonist. In context, my scenario requires the fact that Dr. Henry abandoned the daughter to be the big reveal, in contrast to Edwards’ choice to begin the book with this secret haunting the whole narrative. In a way the story is more about the adults, where I move the story to the child's eyes. My protagonist learns his father robbed him of a life of memories, and this loss breaks my protagonist, who falls to corruption, but finally finds reconciliation.

I'm looking for:

There is a punch to the gut intended at the end as the lies and betrayal are revealed, and the magnitude of the loss is put on display. This is planned to bring the message home poignantly. Not exactly the traditional bildungsroman structure.

So where’s the crisis? It leaves a book full of chapters upon chapters of a fallen protagonist, soaking up all the blame. In days of old a bildungsroman audience had the patience for this. Here we are today with short attention spans, in my inexpert opinion. But honestly, how long can an audience tolerate your protagonist's misdeeds before learning their antihero is not the villain, but the victim? It would effectively be a villain-to-hero plot twist at the finale.

  • 2
    I'd try any or all of your 'begin with' scenarios and see what works. We can't write your story for you. Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 18:19
  • I believe the story is complete, did I word my question about fiction style and organization wrong? I wrote it after first consulting the help on what types of questions to avoid. It was intended to look for real-world experiences with generating a predictable audience reaction through a specific plot structure. A David Copperfield won't likely be received the same today; but if I knew, there would be no question. Does "see what works" mean publish multiple versions of one story?
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Feb 28, 2022 at 18:33
  • I'm sorry but I don't really understand your question. For me, if a story is complete, the structure has been finalised. In terms of 'generating a predictable audience reaction through a specific plot structure', I don't think that's quantifiable: what works for one novel doesn't work for another. Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 20:42
  • The title and first few paragraphs here are about bildungsroman, which Wikipedia tells me is a "coming of age story" but then the meat of the question appears to be about a twist ending, where the reader finds out that an important piece of information was hidden from both the protagonist and the reader. It's difficult to provide and answer because the actual question is unclear.
    – codeMonkey
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 19:20
  • @codeMonkey It should be better organized now
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 19:45


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