Mind-Blowing Postmodern Writing Techniques You Can Use in Your Next Novel
When you hear the term “postmodern”, what probably comes to mind is a series of surreal and disjointed images or a reflection in a shattered mirror. We associate it with a spirit of experimentation and scepticism. This trend of breaking with earlier conventions in art and literature began post World War II and still continues today. As we live in a postmodern world, popular writers have adapted their style to this prevailing mode of thought and feeling.
Postmodern writing has some distinct features that set it apart from all earlier forms. Postmodern novels make for exciting and engaging reads precisely because they subvert the reader’s expectations and celebrate chaos and disorder. If you too want to write a story that is unconventional, incorporate the following techniques into your next story-
“Fragmentation” simply means the breakdown of various elements and their dispersion throughout the novel. The idea is to reject the earlier notion of the unity of time, place and action or a linear flow of plot and character development. Using this technique will add playfulness to your novel as the reader will never be able to guess what comes next. You can reorganize the structure of the narrative by jumping from one timeline to the next or one character’s consciousness to another.
How to use it: Create a disconnected plot, a non-linear timeline and play around with facts
Who has used it: John Fowles’ renowned novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman features three alternate endings. Instead of offering a single outcome to the story, the writer resists closure by exploring multiple possibilities.
Metafiction is a narrative style where the writer self-consciously draws attention to the process of writing the story. Postmodern literature emphasized meaninglessness and play. Postmodern writers began to experiment with more “meta” elements in their novels and short stories, drawing attention to their work’s constructed nature and reminding readers that the author isn’t an authority figure. An example would be a novel about a novelist writing a novel.
How to use it: Address the reader directly in the story, or surprise the reader by appearing in the novel yourself!
Who has used it: Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote is essentially a book about books. Cervantes breaks the fourth wall by commenting on his process of writing the book, in which he urges the reader to make up their own mind about the written text.
The concept states that all works of literature are a derivation or have been influenced by a previous work of literature. There is deliberate intertextuality, which purposely borrows from texts, and there is latent intertextuality, which is when references occur incidentally. Some intertextual references are exact lines of dialogue or action, while others are more vaguely referenced. Any work of literature that is involved in the creation of a new text is considered intertextual.
How to use it: Refer to famous works from the past in your novel by quoting directly or introducing the characters from them into your story.
Who has used it: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is an intertextual work of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as it includes the wife of a secondary character from the novel as one of its own, and offers an alternative point of view on similar social issues in the original novel.
- Unreliable narrator
A classic way of creating plot twists is to introduce an unreliable narrator—a storyteller who withholds information lies to, or misleads the reader, casting doubt on the narrative. Their role is to confound the reader’s expectations and make them question reality by emphasising the arbitrary nature of facts. Postmodern novelists employ unreliable narrators to further muddy the waters with extreme subjectivity and prevent readers from finding any single meaning in the course of the story.
How to use it: Create one or more narrators who pretend to know the truth, leaving the reader conflicted.
Who has used it: Gillian Flynn, in her novel Gone Girl. When Amy Dunne takes on the role of the narrator halfway through the novel, it comes as somewhat of a surprise. This is because readers have spent the first half of the book thinking she is dead, thanks to the novel’s first unreliable narrator, Amy’s husband Nick.
- Magical realism
Like fairy tales, magical realism novels and short stories blur the line between fantasy and reality. Within a work of magical realism, the setting is realistic, but fantastical elements are considered normal in this world. Magical realism authors deliberately leave the magic in their stories unexplained in order to normalize it as much as possible and reinforce that it is part of everyday life. The reader is left questioning their own reality as anything seems possible.
How to use it: Include surprise magical elements in a story that is deeply grounded in the real world
Who has used it: Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children is about a boy who possesses telepathic powers because he was born at midnight the same day India became an independent country. Gabriel García Márquez uses it in One Hundred Years of Solitude, a multi-generational story about a patriarch who dreams about a city of mirrors called Macondo and then creates it according to his own perceptions.
Postmodern literature encourages playfulness and abandons rationality and absolute meaning in favour of endless possibilities. This is what makes this genre the most interesting among all in history. As a writer, you can participate in this trend by orienting your style towards these techniques. Go ahead and write a story that defies expectations and leaves your readers spellbound!