1. aClem
    Offline

    aClem Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2013
    Messages:
    197
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    San Jose, Costa Rica

    Style Out of sequence presentation of events

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aClem, Dec 27, 2013.

    I am working on a life story with a span of around 50 years. It is essentially a memoir whose main character is not the narrator. Since the main character is not famous, the mundane events of the first 25 years are only interesting in light of what happens later. Celebrity biographies can get away with starting at the beginning since the readers already know where the story is headed. I am currently reading Keith Richards' autobiography and even he starts off in the middle, when he was already quite famous.

    In my case, I have chosen to start the narrative near the end, show enough of the "point" of the story to interest the reader in how the main character got to that point (in his future) and wonder how things will end up.

    I may be asking too hypothetical a question, but I am trying to decide how much or how little background to give at the (future) starting point. As I write this out, I am beginning to see the pros and cons of telling more at the front of the book rather than saving it for later when it will appear in natural sequence.

    I think it's a judgement call no matter what. I THINK the trick is to give away as little of the past as possible and still have the "preview" make sense on its own and pique the reader's interest.

    Anyone have any thoughts on this? Has anyone read something on the topic that I might want to read? Thanks in advance.
     
  2. JayG
    Offline

    JayG Banned Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2013
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    358
    Location:
    Philadelphia PA
    Personal opinion, but I can't see it working. Let's assume that you write it brilliantly, with tension, excitement, and a climax that thrills. Why would I want to go back and read the person's history after that? That's informative but not entertaining, and people read to be entertained. And if you interleave it with the exciting part why would I want to stop reading the exciting part and plow through a chronicle of boredom?

    With a known personality, we begin early, and are watching the person be shaped into what they will become. That provides the interest to override reading what may seem like a history. But you're talking about the history of a fictional character, and you say it's not compelling.

    I wish I had better news, and maybe it can be done, but...
     
  3. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,778
    Likes Received:
    7,288
    Location:
    Scotland
    What is it that makes you want to write a story about this person? (By the way, you haven't said if this is a work of fiction in biographical form, or if this is about a real person.)

    If you're going to try this out-of-sequence format—which does work—you'll need to start us with something intriguing about this person. Something that isn't 'ordinary.' Once you've hooked us, we'll be interested in finding out how this person got to be the way they are.

    It makes sense for Keith Richards to start his story in the middle, because it's in the 'middle' when we all got to know him, and when he became famous. We're already interested in Keith Richards, which is why we picked up the book, so he starts us with his 'interesting familiar' and lets us know throughout the course of the book, how the 'familiar' came to be ...and then what happened next, and what is still happening to him, which we all want to know.

    You, however, are starting with somebody we don't know, so, as @JayG pointed out, we'll need to WANT to know this person. Starting with 'he was born, then he went to school,' will NOT work very well, in my opinion, because we don't care about this person yet. You need to get him/her to Keith Richard status in our heads. We need to be interested in his/her life. Then we'll want to know how he or she became interesting, and hopefully 'what happens next.'

    I can't quote any particular books on the subject of writing biographies—but I'm sure they're out there. Seek out a few, and pick out the tips you think apply to you and what you are writing. But most importantly ...write it. If you need to re-jig the order later on, at least you'll have all the raw material collected. Structural ideas will probably emerge as you write. Once you have a first draft done, people can give you specific feedback on what works and what doesn't.

    I know there is lots of advice out there, and lots of different approaches which work for various people on this forum, but my own first piece of advice (beyond acquiring grammatical expertise) is to FINISH what you're writing. Don't worry overmuch about making storytelling mistakes, because you will make them anyway! You really can't work on your story structure till you have all the materials to hand.
     
  4. aClem
    Offline

    aClem Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2013
    Messages:
    197
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    San Jose, Costa Rica
    To reply to both of the above, it is not fiction. It is a memoir, but I am not the main character. The main character is my junkie brother.

    Whether or not I am able to pull it off, there have been several biographical stories by heroin addicts and other addicts that have worked and even sold. There may be no room for another, or perhaps there is.

    I plan to start near the end of his life, with some quite sordid scenes of what he had become. I hope to be able to show some of his good side as well, so that the reader will be interested in why he chose the path he did, and be interested enough to tolerate the mundane along with the prophetic parts of his pre-addict life.

    It's a study in psychology but also a study of the era and culture we grew up in, children of the 50s and 60s reaching adolescence then adulthood in the late 60s to late 70s, suburban and essentially middle class.

    This is a story I want to tell and I will publish electronically, if nothing else. If I only sell a few copies to friends, I'm okay with that. I would prefer to write something truly good and with mass appeal, but que sera, sera.

    I am very grateful for all help I have gotten and will likely get here improving my "project."

    Thanks jannert and JayG for taking time to respond, and thanks to any others who care to weigh in.
     
  5. TWErvin2
    Offline

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,528
    Likes Received:
    561
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    While this is fiction, maybe you could look at The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

    It begins at the end, when Eddie dies trying to save a little girl from an amusement park ride accident.

    Then it the story jumps around to various parts of his life. There are even "Today is Eddie's Birthday" sections, that talk about a certain birthday as he's growing up. It may give you an idea how to go back and forth, using events to build up and emphasize others or show the relationship/impact.

    Good luck as you move forward.
     
    aClem likes this.
  6. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Also read Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 for a more extreme, but effective, example of nonlinear storytelling.
     
  7. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,836
    Likes Received:
    10,013
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Also Octavia Butler's Clay's Ark. She takes the sequential order of the chapters, folds them in half and presents them alternatingly: last, first, penultimate, second, and so on until you come to the middle of the story at the end of the book. An unusual, but intriguing approach for a story.
     
    Jakarutu likes this.
  8. aClem
    Offline

    aClem Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2013
    Messages:
    197
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    San Jose, Costa Rica
    Yes, he does it wonderfully. I actually saw the movie first (in a theater!) then got the book. I will take a look at some of the other examples as well. I don't want to make the book tricky but I do want to maintain interest which might be a problem unless I mix post and pre addiction segments.
     
  9. Alesia
    Offline

    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2013
    Messages:
    998
    Likes Received:
    251
    Location:
    Knoxville, TN
    My current manuscript starts out with the MC's sister narrating the story of the last time she saw her sister, her sister's suicide, and her feelings in the aftermath. As the narrative continues, the narrator finds her sister's diary and begins to read it. At that point the story line jumps back two years to show the drug addict sister in a cleaned up state via a series of diary entries intertwined with Zoe's thoughts, feelings, and back story as she reads them.

    Basically you are reading the diary along with Zoe and get to watch her grow and get closure on her sister's death as you (at the same time) watch her sister, Allison, decline through her diary.

    In other words, the last 3/4 of the book or so jumps around between current events and events that happened several years previous-all in all maybe 15-20 years of history.

    (The timelines are clearly labeled by the way, so there should be no confusion.)

    I think you should start out with something interesting like this: A major event that affects several people in such a way that you can get a bare bones knowledge of the people involved, but not tell them everything. But be sure to keep it interesting! Like how I started with the narrator talking about how precious her sister is to her now, then jumped back to how much she hated her guts before. The reader will then want to know how her opinion made such a transition and keep on reading to find out.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2013
  10. aClem
    Offline

    aClem Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2013
    Messages:
    197
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    San Jose, Costa Rica
    Thanks, Alesia. We are dealing with very similar subject matter and I think it requires some jumping around in sequence to keep things interesting.
     

Share This Page