Friday, September 29, 2017

Slam bam, rewind Ma'am

 just read an article that criticizes using a flash forward scene to start a novel, and it made some good points. The gist was that flash forward is a crutch if the real opening scene (i.e., the next chapter) is weak.

Thrillers are my favorite read, and many start this way. I can think of other books that do too, (e.g., Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn). And, other writing advice seems to favor starting with a big scene, which is kind of the point in using flash forward.

Of course, I ask because, after trying several openings, my in-final-stages-of-editing domestic thriller has a flash forward opening. Of course!

Is there a general agenting/publishing consensus about flash forward openings? Are they considered a form of prologue (which I know is a no-no)? Does it depend on genre? Am I giving one article too much credence?


You guyz really love those rodent wheels don't you?

First ONE article can be illuminating, insightful and helpful but it can't be the One True Answer.
Unless you read it here of course.

You've answered your own question: you've seen flash forward chapters in other books including one by Kate Atkinson. Thus if the story needs it, use it.

You're also right though that using it in place of developing the story correctly could be a big problemo.

There's almost nothing I hate more than a great action scene followed by "meanwhile six days ago, in the kale fields of Carkoon."

The answer to your question is the same as the answer to all questions about how to write a book: it depends on the book.

If your book needs a postlogue, use it. But you might want to get eyeballs on it before querying just to make sure you're heading the right direction.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Postlogue, prologue, nowlogue, beforelogue, tomorrowlogue, what’s a logue gotta do?
How about splitalogue, start a fire, pop a cork and relax.
If it works, go with it. Um, I think that’s what sharkalogue said.

Timothy Lowe said...

Too much advice can get inside your head, pull you out of your story. Good luck, OP - sounds like a high-octane thriller you've got there.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I've rarely seen this in books, but I think that's just because I either don't remember or it's outside my genre. The weird beginnings I remember far more clearly are the "find the body" style prologues, where you never revisit some of those characters again.

Sometimes video games do the flash forward openers. For me, success varies.

The first Assassin's Creed game started you out at a big battle, you had all of the abilities unlocked, you were engaging with multiple foes, it was totally badass. And then the game started and they took it all away. My personal continued play was long enough to find something tall enough to do the super cool Heaven's Leap (or whatever it's called) from and then I turned it off.

DragonAge 2 starts with you, your mother, and your sister fleeing people who are persecuting you. You get a sense of the advanced abilities of the role you have selected. Then flash back to before whatever Bad Things went down (if I'm remembering right), you go through the story to that flash forward momment, then the story moves past it. I played the hell out of DragonAge 2 (not as much as Inquisition, which came later).

Sherry Howard said...

Those "eyeballs on it" before you query are so critical! And try to get writer eyeballs even at the beta stage.

Beta reads:

I love it (your mother). It's perfect, just like you my darling.

I love it (your best friend today). You're sooooo talented, and I'll be your best friend forever. I'll even tour with you.

Um, there appears to be a plot hole in this saggy-behinded middle (writer who doesn't love you as much as your mother or bff).

Colin Smith said...

As Janet says, whatever works best with your story, Opie, and get more eyes on your work to help determine that.

Jennifer: In my limited experience with video games, the start of actual game play (not including cut scenes) usually serves the purpose of getting you used to the controls, how to perform basic moves, etc. So the scene would be contrived to that end.

And I think there's the similarity: there's purpose. It's not just a battle scene for the sake of having a big battle. It's so you can learn how to wield your ax or sword, or manipulate your hidden blade, or cast those spells, or whatever. Likewise, that opening scene in your book shouldn't just be there to impress an agent. It should serve the story, and its placement should be at the beginning because that's the best way to tell the story.

2Ns: Nearly time for some Yulelogue. :D

Steve Stubbs said...

Here is an alternative way of looking at it: stories have a Beginning, a Middle, and an End. Most stories start at the Beginning, but they don't have to. There is an old book by Harold Robbins called THE ADVENTURERS which starts at the tomb of the MC. Then it flashes back to the beginning and the MC is a child. Michael Crighton did a better book (name unremembered) which starts with a police detective being interrpgated. The chapter ends with one of the interrogators saying, "Tell is in your own words what happened." Woo hoo. There is NO WAY you are not going to turn that page.

