The Case of the Infodumping Suspect

My current project is a fantasy-ish detective novel, written in the first person.  Currently I’ve got the problem where the detective finds a suspect and has to get a large chunk of information from them.  There’s a couple of ways of presenting this to the reader, with the goal of making this as interesting as possible.

I could have a short, punchy exchange between the suspect and the detective.  Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, does this a lot, firing off snappy dialogue exchanges with his suspects.  I could have a long first person speech by the suspect, with each paragraph in quotes.  Conan Doyle was fond these long speeches (with no interruptions or questions!)    Also, see a lot of murderers’ confession speeches, especially in the cosy genre.

I could tell a ‘story within the story’.  What’s the best way of doing this?  I could do this in first person from the suspect’s point of view.  I’d have to be careful that it’s obvious that this new first person dialogue is different from the detective’s narrative voice.   Or I could change the point of view for the ‘story within a story’.  Examples where this has worked well in books I loved was in ‘Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which consisted of a tight first person narrative where the ‘suspects’ told overlapping and contradictory tales in the third person, when interviewed.  Another windy story, ‘Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss does the inverse – a third person framing sequence around a first person narrative.  The ‘story within a story’ was done less successfully by Conan Doyle in the Sign of Four.  I remember getting really confused when the narrative took a left, third person turn into the American west, with no Watson in sight.

The current plan is to start with writing up my suspect’s tale as a third person story within the story, and see how it fits in with the rest of the text.  While this is a obviously a narrative conceit , what’s really happening in the dim, smokey room where my detective and crew are questioning the suspect?   Are they sitting around spellbound why the suspect narrates his short story?  Is this a reconstruction later on after lots of questions and threats?  Do I need to worry about this at all?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *