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Opposite timelines - confusing or intriguing? (1 Viewer)

Hi all - I recently got back into writing fiction after a 10+ year hiatus and decided to take a crack at writing a novel.

In my novel, there are two timelines, one working forward and one working backward. The timelines switch every chapter.

I may not be explaining this the best, but hereÂ’s the gist - the novel is essentially a revenge story, and the first four chapters work like this:

Chapter 1: involves a conversation where the main character begins to hatch a plan for revenge.

Chapter 2: details the funeral of the main characterÂ’s wife (prior in time from the revenge conversation).

Chapter 3: completes the conversation re: the plan for revenge and starts to carry out plan (forward in time from Chapter 1).

Chapter 4: details phone call main character receives from the hospital saying his wife has been in an accident. Chapter also includes main characterÂ’s trip to the hospital, etc. (prior in time from Chapter 2).

IÂ’ve enjoyed starting the novel and working through the timelines thus far, but I am afraid that the opposite timelines and shift every chapter could be confusing to readers when compared to say, a strict chronological timeline.

What do you all think? I would love to get any impressions you have. Or, alternatively, if you know of any books that take this or a similar approach to plot, that would be awesome too. Thanks so much!

- SH
 

thepancreas11

New Writers' Mentor
WF Veterans
This could easily work. I've thought about the idea myself before with the first and last weekends of a relationship played in opposite order, or something like that.

I think this works best if there is a sort of cause and effect train happening between the chapters. Something happens in the first chapter that sparks the idea of the second. Something happens in the second chapter that sparks the idea of the third, and so on and so forth. I think this is good writing anyways to try and tie your individual scenes together with some sort of running undercurrent.

For this reason, I would start with the funeral, probably. It's punchier, and it leads very nicely into the chapter about the character discussing revenge.
 

robertn51

Senior Member
What do you all think? I would love to get any impressions you have. Or, alternatively, if you know of any books that take this or a similar approach to plot, that would be awesome too.

What do I think?

I think I should be grocery shopping, and I need new shoes, but here I am chasing a delightfully-tempting will-o'-wisp. Now I remember one of the many excuses for why I stopped writing. It is so perpendicular to living.

You have an extremely interesting idea. And I wonder madly what kind of story would thrive in this mode of telling.

The reversing timeline will be the tricky bit -- there's no direct cause-and-effect momentum -- unless the future can be seen to be incited from one of multiple causes. Then some sneaky things might be. I wonder...

And, as wonders sometimes go, for me, this one has captured the attention of Abyss, so things are bubbling up. The pivot is the converging event at the end of the story. That will be the trickiest. Have to let the reader get somewhere from there.

Oh this will really be a lovely time-suck. I need to sketch a story I already have and have never known.

Things out there coming to mind? Nothing that matches perfectly. But there's one crystal-clear thing close by.

There's Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life" (in the collection "Stories of Your Life and Others"). The converging timelines are not of precisely the same event though -- which is just the most sweetest, most brilliant prestige.

[][][][] Completely necessary SPOILER AHEAD, big time. [][][][]

The forward timeline is the unfolding and realization of the aliens' -- oh, there's an alien arrival (movie: "Arrival". Adorable Amy Adams being beautifully brilliant) -- realization of the aliens' upside-down and inside-out notion about cause-and-effect. (They know the future. But it must be made real by performing it.) The forward timeline dramatizes the scientists figuring this out from the way the aliens write. (Yass. Writers Rule!)

The reversed timeline is the main character remembering to her future daughter (yes, that's right) her yet-to-be and yet-always-there (the aliens' way) too-short life. The reversed timeline begins with events just before the daughter's conception and then jumps to her untimely accidental death. (this is the one "seam" in the scheme. And I now scrutinize that. Needed?)

The convergent event, at the end of the story, is twinned with the first "slice" on the reversed timeline, the first "chapter" of the novella: "You want to make a baby?" The main's daughter's conception, and the main character's breakthrough understanding of the aliens' way. And this is just stunningly brilliant, making conception/inception the thematic engine.

But wait! Where does the just-off the Tilt-A-Whirl reader go at the end?

Last passage of the piece is: "...and we hold hands as we walk inside to make love, to make you."

Me, face filling with water, I go back and start reading the story again.

Confusing? No. The two timelines are told in neither the same tense nor the same voice.

The forward timeline is the usual first person past tense.

The reversed timeline is first person future perfect -- "...you’ll be lying in your bassinet, and I’ll be leaning over you." -- and is directed to only "you," the daughter.

The difference in narrative view and voice is how there is never confusion between the two timelines. Which are, of the course, the same timeline, just "folded" and told with the narrative view upon different objects in that same timeline.

Yeah. You can't make a movie of it. But oh my they really tried.

Not quite what you're attempting. But maybe that narrative voice trick would solve the alternating timeline confusion?

And now I get to make a long-missing new folder within the WIP folder. Forget the stupid shopping, I'll swing by the market on the way back from my evening miles.
 

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