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Non-linear chapters: good or bad?

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Download, Aug 9, 2020.

  1. Download

    Download Groundskeeper ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    So for my Peggy Sue excuse plot for Harry/Tonks that's looking less like an excuse plot and more like an actual story, I have Harry and Dumbledore breaking into Azkaban to free Sirius. This happens right near the start of the story and everything happens quickly under my assumption that if a time traveller tells Dumbledore everything, Dumbledore can basically wrap up everything from canon in only a few tens of thousands of words.[1]

    I started writing the Azkaban breakout as one chapter, but it felt far too much like tell not show when it came to describing how each defence was defeated. I then thought I needed some sort of preparation and planing montage like some heist film. It feels cliché though and drags the story out more than it needs I think.

    So I've reapproached it and started writing it as one non-linear chapter. Harry and Dumbledore do this thing to break one of the prison's defences without any major explanations, then the next scene is the preparation to defeat that defence. The next scene after it is the next defence, followed by another preparation scene, etc.

    This though is also tickling my heist-film sense (do heist films do it this way sometimes? It has been a while) so I don't know?

    I also want to keep one big question about what they are doing a secret for the next chapter [2] which I mostly have written out. So I'm not sure if skipping one breaks the rhythm there.

    Do people find this sort of non-linear chapter structure interesting or annoying? What do people think are it's weaknesses and strengths?

    [1]: In a way I'm trying to subvert the mind-numbingly long Peggy Sue stories that seem to be the norm, usually with some nonsense about how they can't tell Dumbledore because they don't trust him. After all he is after the Potter fortune!
    [2]:
    It has to do with the resulting Ministry investigation and some other important story revelations
     
  2. Andrela

    Andrela Plot Bunny DLP Supporter

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    Personally I'm not a fan of non-linear storytelling, but that's a personal preference.
     
  3. Sesc

    Sesc Slytherin at Heart Moderator

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    It naturally depends on how and why you use it. If you use it too often, it loses its impact. Which is why you usually do it just once. In the case of heist movies, you see the initial exposition so the viewer knows what they want to do, then they do it, something seemingly goes wrong, they are in a fix -- and then you rewind to show the viewer the plan, so you get the "cackling while they trick the cops" effect, because that "fix" was planned for all along.


    The thing you have to consider is that like any recap, it slows down the story. So if you're in the middle of some excitement, and then you go to an office setting, excitement goes poof. I probably would do it only once in your case, too -- and I don't agree with "Dumbledore can basically wrap up everything". There's always something that can go wrong, something you didn't plan for -- or, at least the reader will readily agree that's a possibility, so:

    You could use the heist formula perfectly fine. They break in, get everything they want, nearly are done, and bam, something happens and they are trapped. The end?! No, you jump back, tell the story before the break-in, the trap is actually the way out, and the dumb wardens and the Ministry are tricked. The end.

    Not terribly original, but entertaining enough, if you write a reasonably exciting plot with it. Keep the stakes high enough, the trap dangerous enough, the plan clever enough etc.
     
  4. Download

    Download Groundskeeper ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    I'm not saying that in the sense that nothing will go wrong, more that even with some major setbacks it can still be wrapped up very quickly.

    The only horcruxes that will cause significant trouble are the cup and the locket, the rest are quite simple when forewarned. The locket is being solved breaking out Sirius (which does not go off without a hitch) leaving the cup as the last hurdle.

    This is the slow and methodical break in for most of the chapter. It's supposed to be interesting by having that sort of quirkiness that seems bizarre from the perspective of a muggle, but is very magical. I've thought a long time about how to make it interesting without immediately devolving into a fight. It's also why I'm trying to keep it short.

    I haven't even cracked open a Black Comedy for inspiration yet either.

    There is the unexpected, but it's not something they could reasonably account for, which is where the heist trope falls flat and why I'm not keen to use it.

    Then again, maybe I can parody it. Not sure I can without making the story a bit less serious, but we'll see.
     
  5. Jeram

    Jeram Elder of Zion ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    I've definitely used it, and I've had both sets of reactions: "I don't get it, part of the story is missing" and "Wow, perfect". I think the real trick is not to confuse the reader, or yourself for that matter. Ideally you parallel concepts between the scenes, but that's pretty difficult to actually pull off.
     
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