This is topic Telling the Future in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by jhust (Member # 2499) on :
I've been reading a novel called Last Rites, by Jorge Saralegui recently. It's not a very good book. It's mainly been a lesson of what *not* to do in fiction, but it has some value for that reason.

Anyway, it's a horror novel. I keep seeing sentences like "This would be the last time that Amanda saw Tom." Or, "Years later, Chris would think back to this moment, where they last shook hands." These are not exact words of the book, just illustrations of the idea.

What is going on here?! It's like some poor attempt at suspense. In all the writing instruction I've come across, no one has ever mentioned this. Does anyone have an opinion on this sorta thing, and possibly cases where it was used for good reason?

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
I have a friend who is a brilliant writer except that he does exactly drives me nuts. But I'm willing to overlook it if everything else is done well.

It can work well when the narrator is telling the story. That is to say, in a first person point of view story or in a third person story with a distinct narrative presence. It does not work well in limited third person, which is currently very popular, because it violates point of view and goes against all the things that make that viewpoint great.

Posted by annepin (Member # 5952) on :
Does anyone have an opinion on this sorta thing, and possibly cases where it was used for good reason?

Dude, you're talking to hatrackers here--I think we have an opinion on everything, and then some!

Yeah, I agree with Christine here. It's an attempt an attempt to foreshadow and thus create suspense but it feels hacky to me.

I've seen some books do this successfully--Stephen King, for example, but they only do it once or twice in an entire 500-700 page book. Plus with many of his books the narrator is a strong presence. I think this device works best when the book is in first pov., but even then, only in moderation.

Posted by lehollis (Member # 2883) on :
I think the success of that depends on the narrator, as mentioned.

Also, I think it is a slip to global PoV, and there is usually a correct time and place to do that in your manuscript. It's up to the author to determine how to do it right--if they choose to do it at all.

For example, I would be more forgiving of that at the end of a chapter than in the middle. In the middle, the narrator would have to slip out of a limited PoV (presuming it is a limited PoV) and then back in immediately. That seems to me like a great way to say, "Hey, I'm a writer and your a reader and this is fiction. Oops. Sorry if you were feeling immersed in the story, there."

Posted by JeanneT (Member # 5709) on :
I have never seen any writer do it that I didn't hate it. It is a slip into an omniscient PoV. It just slaps you in the face saying -- well exactly what lehollis said. Well put.

I have never seen a writer do it that it wasn't immersion breaking and just a terrible idea. I'll "forgive" it if it is good and only done a couple of times, but I'll still be irritated at being ripped out of the story.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited September 11, 2007).]

Posted by Wolfe_boy (Member # 5456) on :
My issue with the whole "looking into the future" thing is that I don't want the author to look into the future - I want to look there myself. Having a character look back is something entirely different, however - the first two examples are opposites:

1. This would be the last time that Amanda saw Tom. (Looking into the future)

2. Years later, Chris would think back to this moment, where they last shook hands. (Looking back into the past)

I'm fine with looking into the past, but the future? Allow me to imagine what might happen with these characters? Maybe Tom and Amanda will find each other dozens of years down the road and realize that the spark is still there for them. Maybe they'll just pass by in a hallway and recognize each other, but not stop to talk.

That's my take.

Jayson Merryfield

Posted by The G-Bus Man (Member # 6019) on :
I think the key is to do it subtly and to do it seldomly, exactly the opposite of the heavy-handed examples you cite from the book.
Posted by arriki (Member # 3079) on :
I see it in a lot of novels. Big, big novels by big, big names.

Usually -- to me -- it seems to work when there is a well-established narrator's voice. When the narrator is a character OF the story, but not IN the story itself, I find a little aside done well works quite nicely. being a character OF the story I mean that the narration itself has a...feel to it. Though nothing is said by the narrator you get a sense of how he feels toward the story and people he is describing.

