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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Is starting at the end a big no no?

   
Author Topic: Is starting at the end a big no no?
WolfofWar
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I noticed in one of OSCs critiques on the site that he told the writer that, more or less, starting at the end of an event and working your way back is sortof a big mistake most writers make. Is it always a mistake? Can't it be used right as a build up of suspense? With a story concept I had, it starts at the end, with a stand off between two friends of long ago, and basically the story goes back continually to show how they both got there, in both recent years, and theyre past childhood experiences.

To me, that adds more drama, because it adds sortof a mystery dynamic. As the reader continues to read, they begin to wonder and try to fit the pieces together. Its a dynamic that adds excitement and suspense, and is something that would not be there normally if you went in sequental order.

So I need some advice, is it "right" to do it like that? or is it always wrong?


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dee_boncci
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No, it is not a big no. Start wherever you want. I think different people have different means, so just because OSC goes in strictly chronological order, just means that's what works for him.
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AstroStewart
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At first I thought you meant you, the author, writing a story in reverse order, starting with the last chapter first and writing the first chapter last. While this wouldn't work for me, you can write your story any way you want.

I have to agree though, that reading a story where you start at the end and then work backwards usually just doesn't work. That's not to say it CAN'T work, but it's just plain hard. The only example I can think of is in movie form: Memento.

The fact remains that if you know what your characters are going to do past time X, and then you move back to a previous time, back wards and backwards til the beginning, it would be very difficult to keep the same suspense in the story as it would have had, simply because, at any give time, your characters know what's already happened. If anything crucially, mind-blowingly important and shocking happened a long time ago (the "end" of your story) they would already know about it in chapter 1, and would act accordingly. Unless you play a giant game of "keep information from the reader" we would find this information out far before the end simply by being inside the characters' POVs.

The only reason this technique even worked in Memento was because our viewpoint character had a short term memory loss condition, so he DIDNT know what had already happened beforehand, and so he couldn't spoil the "ending" for us.


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WolfofWar
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Well what I mean is I start at a moment from the end. two people staring eachother down with guns, in a hotel suite in Las Vegas. Dead guy on the floor, limited Omniscience.

And then, we go lets say 72 hours before, and with a few chapters inbetween interlaced with some children memories. And we work our way up, till the very end, where we're back in the hotel suite.


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Tara
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Writers do something similar to that often. I can think of serveral cases where a book starts with a scene from the very end of the story, so the reader knows where it's going. However, the author usually reverts back to chronological order right after that.

A example that comes to mind right away is Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, if you've read that. The reason he begins with the last scene is so the reader can judge the main character (Chris) initially, and then see how their judgement changes as they read the book. Eventually you come to the last scene again, the same scene written in a different way, and you've found that your judgement of him has completely changed. It makes the story quite fascinating.

Maybe your completely-backwards story could work like that, too.


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dee_boncci
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What you're describing sounds like a "fate" story. The story opens during the "final scene" as sort of a teaser, then goes back to the beginning and brings you back through to the climactic scene. You see the story already knowing where/how the characters are fated to wind up (except for the resolution of that final scene).

I'm not sure if you mean that sort of structure, or going continually back in time as it's told.

Either way, be aware there is a price to be paid for not going in chronological order to keep readers willing to do all the nonlinear time travel.


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franc li
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Lovelock starts like that. I think what OSC is saying is to gain some confidence in your craft before trying to play a concerto in front of a paying audience.
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arriki
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Hey, I see that sort of thing occasionally. Done well, even.

It usually is a frame story. You start out with near the end, end the section as it leads up to the beginning of the story and then have some sort of conclusion at the very end of the story/novel that is supported by what happened in the story.

Starting at the end has to be part of some overall structure.

Let's see. There is the more common frame story. Then there is the circular story like THE WORM OUBOROUDOS (SP?) where the end is has the story in the same place where it started to happen all over again only the author ends it there. Then how about the structure where you don't realize it's the end as in THE INCIDENT AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE?


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Survivor
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There are a lot of things that are vastly overrepresented in unpublishable novice writing. Simple chronological order isn't one of them

It's very easy to confuse and mislead readers. You're their only source of information, after all. If you're basically doing something just to make it harder for your readers to figure out what's going on, then they'll probably be better off choosing a different author's story.

That doesn't mean that stories with complicated or abnormal chronology can't work, just that there has to be some other reason for it other than "a mystery dynamic". You can create a better mystery dynamic by writing the entire thing in a secret code and then burning the manuscript and burying the ashes...but that probably won't get many readers interested in your story. A perfect mystery dynamic would be to only have the story in your head and never discuss it and even forget it yourself.


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rstegman
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My initial impression of what you were asking, before I actually started reading,

is to start a story where most stories end. Cleaning up after the big battle, or running your hand through the treasure, or achieving the greatest power, etc.

Those are great places to start and do a story about what happens afterwords.

Sorry I was wrong.


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wbriggs
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The day the evil robot monkeys blew up the world, John was at the auto shop.

That starts at the end (sort of). Should it? It's a good hook. It's unusual. This might work better.

The day the evil robot monkeys came, John was at the auto shop.

I guess I don't like it when they start at the end.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited February 16, 2007).]


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franc li
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I prefer "The day the evil autos came, John was at the monkey robot shop."
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Christine
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I don't think there's ever anything that is wrong 100% of the time, but I do think that starting at the end is usually not a good idea and that most of the time it does not add suspense or drama. The thing about suspense and drama is that they are built -- you can't just land them in the reader's lap. I feel suspense and drama when I care about a character and fear for what might happen to him or her.

Now, I have seen many stories give a glimpse of the ending as a hook. This often works best in first person stories, where the narrator already knows the ending.

Having said all that, I should probably admit that my favorite short story (of mine) is, in fact, told exactly in reverse chronological order. But it's never been sold, so maybe that tells you something too! (It has gotten a frustrating numbers of "This was really good but we can't use it.")

[This message has been edited by Christine (edited February 16, 2007).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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Steve Perry starts The Man Who Never Missed at the end. It went on to be a bestseller! And it still managed to pull off a twist. However, that twist doesn't fully reveal itself until the second book in the Matador Series, Matadora.
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CoriSCapnSkip
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"Paradise," by Toni Morrison, seems to be another well-reviewed work fitting this pattern: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?isbn=0452280397&z=y
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