1. Lanthal
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    Lanthal Member

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    Years later...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Lanthal, Jun 27, 2013.

    Hi guys, I've been working on an idea on and off for a long time now, it is a fantasy setting and the protagonist is exiled from his people (who are a renowned warrior race) at a young age. The MC's development is centred around his growth outside of his clan and how he comes to understand that a lot of what he understood to be the truth is in fact false and that, while they are an important part of the armies of the kingdom, his people are actually very elitist, not-very-nice people.

    Anyway the point of this thread is to ask whether there is a way to successfully jump ahead a few years between major events in a single book. Basically there is a life-changing event in his early teens that leads to him making certain decisions and I want to jump ahead about 3 years to see what has eventuated as a result of that decision and continue the story. Is there a way to do that well in a single book do you think?
     
  2. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Yes. Many books that I've read will name whole sections, or parts. Part 1 has these chapters and events, and then bam...we move to part 2, and so on.

    It just would be a logical shift. It could even be done in the form of a chapter break, though inside of a chapter that might be a bit jarring.
     
  3. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I've got to second maskedhero here. Using sections or parts will definitely help with that much of a jump in time. Also, if the life-changing event can be presented quickly, it could be a prologue. While that's an option, I don't suggest it. I'm still haunted by the memory of a published author saying she always skips prologues when reading books. You could also turn your book into an anthology of sorts, having multiple novellas in the same book. Again, not the best option, but an option nonetheless. There isn't even necessarily much of a difference (except maybe in the small print?) between that and doing it in sections or parts.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, easy. Novels do it all the time. A new chapter at least, perhaps a new part.

    It's a simple matter of scene transition. Read Destiny's Road by Larry Niven for an example.
     
  5. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Very easy to do. You can use a phrase similar to "Three years later" to begin the new chapter after the life changing event chapter ends. Don't try and do it in a single chapter though, it can distort the focus
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, for pity's sake. Heal41hp is absolutely correct. If a life-changing early scene can be presented quickly—or even if it can't, and takes a normal chapter's length to unfold—and there is a chronological gap lying between it and the rest of the story, of COURSE a prologue is called for.

    When is this silly prejudice against prologues going to stop?

    The contortions modern writers go through to avoid producing them, on the basis of inane prejudice on the part of some readers, is silly in the extreme.

    Sometimes a prologue is a very logical way to present the beginning of a story, such as here. A prologue signals the reader that its scene is crucial to the story, but will precede the rest by a significant period of chronological time.

    Anyone—published author or not—who 'automatically' skips prologues, needs a wake-up call! Skipping prologues makes just as much sense as automatically skipping Chapter One, or Chapter Three, or page 25.

    Just read what the author gives you! It's all part of the story, and the way they've chosen to organise it and to tell it. Make up your mind later. Sheesh...
     
  7. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I agree, especially in the Fantasy genre. There is almost always a prologue in those books, and I don't mind it in the slightest.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    A prologue, part one, flashbacks, or revealing the past within the story – I don't see why we should discard any of these options. I propose only that whichever one is chosen, look into how it's done right and how it's done wrong.

    I've read people here saying they skip prologues. I often skip them in non-fiction because they come across so dry and uninteresting. That makes me think the hook in the prologue is just as critical as the hook in chapter one. And I believe you do need a second hook in chapter one if you go with a prologue.

    I would think prologue vs part one and two would depend on length and the nature of the 'life changing event'. There may be other key components that it also depends on.

    If one chooses revealing the information within the body of the story it's important it doesn't read like an info-dump.

    My book structure is evolving. I struggled for a while where to begin. The story is YA, but the protag's childhood is important to the story. I didn't want to start with her at age 10 and go chronologically because the childhood wasn't the story. A prologue didn't work because there was no single event or turning point that affected her later, there was too much childhood story to make a prologue with a well fitting length, and the scenes didn't flow as a story. They were single events, about one a year, age 10, age 11, age 12 and so on. Revealing the childhood in the story didn't have the potential for as much impact the childhood had on this character.

    I began working in flashbacks and I liked how it was going, but I ran into trouble. I didn't find flashbacks working when I bounced around between memories out of chronological order. And making the tie-in to the flashback relate to the current story didn't lend itself to the chronology of the events in childhood.

    I've gotten a lot of generalized advice in my critique group, don't do the prologue, don't do the flashbacks, reveal the childhood in the story. I have a lot of respect for my critique group, I have learned so much from them. But I've also grown as a writer and I have confidence in my work. Critique groups have limitations, especially if they are not reading your finished book straight through. They are reviewing snippets sometimes without context. And one critiquer has one point of view. My best reviewer can't help but want to inject his preferences for more action and his concept of conflict is narrow.