The movie BODY HEAT starts in the middle. Wiliam Hurt's moronic character has already been systematically set up. The audience learns the detais slowly as the story unfolds.

Like everythign else, this can be done clunky, uber clunky, and hyper clunky. Or it can be done well, uber well, and hyper well.

Your choice.

Kregger said...

*snorts awake*

Was that a lucid memory?

or did I just rework the first chapter of my MS with a dream-logue in omniscient?

Which is fine as long as my MC peers into a mirror after waking to a blizzard like white-out.

Currently, the TV show Macgyver uses this device of a flash forward nearly every episode.

In Macgyver there's little tension as every character survives every episode. In thriller stories someone has to die, at least in my opinion, to ratchet up the conflict. Otherwise, thillers devolve into rom-coms with pyrotechnics.

*note to self*

Earl's gotta die!

Tips hat to Dixie Chicks.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Another brand new example of this that I thought worked well was the second in Sherry Thomas's excellent Lady Sherlock series, A Conspiracy in Belgravia. It starts with the protagonist showing up without explanation at the site of a murder, then goes back to explain how she got there. In this book and this genre it feels very natural.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

I like the way Sara Gruen did the flash forward in Water for Chocolates, as a device for both enticement and misdirection.

Mister Furkles said...

Wow! This strange thing happened. Let’s find out how and why.

That’s, like, all of science.

Holly molly, look at this here huge fossil bone. Gosh, it come from dinosaurs; there was billions of ‘em; they was everywhere, all over. Where did they all go? Let’s find out.

Thus: Paleontology.

Is paleontology boring? Not according to my wife.

If flash forward is all too dull a start, there wouldn’t be any science.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Sorry, Water for Elephants haha

E.M. Goldsmith said...

When a flash forward is well executed, the story can't do without it. When it's done badly, it's like rotting fish. It stinks. Yes, those early eyeballs are helpful. Have an objective set of eyeballs tell you if it works.

Hey, I am trying to format my book and have downloaded a manuscript template. It keeps putting my new chapter breaks half way down the new page. Is that really correct? It seems an overwhelming waste of space with the margins and double spacing and all. Hmmm?

Ardenwolfe said...

LOL Was wondering . . . Water for Chocolates? Sounds like a hell of a book.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: I've seen that formatting standard, though I don't know how consistently it is required. In other words, I expect editors may prefer it, but I'm not sure that all agents require it, at the query stage at least. Janet will have to speak to that.

The reasoning behind it seems to me the same reasoning behind double-spacing and one-inch margins. It's not simply the fact that more white space helps the overall reading experience, but there's space to write notes. One could argue, I suppose, given most manuscripts are delivered electronically, where the recipient can re-format the document to whatever they want (let's hear it for 14 point Comic Sans! Or not...), and can use editing tools in the word processor to make notes, such formatting rules are an artifact of the past. But that's a debate for another day. Perhaps? :)

John Davis Frain said...

Cecelia, you just did a flash forward to a Sara Gruen sequel, which I was ready to eat up. I mean, come on, Sara Gruen and chocolate. What's not to like?

Sam Mills said...

If it works, use it! If it doesn't work, don't! There, now that's cleared up...

Read ones that work and analyze why they do. I'm halfway through Red Sister by Mark Lawrence and he used it cleverly. It hints at a coming conflict and does some deft world building. The next ("first") scene is also full of conflict, so it isn't a cheat segueing you into something boring. Then halfway through the book there's a twist that makes you rethink the opening...and now I have to go finish and see if it sticks the landing.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

John Manu,

I think I was trying to remember what it was that you need to eat one bite at a time and I thought - Chocolates!

Lennon Faris said...

Another thing to think about is that exciting, active scenes sometimes aren't as exciting to someone (like a fresh reader) who doesn't know the characters.