Say you were writing a steamy Peyton Place kind of novel and decided that the person telling the story (the narrator) was the developer of the housing suburb in which the main story takes place. He has an attitude when he describes things. Anywhere from a very biased attitude to a subtle one. When then he says something about how Sue would regret inviting Tom over that night -- done well -- it can work.

If done more than once or twice in the entire novel, it becomes way noticeable. Or, it could be, done well you don't notice it when reading red hot through a thrilling part of a novel and only think it happens only once or twice.

Posted by Pyre Dynasty (Member # 1947) on :
In one of my novels I have the line, "And that's the last anyone ever saw of Mr. Twinkie Man" about three times at different places. I really hated the guy and didn't want to see him again but he just kept coming back. (It's an inane story, don't strain your brain wondering why he's called Twinkie Man)
But at risk of branding me a hypocrite I hate those lines. They pull me out of the story and make me start wondering when the story is being told. It also either lies or takes away suspense. It takes away that thought "I wonder if we'll ever see the Twinkie Man again?" until the sentence is rendered untrue and then the reader knows the narrator is a liar.
Posted by KayTi (Member # 5137) on :
I have used the technique, I think within the 3rd person POV I have established...but then again, I'm still learning. Maybe I screwed it up.

Where I have used it, it has taken this kind of form:

"Later, MC would remember this as the moment she decided to do X."


"Looking back later, MC realized how important that little diamond was. At the time, it seemed so insignificant."

I don't write horror, it's sci-fi, and my point in doing these kinds of things isn't to increase tension, but I think as authorial asides to make sure the reader gets something. Hmm, if that's why I'm using it, it's probably not great.

I'm going to have to spend some time deconstructing to figure it out, but FWIW, those weren't areas of my stories that have come under fire in critiques. <shrug> - As with most things, I think your milegage may vary. In the instances you describe, it sounds pretty ridiculous to foreshadow deaths in a horror book. Isn't the point of the genre to up the tension throughout? I don't quite get pre-tell what's going to happen would seem to slice the tension, not ratchet it up.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
If I recall right, Thomas Wolfe once had his lead character in one of his books borrow money from a college friend, wrote "He never saw him again," then ran into the guy a hundred pages later when he crashed for a night on his couch. (I read the book but didn't notice it: I got this from some other account of it. Thomas Wolfe's books are on the dense side as far as detail work goes.)

I'm inclined to think it's acceptable to do so---if it's true.

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
I just thought of another time when (I think) this works. At least, I hope you all agree because I just used a slightly less heavy-handed version of this device in a relatively long flashback. The exact context, in my case, goes something like this:

A character gives some advice and a stern warning...he finished up with "Don't forget what I said." The next line says..."She didn't forget. Not exactly."

Anyway, I just found myself typing that and wondered if you guys thought something like that is all right in a flashback, even in third person limited.

Posted by luapc (Member # 2878) on :
Christine, for me, it would depend on where it came in the story. If it was a flashback near the beginning of the story/novel, I'd probably be ok with it. If it came after I was well involved in the story, I would have felt I was cheated, and that information had been kept from me.

Realize though that I don't like flashbacks. I've rarely found a case where the important information couldn't have been worked into the story without taking it out of sequence, and jostling me out of the flow. If the flashback is done well, I'll often forgive it, but it still disrupts the pacing. Just my opinion.

Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
Opinions are welcome, if not always agreed with.

I should probably make it clear that the line is not referencing the future of the main story, but rather the future of the flashback (the past for the POV character sharing the info).

Posted by KayTi (Member # 5137) on :
Foreshadowing is a time-honored tradition in storytelling. There is nothing inherently wrong with using it, IMHO, it's just a matter of its appropriateness for the work.

Christine, the way you describe your scene strikes me as a little humorous, actually, and I like humor in writing. I think the example originally given disrupted the flow and did nothing to advance the storytelling. Does your bit? I am pretty sure it does, because it gives a teensy glimpse of what might be coming, without playing your whole hand. Maybe the difference I'm seeing is not one of technique, but degree.

<shrug> It seems to me like so many of these posts are best answered with a hearty "it depends" LOL

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