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Non-Linear Storytelling

Discussion in 'Fanfic Discussion' started by Carmine, Oct 23, 2011.

  1. Carmine

    Carmine Unspeakable

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    How do people feel about a story moving back and forth between events in storytelling? I'm thinking of a story idea, but I want to do it non-linearly, and I'm not sure how well it would be received. Also, I'm aware that it would probably seem clunky and wouldn't flow very well if not done right. Ideas?
     
  2. oakes

    oakes Unspeakable DLP Supporter

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    I think too many flashbacks destroy the story's flow. But if you can manage to keep it from being too splintered, it would just make it all the more interesting.
     
  3. LOUD-Noises

    LOUD-Noises First Year

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    I like nonlinear stories done right. Pulp Fiction is a pretty good example of that. But it has to be pretty immaculately thought out to work right.
     
  4. Nae

    Nae The Violent

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    Eh...the one thing in these type of stories that irritates me is if the flashbacks are continuously being irrelevant to the current state of the story. They can flow well together to become relevant later on, but I don't think many people can do that well enough. It just becomes annoying.

    I guess I only like to read the flashbacks that have either a mystery element to them (kinda like Lost, where you become curious about the character's past), or when they slowly build up to a surprise revelation. Don't try to make it seem too complex though.
     
  5. Carmine

    Carmine Unspeakable

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    Yeah, I was thinking a Tarantino-esque sort of feel. But as you say, it would take a lot of planning and thought to come out decent.

    Naeblis - Yes, the ease with which it could become annoyingly complex is a fine line. Now I think about it, it's probably beyond my skill as an author.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011
  6. Portus

    Portus Heir

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    Tough to say how it would be received. Well, no it's not - you'd be crucified if you fucked it up, but don't let that deter you. Listen, if you make your best effort, post it in the WbA and ask for feedback, you'll get plenty. Take the advice and see if it helps, and incorporate it if you think it'll help.

    For a related example, see VotN's entry in the May time-travel contest. While time-travel presents it's own difficulties, you can see that even though the action is seen chronologically from Harry's (and therefore the reader's) viewpoint, the things seen are occuring non-linearly because of the time-travel. It's morethan obvious VotN put a lot of thought into plotting and outlining, and if you hope to avoid plotholes and head-scratching problems you'll need to do the same.

    So challenge yourself to do it well, and take the time to give yourself a chance at pulling it off. One of my favorite movies, Memento, is told backwards, and the viewer is as clueless as the protagonist in that one. It works because it was plotted out and thought through to avoid pitfalls. You will need to do the same.

    And if you fail, well, it ain't the end of the world. You can always scrap it and start over, or move on to another story or type of telling device.
     
  7. iLost

    iLost Minister of Magic

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    ^Ditto what Portus said. Save for the Memento part, as I've never seen it.

    And since you've already shown you have some skill with words, you'll likely get some pretty helpful advice in WBA instead of the normal one-liners. Personally, I would love to read it from you just to see how you could do it.

    Will you fuck it up? There's a pretty good chance in all honesty, but from a project like that there's bound to be a shitload you'd learn from it.

    Also, it might help if you kept the plot somewhat contained, so it doesn't become too hard to figure it out on your end. Also, keep in mind what the reader does and does not know. That may be pivotal in keeping our interest in the flashbacks.
     
  8. The Berkeley Hunt

    The Berkeley Hunt Headmaster

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    A couple things that might help, Try to make all sections interesting. You don't want a reader to dislike one part or only read one section.

    Try to show some sort of link between different sections rather than just two random situations that happen to collide. It gives the story a nicer flow and progression rather than seemingly illogical randomness.

    Lastly, have fun doing it. For me, one of the main appeals of non-linear storytelling is the ability to have wildly different scenarios and even genres interacting. Its always good to see vibrancy and variation rather than two very similar storylines.

    Also, has anyone seen Baccano? Its an anime with 3 converging storylines centered around gangsters in the 1930s, great series though it only has one season. Seems pretty related.
     
  9. Carmine

    Carmine Unspeakable

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    Good advice guys, thanks. I'll properly plan after I catch up with schoolwork and stuff. I want to resurrect my other dead fic Faith, so I'll probably be writing both, but I should have the time.
     
  10. Carmine

    Carmine Unspeakable

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    Bump, working on the first part now. When switching between parts that happen in different times, would you find headers with the time and date jarring? Just wondering how to clearly designate what happens when.
     
  11. Sesc

    Sesc Slytherin at Heart Moderator

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    It all depends on how you're doing it. It's entirely possible to mix two timelines with no indication at all, and use the missing knowledge of the reader (who assumes both happens at the same time) as a device to set up plot twist. In that cast, you obviously want no dates.

    If you merely tell two stories at the same time, date headers can be very useful to keep track of what happens when. It doesn't even have to be very exact, if the gap is large, just a year is enough (e.g. "1996" and "1980"). And it's a million times better than writing ::Flashback:: over the respective parts.

    And if you don't have two stories but one that you want to tell in non-linear order (i.e. backwards) you picked of course the hardest task. In that case, I'd maybe try relative time stamps. Set the end as zero, and then go 12 hours earlier, a day earlier, a week earlier. You have to experiment there. Generally though, this is something I'd only use as a stylistic device, meaning, it has to serve a purpose in the story (e.g. showing the reader a result, while keeping him in the dark about how it got there -- that's what I did in my politics-contest entry). Randomly shuffling the story timeline for no reason is very likely to end up failtastic.
     
  12. Portus

    Portus Heir

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    Rent it or stream it then, 'cause it's worth seeing.