Cecilia - "water for chocolates" -that is a hilarious Freudian slip. I think about chocolate quite a bit as well :)

BJ Muntain said...

I like chocolate.

'Like Water for Chocolate' was a 1989 book that became a movie in 1992.

Did I mention I like chocolate?

Sorry I've been absent. My old XP computer decided to retire without giving notice, so after trying to fix it for a few days, I've finally hooked up a barely-newer Windows 7 machine, and it seems to be working. Until, you know, it retires without giving notice.

Regarding flash-forward prologuish beginnings: Use it if it works for the story. Yes, get other eyes on it, but be aware that you'll get some who just say it's bad because prologue/flash-forward beginning.

AJ Blythe said...

Cecilia, Water for Chocolate sounds like some sort of Utopia. Mmmm.

I haven't read any books recently with a postlogue (love that!), but I know it always irks when I watch a tv show do it (all the crime shows I love do it from time to time) - they are never my favourite episodes.

Definitely get beta eyes on it and follow the sage (but frustrating) advice of "if it works, it works". Good luck, OP.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Cecilia Hilarious! I LOL'd... er, HA'd. Or smashed keys. Is that the correct term, Colin?

Off the original topic, but on topic to where we veered. And not being a Braggy McBraggy-pants, just sharing some fun info. Sara Gruen is a personal, real life friend. She contacted me to blurb RIDING LESSONS (her first book) and has supported our work here at Proud Spirit for over 15 years. There's a great story about a mustang she sponsored on our website. "Journey"

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Mama Melanie,

I loved Sara Gruen's book Water for...Elephants and it was one of the books that I kept on thinking about when I decided to try my hand at novel writing.


A Freudian slip it was, sister **wink**

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: I think since most of us here are over 21, we can LOL without shame or embarrassment. ;)

kathy joyce said...

Spoiler alert - Opie reveal! Thanks for all the insights. Very helpful. I started with a prologue, which beta readers liked, then I learned how vilified they are - prologues, not beta readers. (And honestly, now that I know better, the prologue wasn't good.) So I switched to another chapter first, and worked the prologue info into the body. I paid someone to read the first 50 pages. She had some good advice, but her interpretation of the book was way off. I realized the new first chapter was too misleading (and not in a good sneaky mystery way). So, I re-read One Good Turn, and realized that the structure of that book would work for me. I'm pretty happy with the result, then I happened to see the article disparaging flash forward openings. I guess I freaked! Thanks all for calming me down. I'm going with the flash forward.

I had a good week - wrote snd submitted three short essays that have been swimming in my head for months. Now back to the "logues."

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Ooooh... I just love it when the opie reveals themselves. I really do. Kathy! I'm so happy that you shared the way you worked through this conundrum. YAY you! Sounds like you're on track.

And UGH, Cecilia... you've made me weepy. (Which, really, isn't that difficult to do). Referring to me as "Mama Melanie" (sob). (Is this all an incorrect use of parenthesizes?) Whatever. I love everyone here, but there are three of you who make me get all southern mama. I won't embarrass you by mentioning your names Susan, Lennon, Cecilia. Carry on.

Colin Smith said...

I think "Mama Melanie" might be a keeper. :D

Lennon Faris said...

'Mama Melanie' - I love it. I've always wanted to be part of your family anyway.

Beth Carpenter said...

Is a postlogue another name for an epilogue? I can't seem to find a definition. Or is the joke going right over my head?

Kathy, so glad you're having a good writing week and nailing that opening.

AJ Blythe said...

Beth, if I have understood correctly (don't count on it!), a postlogue is a prologue that starts later in the story - chapter one then starts earlier in time.

Like those episodes of crime tv that have something dramatic happen to the hero, and then the words "24 hours earlier" pop up on the screen and then the hero is calmly eating breakfast. The episode then continues until it reaches the point that opened the episode, before continuing to "the end".

I hope that makes sense. I'm totally shattered tonight and it's possible I'd make more sense speaking gobbledigook.

Panda in Chief said...

And I'm counting on Mama Melanie to give me sanctuary when this panda gets put out to pasture.