1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    the nonlinear storyline

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by deadrats, Aug 4, 2016.

    Have any of you played around with a nonlinear storyline? How have you done it? How has it worked? And do you have any thought on ending a story some place other than the present narrative?

    I think these can be fun but maybe a little tricky too.
     
    Malisky, Sal Boxford and jannert like this.
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Do you have ideas in mind? I know I've read books that start with the 'ending' or near the ending. There may be a bit more to come, usually the resolution of the story's main issue which won't come till the actual ending of the book, but in general the book starts with the end, moves back to the beginning, and we start to catch up. Sometimes there are flash-forwards during the backstory bits as well, reminding the reader of what the whole thing is leading to. Is that what you had in mind? Or did you envision something even more disjointed than that?
     
  3. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    I'm not sure what you mean by this.

    I haven't written anything yet with a non-linear story but it's how I want to present my Big Stupid Thing That Won't Die (that's not the title - I've just been working on it for far too long.) It has a few overlapping storylines and I might present the episodes of those individual stories in the correct order, but not have the events overall in the right order - I feel like that would be manageable. I would like though to have it happen out of order completely. It's sort of about chaos and unintended consequences so it feels like the right way to do it.

    I've had a play around with spreadsheets and index cards and mind maps and I've decided for now it's way beyond me. At some point I want to try it out on a smaller scale - see if I can write a short story that runs: 3, 6, 1, 5, 2, 4, 7 and actually pull it off.

    For now, it's very much a pipe dream.

    A very famous example of a completely non-linear narrative (which oddly I just posted about in the Useless Facts thread) is Catch-22. If you want to get an idea of how maddeningly complicated it can be to write like this. Take a look at Joseph Heller's 'plan':

    [​IMG]
     
  4. SweetOrbMace
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    SweetOrbMace Member

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    Wow, I already think Catch 22 is one of the greatest books ever written, but my admiration just deepened looking at that.

    Back to your original post, one chapter (quite a long chapter) in my being-beta-ed novel is non-linear. The conceit is that the main character has ingested something she didn't intend and is experiencing time out of order for a few hours. The idea being that she keeps "coming to" in the middle of new situations/conversations with no memory of getting there, but then in trying to remember how she got there and catch up with matters remembers something else or finds herself in the next situation.

    The chapter starts at the beginning but ends at the middle (although it is a key pivot point in the chapter's events). The actual end comes somewhere in the middle. I've not explained it very well, hopefully it works better in context.

    Anyway, I did a very rough linear outline of the chapter and everything that needed to happen, be said, and be heard. Then I basically free associated links between the various scenes that I could imagine my main character's addled brain making to trigger memories or send the reader forward/backward in time so that scenes kind of relate to each other in someway, even if though it is not linear progression. There's a degree to which it's deliberately confusing/hallucinogenic. We'll see how the betas react!

    I will say that it was definitely the hardest chapter to write and I am still astounded that Heller managed to plan out and then write a novel as incredible as Catch 22.
     
  5. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    This sounds really interesting. Hope you get a good response.
     
  6. Alex R. Encomienda
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    Alex R. Encomienda Active Member

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    Well I think it can be a very effective read! My WIP is not completely out of order but since it is a fantasy, there are mystical things such as ethereal planes, entities etc and there are certain times where the story reads from letters written by different characters. The letters are physical and nonphysical and are told somewhat out of order. I think it's a good read but not necessarily an easy read.
     
  7. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    I tend to do this in my writing, although I must admit that I haven't read many books of the same technique. The ones I've read though (and so as I) use the same trick. Example:

    You write one scene in the present -> Leave a space between the cut scene paragraph and the paragraph that you are about to write that takes place somewhere in the past -> You write the past scene -> You leave a space again... etc and -> Move back to the present again or another scene or you change the chapter. (Whatever you see fit).

    I personally prefer to keep it as simple as possible and not swap between present and past and parallel scenes with other characters in just one chapter. I might do it, if I don't see a way around it, but prefer not to. I choose a theme first. When swapping scenes between different characters, I usually change chapter. I think it's more communicative that way and each chapter is more solid upon a theme.

    Another thing to take into account is the transition between the scenes. How you cut one and start another. It's like patchwork art. The transition has to be reasonable. What I mean is that you have to have a reason to do that. Something that connects the past with the present. A thematic story you want to explain. It can be based on a feeling, a lesson, an inner understanding of ones actions, I don't know. Something important. Mostly as something that helps us understand the character more, rather than the general plot. The plot is driven by the characters actions anyways.
     

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