Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prologues/Flash-Forwards

I've been thinking a lot about Prologues and Flash-Forwards lately.  (And it just so happens Adam Heine had a post about it as well).  Prologues and Flash-Forwards are two different things, so today I'm going to concentrate of Flash-Forwards.  I think I'll save prologues for another day.

What is one?  Well, it's like a flash-back, but it's a flash-forward.  It's a scene at the beginning of the book, that is actually a scene of a much later part of the book.  It uses the tension/action of the later scene to hook the reader right at the beginning.  Twilight does this in the "Preface" when Bella is talking about how she never gave much thought to dying and then it goes on to Chapter 1.

The good thing about starting with a flash-forward is that the book is the tension/action to hook the reader.  Obvi.  The bad thing about them is when you turn to Chapter 1, that tension is gone.  If you introduced a fantasy world or interesting tidbit of information, it's gone.  Now you have to wait and read through, what feels like preamble but is really the first part of the book, to get back to that interesting tidbit.  Plus the reader already knows about that tidbit so when you re-introduce it, there's no twist, no surprise.  As the reader you're just like, yeah, I know about that already, now can we get on with the story?  If the flash-forward was meant to excite your beginning, instead maybe change the actual beginning to be more exciting.  Then the tension can build naturally, instead of having the ups and downs of a flash-forward.

Twilight's flash-forward worked because it was so vague.  It didn't give any of the plot away except that she might die at the end.  And dying is some pretty big tension.  If Stephenie Meyer had mentioned something about a vampire instead of a "hunter" (which is how she writes it in the preface), I don't think it would have worked as well.  She would have given away too much of the plot, since Edward being a vampire is supposed to be the big twist.

There are also some flash-forwards where authors use scenes from the very beginning instead of later in the book.  I've read two books where the flash-forward was in the first scene.  It made no sense to me to have included the flash-forward, because I read it a few pages later.  I don't really know why the authors did that, but it kinda turned me off because I had to read the same scene twice in a row.  I ended up just skipped the scene the second time around.

I admit I have a flash-forward in my WIP and I've been toying with it for a long time, deciding whether or not to keep it in.  It's pretty vague, but I think it may give away too much of one part of the plot, though it sets up other parts of the plot really well.  So I have more deliberating to do.

Anywho, I think the point is, flash-forwards can be hard to pull off.  Keep them vague, but suspenseful, and then the actual beginning has to be just right, otherwise you can lose a lot of the tension.

How do you feel about prologues/flash-forwards/prefaces?  Useful?  Suspenseful?  Or a let-down once the story actually starts?

4 comments:

  1. This made me think of LOST :) I'm not generally a fan of prologues, but flash forwards can be very intriguing when done right.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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    1. I actually haven't watched LOST! It's one of those shows that if I started I know I won't be able to do anything else and since there's like seven seasons, it's probably best to wait for a lull in life (or the summer!)

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  2. I'm not sure how I feel about flash-forwards. With Twilight, I thought it was interesting and gave me something to look forward to, but at the same time it's kind of unnecessary. Like you said, if the author is just doing it to up the tension, they should just make the actual beginning more exciting. I guess it really depends on the way it's used. I actually wrote one for my first novel, then cut it, then wrote a prologue instead, then cut that too :)

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    1. Yeah, agreed that it seems a little unnecessary. I think it works better in TV/film, when it's used as a visual clif-hanger of sorts, than in novels.

      Totes thinking about cutting my flash-forward. I think I have enough action in the first chapter, but I just have to see about everything else the flash-forward sets up (aka more revisions, aka my life, lol).

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