    So I'm using a different structure right now and we'll see how it goes but I really like how it's working. I'm presenting two parallel stories. So rather than a flashback to a single event, the story flashes back and forth between two time periods. I can hear all the cringes as I write this, but I'm not worried. My protag defies social pressure to conform, maybe that says something about my choosing this story structure. ;)
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If it's part of the story, make it a chapter. You can rail against the "bias" about prologues, but your goal should still be to get into the actual story right away.

    If it's back story, it shouldn't be written at all. The reader should at most get a rare fleeting glimpse as the story unfolds. Even parts of the story before the chosen starting point should be handled in this way.

    Don't break guidelines just because you dislike them on a visceral level. Only break them if you understand where the guidelines come from and you can clearly identify a benefit which exceeds the drawbacks the guideline exists to prevent.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The guidelines you speak of depend on defining terms. Sometimes one's story doesn't fit the standard definition.

    One person's backstory is another person's story. When I say my protag's childhood is important to understand the character it calls up images in people's minds. They make a judgement, story or backstory? But the writer has the advantage of knowing the answer to that question, or at least the advantage of knowing more about it than the impression one gets purely from the term, childhood.

    We should keep that in mind when hearing all these 'guidelines'. I agree with you on your advice to understand where the guidelines come from before choosing an alternative. It's the same thing I meant by, "whichever one is chosen, look into how it's done right and how it's done wrong."

    I think the difference I have with you on assuming these particular "guidelines" have value as a default position. These 'guidelines', as you call them, are oversimplified statements about commonly encountered problems in writing.

    It's not that a prologue is bad. A prologue that doesn't fit well in the story or isn't done right is bad. If prologues are frequently not done well, it's not that, as a guideline one shouldn't use a prologue, rather, know that they are frequently not done right and avoid that.


    It's misleading to a new writer to say, no prologues, no flashbacks. Another way to think about the issue is to say, keep in mind when you use these techniques, they are really hard to pull off.


    What I see is a valid guideline would be concepts like, backstory dumping doesn't work well, telling not showing doesn't read well. But the other rules, no prologues and flashbacks, I find no analogous pearl there. A red flag, they're hard to write well, yes, that pearl I can see.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A prologue always delays entry into the story. That's a drawback. Any benefit of a prologue would have to outweigh this drawback.

    Prologues very rarely present such a benefit. So the default guideline should be to avoid using a prologue, and not to look for rationalizations to keep a prologue because "I want a prologue."

    Guidelines exist primarily for novice or intermediate writers so they can focus on the aspects of writing that cannot be generalized. No one likes to consider himself or herself to be a novice, but everyone starts out as one. There's no shame in it There;s more shame in letting ego get in the way of your growth.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    A prologue can delay entry into a story. That's a specific problem with a prologue done poorly. A flashback can bore the reader who wants to get back to the story. I can see that occurring with a flashback done poorly. It's not about ego or defending prologues and flashbacks. It's about learning more from understanding why there is an issue rather than limiting one's toolbox by just proclaiming X is bad.


    I found this advice useful re prologues, Why I Hate Prologues:
    And this blog advice was helpful re flashbacks, Elements of Craft:


    Now compare those two useful discussions with this one about using flashbacks:
    It's an ad hominem argument. Flashbacks are lazy, cheating, blah blah blah.

    I look at why these literary choices are done wrong when they are, and how to do them right when one does use them. One learns nothing from an ad hominem argument and arguments from authority.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but no. By definition, proogue is outside the story, and appears in the book before the first chapter. Therefore it always delays entry into the story.

    My point is made, and now clarified. So that ends my part in this discussion.
     
  14. Lanthal
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    Lanthal Member

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    I had the opposite problem actually. Initially I intended the book to be with the character as an adult and flash back to events in his childhood but the events just evolved and took on their own lives that they started weaving their own story that insisted be told.

    What I have in mind would definitely have to be done in parts. There is too much content before the big event to fit in a prologue and so far I've managed to avoid having one of those.

    Thanks guys, this has been helpful.
     
  15. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I know this is off-topic (and I apologize Lanthal) but I want to throw in a few cents about the prologue thing. In A Game of Thrones, the first of GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire series, there was a prologue. It showed things going on in the background that never entered into the rest of that book (but did in later book). It was happening, and it was seeded into the reader's mind that this crazy thing was happening even while all this other wild stuff went on. It showed there was more afoot than pretty much all the characters realized. There was another threat building in the shadows on top of everything else. I think it was a successful prologue that did what needed to be done in a way no other technique could have accomplished.
     

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