    ^This. I gotta say, I enjoy a story involving an abrupt scene change from action-packed, danger-filled directly over to calm or subdued or even sombre. The jarring of my mindset makes me really want to see what'll happen next, plus it's fun to force yourself to pay attention to the low-key scenes when your natural bent is to skim that shit and get back to the ass-kicking. It helps to tell myself that there's a reason for the scene change and if I'm not engaged I'll miss it.

    I agree, but that should be no surprise. I used the italics method with a generic scene-separator like "~*~*~*~" and though some people disliked what they saw as overuse of italics, I think it worked overall.

    And yes, some good, old-fashioned mind-fuckery is always appreciated here at DLP.

    I second the use of something to the effect of "Now" or "3 Days Ago" or "15 Minutes Before" or even "The Day Before Timmy got Mauled by a Cerberus" or "The 45 Seconds After the Most Beautiful Sectumsempra."

    There's no hard-and-fast rules. I don't mean to be a fanboy, but aside from some parts which irritate me, I *LOVE* the way Teh Dresden Files is written. The irreverance, the asides, the conversational tone and the way there's no attempt at making perfect or even complete sentences of the dialogue.

    It's refreshing to see someone tell Strunk & White to suck it, despite my holding that book in pretty high esteem. For me, TDF was tacit permission to write however the fuck I want.

    Now if I could just get 'round to actually doing it...

    This this this this this. It's the exact reason I went totally chronologically in Geminio's sub-plot or whetever it should be called. There is such as thing as being too confusing or disjointed, and I was already teetering on that edge with the present-day portion. Adding out-of-sequence to the backstory would've killed it.
     
  13. Anarchy

    Anarchy Half-Blood Prince DLP Supporter

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    My October contest story was non linear, so whenever the results get released (today maybe?) you can take a gander at how I did it. I'm not saying it was good or anything, but I tried it.

    What I did was fairly simple. I started with the main plot idea and put that at the very front, in my case, a newspaper article about an assassination. It was a flashback, so it was in italics. And then the next scene would be present day and in normal text. And then the scenes would keep alternating from the italic flashbacks, in nonlinear, but vaguely related, to the present day, until both the time lines merged and it is revealed that the italics were scenes that we actually from a present day pseudo interrogation that really only started at the end of the story. It's sort of Tarantino style, sort of me just messing around with a new concept.
     
  14. Nauro

    Nauro Headmaster

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    Generally just listen to Portus, everything at least sounded smart.


    The non linear method must be considered from three viewpoints before using.
    1. What does it add?
    2. Is it good for you?
    3. How will it read to others?

    These should be pretty self explanatory, but I will elaborate slightly more.

    1. You must sense what you want with it. Is your purpose to show the different angle? To confuse the reader at the beginning? To show the glimpses of the truth in mystery?
    Each time a different method should be used. Just have in mind what your aim is and think what might fit.
    2. Now, you know what you want, but the point is - you have to know how to do it. Generally people know what is working and what is not. Try a simple method to check after writing - take all the pieces and arrange them in "normal order" or as close to it. Does it make sense? If it doesn't you have just found the holes you need to fix. And most importantly - was it really better before? (and now you must forget the first part - you are merely evaluating what looks better or flows better, not thinking if the idea you had is shown in a good way.) (One of my first tries, which will never leave my drawer is one work that really reads better without the jumps. So I stashed it and hid it forever.)
    3. This is the hard part. Of course, you could get a beta reader, or ask your mother to look through, but that's beside the point. At the highest writing level you should be able to distance yourself and look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time. There are two main things to look after – “are you drawn to skip certain parts?” and “Is everything clear?”

    The problem which can crop up even in the best works is that one part of the story is more important or (the worst case) better written than the other. (2+ timelines or POV). The reader, if captivated is curious to the "main" (better written) plot. He might read everything else half-heartedly or even accidentally skip some paragraphs. After such read it may become hard for the reader to like the whole product.

    +++

    All in all, everyone can try to jump in time and deliver the story in chopped pieces. Just be careful not to chop off your fingers. And don't serve dessert before the main meal, people might not stay for it.

    I hope I got the basic message across.

    Oh yeah, and try to skip the (flashback) and (endflashback) lines. They make me shiver. If you really have to - write "2 days 5 seconds and 1 minute ago" or something in that style. (it was mentioned above, but that's really important. Writing "flashback" rips you out of the mood. At least the dates keep you in your seat)

    One last thing. If the answer to the first question is "I want to write a solid mind screwing piece" you do receive some leniency. Don't overuse that gift.

    Nauro.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2011
  15. Otters

    Otters Seventh Year ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    This, a thousand times. It should be clear from your prose what is happening and where. Never use flashbacks. The narrative may describe events from time Y one moment and time X the next, but don't do it in the style of flashbacks. Flashbacks are the most incredibly annoying bad writing technique in fanfiction. Ever seen a published novel with the header of "FLASHBACK!!!!!"? If you have, I'm really sorry, and suggest you avoid the Lulu, CreateSpace, and similar libraries of self-published guttertrash. Avoid italicizing different time periods, too. It's a cheap and juvenile method of showing changes in narrative setting which accomplishes nothing a bit of careful wording could. Headers labelled with the time and date can be useful in the right circumstances, and aren't half so annoying as FLASHBAtrolololCK!!!!! is.

    Using a different character to narrate in each seperate time stream can work, too - providing you're simultaneously narrating multiple seperate paths which conjoin, rather than different points within a single path.

    Textbook example: Stephen King's Carrie. It opens with the infamous prom-massacre scene, and the story is interspersed with snippets from the 'present' in the form of fictional news articles, interviews, book excerpts, and so on. The purpose here is not to demonstrate what happens in the climax, but why it happened.

    It's okay to reveal the ending, so long as what you reveal isn't the real hook of your story. There needs to be some sort of revelation or realization for characters and reader alike; a prize, if you will, for reaching the end of the text.

     
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