1. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Revealing Part Of The Story At The Start Of The Novel...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TLK, Apr 9, 2013.

    So, let me start by clarifying what I mean by this. It is, as far as I'm aware, not a common tactic, but one that is seen and I'm sure that you'll all likely have read at least one novel that uses this.

    So, this is where part (the "part" varying in size) of the novel is revealed right at the beginning of the novel. It could be simply an excerpt of text that's been copied and pasted, or it could be a character having a flashback. For example, imagine the novel is about a man who has a week to build a spaceship to take him and his family to the moon before something bad happens. The opening part of the novel could be something like this:
    And then the story starts where this guy gets his task and blah blah blah.

    Now, obviously, the above example wasn't a good one since what this, I presume, is intending to do, is to get you excited about he novel and wanting to find how this all fits in place. Despite this though, I always used to be very sceptical about this idea, for the simple reason that it tells you what is going to happen and, what's the point of a novel (or film, game, anything) if you know what happens in the end? Yet, despite this, I've seen it used in a few places very effectively, most recently upon reading Ian Rankin's Closed Doors.

    So, my fellow forum-goers, what opinion do you hold on this? Is it effective? And when, if ever, should this technique be employed?
     
  2. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    ive used this a couple of times in something im writing, a series of flashbacks mixed with more current sections, the flashbacks steering towards where i am trying to go with the story.

    if done right, it could pull off, but its hard work, as you have to be careful how you write it, if necessary, write it without the bit at the start, then add it in near the end when you have the particular section.

    it depends on the writer, personally, i like the idea, and because i have a rather odd way of doing things, it works for me, and going from what the beta reader has fed back to me with, it works well with how i am writing it...
     
  3. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    In your story example, if the book ends with the family completing the ship, then I think it would be a mistake to tell the reader that they will accomplish their goal. You've eliminated suspense as no matter what obstacles you give the family, we know they will succeed. If, on the other hand, the story is comprised of the whole journey, from finding out they need the ship quickly to landing on the moon, then I could see you doing this. In that case, you would provide a little backstory after telling that the ship has been built and then go from there and the reader will worry about whether the ship blows up at launch, or they become lost on the way to the moon or they're running out of oxygen and can't land or whatever.


    After writing the above, I realize there are exceptions. If you have sufficiently dramatic subplots, a reader might be willing to follow your story knowing the outcome of the main problem. Historical fiction is based on the premise that you already know who wins the war or that the queen dies, and yet you can still write a very engaging story around these events. The distinction is that who wins the war is not the problem, but will the soldiers take the hill or will the soldier live through the battle.
     
  4. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    As jeepea said, if you want to use this technique it should be something before the climax of your story. In your example, the climax of the story should be happening after the ship is complete. It is not that uncommon though.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Whatever part of the struggle you reveal at the very beginning of the story will render whatever comes before it as backstory, because the reader already knows the ship is finished. The true conflict of the story must come after - will the ship function? Can he navigate it to the Moon? Will he be able to land it there? What will be the factors working against him? If the true struggle of the story is the building of the ship, then the beginning should be either the presentation of the challenge or a conflict that threatens to prevent the MC from attaining his goal.
     
  6. Quoux
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    Quoux Member

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    The technique you refer to is a literary element known as "In Medias Res" (or in other words: In the middle of things). :D

    This is used lots of times! But the majority of the time it is used as a cliche, jumpstart for their story, and for no real artistic or deviant purposes. And it works as this! But it, I daresay, is rare to accomplish this technique's full potential.

    The full potential I refer to (and was taught) is by starting a story like this before a denouement (or the time when all the knots become untangled; the word literally means "unknotting" in french). In essence; the use of this technique would be to quickly introduce a complex conflict at perhaps its most aggravated state (most likely to estalblish initial interest in the story) and then afterward describe the series of events that lead to this denouement. This is where the flaw occurs; the series of events before the unknotting should not only include the cause of said unknotting, but should also majorly apply to the occurrences afterward. Most of the time, they only include the cause, and then the story is only half finished once that point is reached. That should remove your skeptics of this element! The reader naturally expects that the first part of the story will only apply up until you reach the part that was referenced in the beginning. But once you give incredible meaning to that beginning even after; that is what truly impresses the reader!

    Hope I could elucidate more on this controversial topic!
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Except that I believe the OP was actually referring to starting at the end, revealing a portion of the conclusion of the story at the very beginning.

    I usually start my stories in the middle of things, because it's a great way to pull the reader in. But I never reveal or even hint at the final result at the beginning.
     
  8. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Thanks for the replies, guys.

    Another thing though. What if said flashback was someone flashing back from years after the novel has finished? So, in the above example, what if the guy is flashing back from a few years after they'd settled saying something like "we're happy here, but it wasn't easy". Whilst it does tell you that they're ok, it doesn't tell you the immediate end to the novel so, for example, they may have had to have a battle with aliens after landing, which would be the climax of the novel.
     
  9. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Don't do that. If i know it all ends well then i will not read the rest of the book. It is like spoiling your own work.
     
  10. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    But, to be honest, you can be pretty sure that any novel (especially if it isn't part of series) will end well. I mean, how many books have you read where in the end the hero dies and the world is taken over or whatever. I would have thought that, as long as you don't know how it ends well, the book will still be of interest to readers.
     
  11. Quoux
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    Quoux Member

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    It's like I said; thats the beauty in the story-telling when using in medias res (and also the challenge) because you are telling the end of the story (or near the end); now you gotta make the reader feel glad he read it!

    It is deterring to know how a book ends, thats true. I would not read a book if it told me the "end". But a story isn't written for an end (even though there is an end within it) but the story is written for the theme and the meaning. The center of the story is just as important as the end, if one is trying to convey meaning. Just like how reading the end of any classic piece of literature will not give you the full impact of the novel; the impact that compels readers to read in the first place.
     
  12. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    What i do when I go to buy new books to read is open them and read the first page or the first chapter if it is short. If I read about the ending at the very beginning I would not even consider buying it.
     
  13. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I would suggest, if you're closing the main conflict, don't use it. If the main conflict in your book is about inventing this "product" then you certainly shouldn't use it, because readers begin the novel knowing "Well, he does finish it." However, if finishing it is only a part of the main conflict, and there's something that they have to do once they have the finished product, then it's a different story altogether. What you don't want to do is settle the conflict of the story before the conflict has even been presented to the reader. If I get to chapter 3 and I read "We must finish it! They will kill us if we don't!" then I'll say "Oh, I already know that they finish it, though!" I might give the book a few more pages to see if there's more to the conflict. But that's only if I liked bits of the book up to that point.
     
  14. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Sometimes it gets you interested in the plot
    Sometimes it ruins the plot
    Sometimes it gets you excited
    Sometimes it makes the plot predictable

    This is really not down to the good/bad but more of down to the reader's perception
     

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