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?
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.
Does anyone have an opinion on this sorta thing, and possibly cases where it was used for good reason?
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.
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."
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).]
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.
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. Hmmm...by 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.
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 it...to pre-tell what's going to happen would seem to slice the tension, not ratchet it up.
I'm inclined to think it's acceptable to do so---if it's true.
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.
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.
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).
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