Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Excerpt Wednesday - The Rashomon Effect

The recent articles on the MuseItUp's June Conference blog ( ) are loaded with wonderful information. The last in the series is on switching point of view (POV).

One multiple POV method not mentioned is called the Rashomon effect because of the excellent way it was used in the Japanese film, Rashomon. A Wiki article lists several more examples of the technique used in popular culture.

This quote from Wiki is quite good: The Rashomon effect is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.

In "Missing, Assumed Dead" several characters are telling the main character, Kam McBride, what had happened in the past (a flashback). To avoid simple telling, I switched to another character's POV. I delineated these flashbacks into scenes, and even made them italic to set them off from the narrative.

The fun part is that the characters are relating the same incident to Kam, but each one has a slightly different view of the events, usually making themselves a bit more heroic than the other people in the same scene. This allows the reader to be suspect of the truthfulness of the characters.

It's not my original idea. That's why it already has a name, Rashomon Effect, in honor of the great Samurai movie of the 50s, directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring the wonderful Toshirō Mifune.

In the film, a crime occurs, and the film maker presents it four times, each from a different character's POV. Needless to say, the versions of the events vary, sometimes wildly, from each other. By the end of the film, you still don't know exactly what happened since none of the characters can be fully believed.

In addition to the contradictory retelling of the events by the different characters, there are two additional flashbacks. By the time they appear in the book, I hope the reader will be looking at everyone with suspicion.

Here are a couple of excerpts from "Missing, Assumed Dead," illustrating the Rashomon Effect in action. Two characters, Ray and George, describe their meeting to discuss the disappearance of Salvadore Vasco, the missing man of the title. Same event, but a big difference in the perception.

Ray's Story:

Ray went up the three steps into the Courthouse and turned left into George’s office. The self-appointed police chief sat behind his desk with his boots propped up on it. He raised his eyes from the Zane Grey novel he’d been reading.

“Hey there, Ray. What can I do you out of?” The fat man’s belly jiggled when he laughed at his own stale joke.

“I come about Salvadore.”


Ray shifted his weight from one foot to the other and glanced at the chair on his side of the desk. His legs ached, but he didn’t want to settle in for a long chat. George tended to run on some. “Only Salvadore in these parts far as I know. Anyways, has a habit of comin’ to town once a week, but he didn’t come last week nor this ’un.”

“So, what do you want me to do about it? Man’s gotta right to come to town or not.”

“True thing, but you know us old fellas like to stick to a schedule. It ain’t like him to not come in. I think someone oughta go up there and check on him.”

George glanced at the copy of Riders of the Purple Sage on his desk. “Why don’t you go, Ray? You’re his friend.”

“Yep, but he’d think I was buttin’ into his bizness if he’s okay. If you go, you can say sumthin’ about looking for someone else or what not.”

“So, I should lie to him but really just be checkin’ on his welfare, eh?”

“Yep. That’s what I’m thinkin’.”

George's Story

George sat in his office reading the latest statewide all-points bulletins for wanted criminals and stolen vehicles. Old man Ray from the Jack and Jill’s came in looking worried.

“Chief, I ain’t see Salvadore in a couple a weeks. I thought I’d better tell ya, since you’re the police and all.”

“Now, don’t get yourself all worked up, Ray. Old Salvadore prob’ly just don’t want to eat no more of your burnt burgers.”

Ray shook his head. “I don’t know what to do, George. Can you go check up on him?”

“Why sure, Ray. I’ll head up tomorrow morning for a welfare check.” George stood and walked around his desk. He patted Ray’s shoulder to comfort him. “You go on home and don’t fret. George is on the job.”


  1. And you worked your flashbacks in well. Scenes are much better than narrative.
    I remember reading or hearing when the police question witnesses to a crime, everyone has a different POV as to what they saw.
    And yes, in your novel it does cast suspicion on the characters. Nice surprise ending and a good read.

  2. Thanks, Lorrie. I know there were some alpha readers who HATED this. I'm glad I stuck with it.

    That wasn't you, was it?