1. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    Start at the beginning? Or shortly after?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fronzizzle, Mar 28, 2014.

    Hello again all,

    I imagine the answer is a matter of preference, but I've been struggling with this for a few days and wanted some opinions.

    My story is about an impending apocalypse. The entire story is going to take place over 20 days. The first big decision comes in day four, and that is where the majority of the action is going to begin.

    My original intention was to start the story at the big decision, then back-fill the first four days as I move along. This is where the reader would learn what was happening, how it happened, why the decision was made, etc. It seems like it would add some mystery and intrigue, but at the same time might be confusing if the readers don't know what's going on.

    I also think the opening would be much more powerful to start on day 4, but then the "opening events" of days 1-3 would lose some intensity being told in a flashback instead of as they happen. Of course, I know I can control this somewhat by how I write it, but just speaking generally.

    Any thoughts on which way is better?
     
  2. dbesim
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    dbesim Contributing Member

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    Hi, Frinzizle, I've recently written a 5,000 story, where I pursued your first option (backfilled the background story as I moved along). However, the option you pursue depends on the type of story it is you're writing. Flashbacks can be a very intriguing way of drawing a reader in, if well-written.

    However, if the past catches up with the people in your story, then I would pursue the first option. If the past has nothing to do with your intended future, I would pursue the second. While some stories incorporate the past into the future, others just let it rest. If you're intending to let the past rest, then I'd recommend you use flashbacks. It would thus depend on what you intend to do.
     
  3. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, but personally I hate flashbacks, whether in novels or in film. To me it feels like the entire momentum of the plot comes to a screeching halt while the reader is shown a historical news clip. If the story needs some background data, I prefer that it is worked into the current story some way.

    However, a lot of successful writers use it and have used it, so who am I to say it's wrong?

    Obviously I don't now your story, but the first three days need not be dull and can be compressed. It also gives you a chance to build up some sympathy for the main characters before things go to hell.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I, too, do not particularly enjoy flashbacks, but to answer your question, @Fronzizzle, it's all down to the preference and opinion of the writer. You mentioned that it would be more powerful to start on day four, and if that's your gut feeling, then most of the time, in writing, the gut feeling is correct.

    But Bryan also has a point. The writer can help the readers sympathise with the characters in a different way if you simply started at the beginning.

    There is no better way. It's all down to the story you want to write. Don't look at trends in this case. Look instead at your story. Which way do you think it should be told? Go with your gut instinct, and I'm sure that'll be your answer. :)
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Starting as close to the action is usually a good idea.

    I can't imagine you need a flashback to reveal 4 days of backstory. I would think you might be able to reveal that much backstory within the current narrative.

    Or, make those first four days more exciting and less backstory, hard to say without seeing what you've written.

    I suggest you write the story and figure it out in the editing. So you write those four days but you might decide you can move some of the information into a different form and put it in day 5.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Just to piggyback on @GingerCoffee's advice, a lot depends on how critical the four days are to the story, and how much is involved in them. In the film, "Michael Clayton" (different medium, I know, but it happens to fit), we start out seeing the title character in a sequence that lets us know that he's a "fixer" for a law firm. A few hours are covered in a matter of minutes. Then, he steps out of his car to admire some horses (we have no idea why). Then his car blows up. Then we flash back a few days, which constitute 90% of the story by the time we get back to "real time" (when we know all about why he got out of the car and why it blew up).

    In your case, I suspect that those four days will not contain as much of the story as they did in "Michael Clayton". But only you know how important they might be.
     
  7. Fronzizzle
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    Thanks for the advice.

    The way my story sets up is basically this: Day 1 - outbreak, but very minor way out west. Day 2 - outbreak worsens, spreads outside the quarantine zone, but still not too much worry. Day 3 - cases quadruple, new transfer methods were discovered, videos/photos going up online. Day 4 - main characters decide to stay and fight (so the book would start as they are making this decision). Days 5 - on: how they prepare, what they encounter, what is happening in the rest of the world.

    I think by following this, I would have to almost flashback/recap the first three days relatively quickly so that the readers know what's going on. Or, I could do it slowly, overtime, to add intrigue.

    The flip side is, I start out slowly at day 1 when the characters first hear about an outbreak. Then day 2 they start freaking out a bit, day 3 they watch some of the videos together and know they have to do "something", then day 4 they make their decision.

    Putting it down like this shows me that either would work as long as I did it right. I guess I just have to decide which way I want to go.

    SEPARATE QUESTION: When I first joined this forum, I was getting email notification when someone responded to a post of mine. Now, I don't but I don't recall changing anything. I just checked the settings I can find, can someone point me to where to set this? Thanks.
     
  8. TLK
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    I'm fine with flashbacks, but that's not the reason I'd advise you to begin at Day 4.

    In my opinion, the beginning of a book is key, especially if you're a new reader and people are going to picking up your book off the shelves to see if it looks alright, rather than saying "oh it's a John Smith novel so it'll be a good read". I think an action packed, intriguing opening is a fantastic thing. For example:

    "There are very few occasions in which you can justify the killing of two hundred thousand defenseless civilians, but as Arthur stared at the control pad through his splayed fingers clasped around his face, he knew this one of those moments."

    A sentence like that draws the reader, or certainly a reader like me, into the action. It instantly sets the tension high and, more importantly, sparks off numerous questions in my head. Questions I may want to buy your book in order to find the answers to.

    Now, on the subject of flashbacks, you don't have to use them to fill in the reader on the past three days' events. Ok, if you have a specific event that happened to a specific character, then perhaps a flashback is the way forward (or should that be backwards?) but usually you can simply recount these events through narrative. As in many cases, "showing not telling" (or rather both, I suppose), is useful here (see the numerous articles and posts on this forum on the subject). For example, if the apocalypse was sparked by the arrival of the aliens, you could say something like:

    "Arthur gazed solemnly out of the window, looking blankly at the large, grey craters that had scarred the once beautiful landscape for the past three days. In truth, very few beautiful things remained at all. The aliens' arrival had seen to that."

    Hope this helps!
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    I think you can start with day one, build the tension. I think that can be where the action starts.
     

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