B1 Commentary: Playing with the Medium

If you’ve read B1: Dan Wakes Up, you might be intrigued—or just confused. At the very least I hope you understand this wasn’t just a “Surprise! It was all a dream!” scenario. In the draft published today I used an unreliable narrator to help the reader understand Dan Jones has been reincarnated as a four-year-old girl named Jillian Diaz-Jackson, remembering his encounter with the King of Dust as a nightmare.

When we read a story we often have to take the characters’ words at face value. There is no other source of information other than the words as written on the page, so writers can misdirect their audience. Lots of short stories make use of this, like those sci-fi pulps where it turns out the mysterious planet was earth all along, or the two survivors of the apocalypse are named Adam and Eve. Movies do it too: Remember in the Sixth Sense (spoiler alert) it turned out that dude was dead the whole time? He didn’t think he was dead so he didn’t act dead, and we viewers believed him. Well, in writing, we can pass off even more bold-faced lies, like making your main character secretly be a tomato or something. It’s great when done well, as I hope I’ve done here.

To ease readers into the transition between calling the character ‘Dan’ and calling them ‘Jillian,’ I refer to Jillian Diaz-Jackson as Dan in the text repeatedly. Even the title of the section, Dan Wakes Up, tells the reader they are following Dan Jones. While Jillian’s parents call her Jillian the narration says Dan. I only call the character Jillian when her mother specifically says her full real name, because I hope by then the reader has caught on. Transitioning to ‘Jillian’ outside the dialogue also hints that Dan’s self-image has changed. Now they’re Jillian even in their inner monologues!

There are subtler lies, too. I describe Dan as being in his mid-thirties in section A1, but I don’t warn the reader that he’s a toddler now. Instead I made Dan pick up his Teddy Bear, be afraid of the dark, speak in simple language, and get distracted by his cat. Jillian’s mother picks her up in one arm, so we’re clearly not dealing with a full-grown, thirty-something-year-old man. By showing these details I hope to create a cognitive dissonance in the reader which warns them something is amiss. I want to keep them on their toes, analyzing everything the characters do and say, so they understand the narrative trick I’ve pulled on them.

As a little bonus, the cat’s name is Django. The silent D hints at the transition from Dan to Jillian. (Also my childhood pet was named Django and I wanted to include him. Mrow.)

Anyway, thanks for reading! Until next time, keep eating your worms!

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