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So what started as an attempt to write a memoir, I found myself struggling to commit to just one underlying theme. I also found writing about myself in different time periods, it felt as though I was writing about entirely different characters. It just didn't read well, so I stopped writing for a while. I wanted to put more thought into how I would write and structure my book. I wasn't dead set on writing my story as a memoir. Thinking about both the problems I was having (not having a specific theme I could stick to, and feeling like I was writing about completely different characters when I wasn't trying to). It got me thinking about the fluidity of identity. How in my own way, I have lived many lives, played many roles. How my very identity has changed with my environment. And so I believe I found my theme. I want to write this as a fictional story (albeit one that is autobiographical in nature). But I am considering writing it as though the book is following multiple main characters. Slowly leaving clues and hints that they are in fact the same person, which will be revealed towards the end.

I suppose what I am asking, as I am just a hobby writer. Can this be done? Has it been done before? Or better yet, has it been done well? I feel it will need to be done with a great amount of thought put into it, certainly. Or do I risk it being incomprehensible rubbish? Any advice, or examples of this being done is greatly appreciated!

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  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
    – wetcircuit
    Commented May 28, 2023 at 14:09

2 Answers 2

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The mechanics of how to do this are relatively straightforward. Your characters can have slightly different names:

  • Bill
  • Billy
  • Will
  • William

Some of them might not have names:

  • the toddler
  • the little boy
  • the teenager
  • the carpenter
  • the old man

Or if different chapters have different narrators they might talk about

  • my son
  • my brother
  • my husband
  • my father
  • my employer
  • the nice old man who owned the hardware store
  • my neighbour

In one of the chapters, the character might get a last name. Or perhaps the neighbour children give him a nickname like "old giant glasses" or "mean mr checked shirt".

Some people might realize that these are all the same person, and others might not. You can pull the threads together by having one version of the person experience something, and elsewhere in the book have another one tell a story about something they experienced, and it being the same incident (but not identical, because of how memories shift over time.) If you do that twice, people will get it, there's no need for a third one unless it's to hammer on those differences induced by memory and time.

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It seems to me that you are struggling with what all beginning writers are struggling with: lack of experience.

What you are trying to do is no different and no more difficult than any other writing project. They all require a carefully crafted internal structure. And currently you don't know how to do that.

Most beginning writers do not understand that writing is a skill that needs to be learned as any other skill. You wouldn't expect to play the violin masterfully, if you just picked it up for the first time. No amount of thinking or tips will get you there. What you need to do is write a novel, fail, and write the next one. And slowly develop your skill as you do.

Now the choice that you have is to put your current project – that seems to be close to your heart – aside and write a few novels until you feel confident enough to approach it. Or you can write it, fail, put it away, write a few other novels, and, once you have acquired the necessary skill, revise it. Or (and I strongly advise against this) you can begin your project and revise and revise for the next ten years, as many beginners do with their heart's project, until you are either happy – or give up on writing altogether.

So, to summarize:

  1. You don't neet specific information on how to approach this specific project. You need to acquire writing skill.
  2. You acquire writing skill by writing.
  3. Learning means failure.

To give some specific hints:

  • First understand what you are trying to narrate.
  • Develop the internal structure from that understanding.
  • Develop your characters (in your case: the different selves through time).
  • Plan the development or "arcs" of whatever changes there are and how you want to express them (in your case: what is the relation between those different selves and the different moments in time?).
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  • This feels like sound advice. Although, maybe I should've specified. I'm not trying to become a published writer. I've no intention of writing other novels. I have been writing for most of my life. But purely for my own enjoyment. This will likely be the only novel I ever write. If I spend the next decade writing it, I'm good with that. Even if no one ever reads it. I still believe, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing it to the very best of my abilities. And as I have never written a full novel, I was hoping for some advice on structure & character development as it pertains to my project.
    – user59788
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 6:39
  • "advice on structure & character development as it pertains to my project" – Asking for what to write is considered off topic on this site. We don't want to write your novel for you! As for how to approach that problem, please read the second part of my answer. It is actually all very simple and straightforward once you approach your project in a strategic manner. Break it down into smaller problems (character, timelines, parallelism etc.) and tackle them one after the other, then combine. Have you written essays for school or papers for university? Do it like that! Structure and planning!
    – user55858
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 7:38
  • Wasn't asking what to write. I have just never read a book that was structured in the way I was considering doing mine. I find it helpful to look at examples. And if there are no examples, maybe there is a reason for that. Maybe my idea is utterly garbage. I wouldn't know. Trying to better understand how everything works as I am doing my planning.
    – user59788
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 18:52

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