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Author Topic: Your preference for non-chronological stories...  (Read 502 times)

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Offline grdellTopic starter

Your preference for non-chronological stories...
« on: November 25, 2014, 10:52:51 PM »
I've been thinking lately about non-chronological stories and how best to go about presenting them. I know which of these I prefer (Middle - Beginning - End), but I'm curious to see how others feel.

(My second favorite, BTW, is End - Middle - Beginning.)

So sound off, please. Which is your favorite and why?

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Your preference for non-chronological stories...
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2014, 11:08:34 PM »
Anachronistic orders are fun to deal with. I'll bet Middle, beginning, end pops up the most.

That's a certain type of anachronistic order call en medias res, which is Latin for in the middle of things, basically.

It tends to be favored by writers and readers because it lets people get into the middle of some action without having to stage a hard set up. Then it'll go back to the start gradually in the second act to wrap things up in prep for the finale. It's been popular sine people were telling story. One of the irrefutable conventions of classic epic poems is that they have to start in the middle of their narrative.

It's my favorite, but starting in the middle of an event doesn't count, it has to start in the middle of the protagonist's story. Just a common misconception.

Offline Shjade

Re: Your preference for non-chronological stories...
« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2014, 02:23:58 AM »
My favorites aren't mentioned.

One would be all mixed up, in which the point of reference for time is constantly going back and forth throughout, so the full story might resemble something more like middle-beginning-end-middle-end-beginning-middle-end.

The other is just "middle-end," leave the beginning off the page for the reader to fill in from cues during the story. Though I guess that's not really "non-chronological," so eh.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Your preference for non-chronological stories...
« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2014, 09:49:29 AM »
My favorites aren't mentioned.

One would be all mixed up, in which the point of reference for time is constantly going back and forth throughout, so the full story might resemble something more like middle-beginning-end-middle-end-beginning-middle-end.

The other is just "middle-end," leave the beginning off the page for the reader to fill in from cues during the story. Though I guess that's not really "non-chronological," so eh.
Nope, it still is. It starts in the middle. In general authors have to be careful about not going back the beginning in some way because it's incredibly easy to seem lazy. That's why the ones that are done well are often memorable.

Offline Shjade

Re: Your preference for non-chronological stories...
« Reply #4 on: November 27, 2014, 01:15:59 AM »
And it can be hard to define what differentiates "middle" from "beginning" in a story that may not have a firm "beginning" present in the story.

I'm thinking of Stephen Hunter's The Second Saladin as an almost-but-not-quite example. Short version: X years ago a covert op went south, a CIA op got snagged and tortured by the KGB, the Kurds he'd been working with were massacred almost completely and the woman (also American) who'd been embedded with them got out alive but traumatized. In the present, one of the surviving Kurds from that op has gotten into the U.S. to kill the man he feels is responsible for that whole debacle.

For most of the book, most of what I just described above isn't on the page in detail. Momentary flashes here and there, characters in the present talking about past events, some internal narration, but for the most part we just start at the "shit is going to be bad" part of the story and leave the preliminary off the page. Later we get a couple more in-depth flashbacks - the agent's torture in some detail, the woman's last days with the Kurds via reading her diary - so it more or less gets that on paper eventually, but in a story like this it's a little hard for me to decide if it's truly starting in the middle or if it starts at the beginning and the rest is purely backstory. It's so integral to the "now" that if it were missing the book would make almost no sense at all, so it feels like part of the core story, but structurally...not so sure.

Offline Caehlim

Re: Your preference for non-chronological stories...
« Reply #5 on: November 27, 2014, 09:52:00 AM »
Personally I'm not a fan of non-chronological stories, it's always been a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

I prefer middle, beginning then end if it has to be done, because this way you can start the story, then explain some of the background and then return to normal storytelling in order to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Offline Hemingway

Re: Your preference for non-chronological stories...
« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2014, 03:12:03 PM »
What about wonky chronology like in the movie Memento? ;D

Stories that begin with the end can be fun. I can think of a few that get it wrong - stories where you see part of the ending, and then the entire rest of the story is just something you have to get through to find out what happens after what you saw first.

Others do it really well, by doing more than simply showing you how the end came about. I do like it when you have the wool pulled over your eyes, and the story makes you doubt or wonder what the ending was at all. Memento does that really well, in my opinion.