1. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    Chronological Order

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by zilly, Mar 21, 2011.

    I enjoy reading anything different, but I don't often come across any story that is narrated non-chronologically.

    I know that plenty of stories utilize flashbacks and other techniques to mix things up a little bit, but I'm unfamiliar with any books that are narrated in reverse order or some variation -- like the movie Memento. And, as I mentioned, even books like Fight Club that just have an interesting order about them are hard to come across.

    There are some books that start at the end and then go back to the beginning, but I don't know of any that start at the end and work their way back.

    I realize that this is for good reason. Memento is probably my favorite movie, but I didn't have the slightest idea about anything that was going on in the movie until it was a third of the way over. I don't think that's such a big deal for a movie, but, for a book, I could see how that would be extremely annoying.

    So how do/would you feel about a book like this?

    I think it works for mystery plots very well because it adds to the list of things out of the ordinary. Other than that, I think it's just a gimmick that can get in the way more than anything else.

    Movies and books are different in a lot of ways. I think that it can work to a movie's advantage for the viewer to not know what's going on for a while. For a book, I don't think it's such an advantage.
     
  2. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    Kurt Vonnegut experimented with time travel in Slaughterhouse-Five. The main character experiences events from the past and future randomly. Great book.
     
  3. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    Memento drove me nuts, I couldn't finish it.
    Sometimes authors will show different points of view of the same scene, and will make small jumps back in time for the different characters. Larry McMurtry does this effectively.
     
  4. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    It sounds like you've never read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. If you like this type of storytelling, this book is a must read. His style taught me a lot about writing.
     
  5. Momo
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    Momo Member

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    Oh! One of my favorite books is written in a non-traditional time line! Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King starts at the end of the events that happened, then shifts to the middle and branches out in both direction from there (forward and behind). It jumps a few times (not just in flash backs) and doesn't suffer from it at all. I recommend it to anyone, although a few friends told me they had trouble reading it simply because they found it to be boring... personally, I think it is one of King's best works. :love:

    For me it seems like the above mentioned book worked with a non-traditional timeline type situation because it was more about the emotional impact that the MC had to suffer throughout her life. The entire book is narrated by the MC in a police station, recounting the events that unfolded, and as I said above it jumps around in great spans of years.

    If this type of mechanism is used well, then it is definitely something that peaks my interest. It sort of ignores time as it can be counted by a clock and instead follows the time that can be counted by our hearts.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
     
  7. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    The author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, wrote his second published novel entirely in reverse: Survivor. It starts at the end (Chapter 47) and you don't know how any of it began until you work your way right back to Chapter 1. It's widely available.
     
  8. bruce
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    bruce Active Member

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    Check out "Time's Arrow" by Martin Amis.

     
  9. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    If you engage in such experiments I suggest you start by separating in your mind the plot from the story.

    As long as your plot advances, you can twist and break everything else. There's no limit to how you can bend and break reality. When you write, be inside the world you're creating; when you plot, see it from afar.
     
  10. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Memento is a good film, but wow its annoying if you watch it more than twice. All those repeated moments! In the end the whole thing was a gimmick to tell a basic story. I have the film on DVD but probably won't ever watch it again.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if it works, you really don't even notice it... if it doesn't, readers like myself will give up trying to make sense out of mexican-jumping-bean-time-frames and toss the book...
     
  12. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been playing around with this lately. Chronological order got boring all of a sudden. "This thing happened, then this thing happened, and then, after that, guess what? Another thing happened!" Lame.
     
  13. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    Amen. I'm notorious for starting in the middle of a story and then having the characters relay the important events beforehand through dialogue/flashbacks/dreams, but even that is kind of boring, albeit less.
     
  14. tiggertaebo
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    tiggertaebo Member

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    I like non-linear chronologies, if they are done well then they can be very effective. I thought Memento was a great film - for those that enjoyed that and managed to follow it you can move on to the advanced test of watching Primer :D
    It's not a technique I've seen in many of the books I've read, allthough there have been a few probably the only one not mentioned so far that springs to mind immediately is The Time Traveller's Wife
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's only 'lame' if written 'lamely'!
     
  16. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, like if it's written like all the other books out there. Lame.
     
  17. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    Yeah, I don't think using or not using chronological order is the ultimate factor in whether a novel is good or not. It can be the ultimate factor, if it's done poorly. But so can a million other things.

    It seems like the really good novels I have read have several characters or groups of characters, and the author divides time equally between them to describe what is happening. When switching to the other character(s), the author selects a logical break point, but also leaves some type of conflict unresolved that leaves you wanting to get back to character A. If it is a great novel, there is a continual process of wanting to find out what happens to characters A, B, C, etc, and you enjoy everyone's story almost to the same degree. A magical balance is achieved between the time spent with each group/character.

    Now I just need to take my own advice about what I like to read, and write that way.
     
  18. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dreams and flashbacks drive me batty - it feels like the author is taking the easy way out by just telling you what has already transpired. I think dialogue is much more effective if something significant to the plot occurred prior to the beginning.
     
  19. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    I agree. But, I like to use as many things as possible. Also, I use dreams/flashbacks mostly in screenplays, not in books. I think they suit much better there.
     
  20. NateSean
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    NateSean Active Member

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    The Time Traveler's Wife alternates between the Henry and Clare's point of view. And because Henry suffers from a condition that makes him move forward and backwards in time, the story is told out of order in the beginning depending on who is narrating.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'all'!??
     
  22. nuwriter*me
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    nuwriter*me Member

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    Many readers are more comfortable with a linear form of writing, e.g. beginning to end. This could have something to do with our deductive education and, in part, to movies, mainstream. Literary critics say that we are warm to anything familiar, shocked by anything foreign, such as a new writing form. But, the more experience reader and writer understand these needs, as Iser would say.
     
  23. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well obviously not ALL all, but I mean if it's like the same kinda stuff everyone else is writing. If it doesn't feel fresh and original. Very few stories do.
     
  24. Bay K.
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    Bay K. Contributing Member

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    QUOTE:
    "There are some books that start at the end and then go back to the beginning, but I don't know of any that start at the end and work their way back"

    Uhh, same thing. Conflict here. Clarify.
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the fact that most readers prefer the standard style of story-telling and don't cotton to 'foreign' forms doesn't mean the writing is 'lame'... unless your idea of 'lame' includes the works of our most revered 'greats'...
     

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