February 23, 2018, 12:35:44 PM

Author Topic: Starting close to the end  (Read 309 times)

Offline Yora

Starting close to the end
« on: January 30, 2018, 08:50:48 PM »
Really just an idea that occured to me. But what about writing a story that starts close to the end of the overall plot. Only the final chapters, so to speak. The protagonists and antagonists all know each other for a long time and have a lot of shared history. No flashbacks and only limited exposition. Think of the Iliad, it really only covers the last days of a complex war with dozens of characters that had already been going for years.

It's an approach that works very well in short stories and that I've seen on occasion in other media, but never in a novel. Could this work in longer form? Or would readers automatically have questions about past events that would require a flashback if the story goes on for a certain time? Somehow I imagine such a book would feel pretty artsy.
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Offline ArhiX

Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2018, 12:26:36 AM »
As far as I remember we know from other sources all the crucial things about the plot of Iliad that happened before Iliad.

And of course they would ask questions. I mean... I asked questions about Balrog in LotR because I like to know stuff. That's the human nature.

I think it could work in this way (we already know the background from the other sources) or just like a Balrog works in LotR.

1. It doesn't matter why something is happening. It only matters that it does (Balrog confronts the fellowship).
2. Scarce exposition is enough to tell most of the story (Gandalf said two sentences about how dwarves woke an ancient evil by digging too deep - and it was enough).
3. Many things are happening and part that is told, has a bigger meaning than the part that is left untold. TLDR - Destination is more importand than the way. (Fellowship was scattered. Gandalf became white).

I wonder if there are any story that matches to what Yora said...
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Az arche mahi Azem. Sevishta. Aiwithura. Azata. Pareshi...

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2018, 01:48:56 AM »
I cannot think of such a story Yora - but it would vary a great deal depending on the genre and what sort of plot within the genre.

I can think of an example of the opposite - spending the whole story centered on the BEGINNING act of a genre's particular plot. The film Unbreakable, which is quite good imho, is film with a major departure from norms for its genre (hero origin movie). If you want to see what experimental is like, check it out without any investigation. Most people, in my experience, who are attracted to experimental art are only interested in inflicting, err, sharing it with others  ;D
The film "Split" is the sequel, and in many ways its mirror image and in others, a parallel.
Synopsis of Unbreakable
Spoiler for Hiden:
M. Night Shamalayan tried it out to see what would happen if we spent a whole hero origin story focused on the first of the superhero's standard 3-act origin story - where he discovers he has powers. The second act, learning to use them, and the third, overcoming the villain, are contained in the final 1/4 or 1/5th of the film. Bruce Willis learns he really/literally is unbreakable. His mentor in this, Samuel L. Jackson, is the villain, ironically.
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline cupiscent

Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2018, 02:56:39 AM »
Thanks for the Unbreakable synopsis, TGC, because when I watched that movie I got so bored that my friends and I invented a drinking game for the movie and I have no memory of the end of the movie at all...

The problem with starting very close to the end is engaging your audience: getting them interested in a story that's already hip-deep, and getting them to care about characters who aren't pausing to be introduced. Now, I love a story that starts in medias res (warning: TV tropes link!) but I think if I was reading a book where all the interesting stuff seemed to have already happened, I might get a bit annoyed.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2018, 03:49:01 AM »
I think to make such things work, one must shift the emphasis - the normal structure supports a normal emphasis; an atypical structure would require a different emphasis. Unbreakable emphasizes character far, far more than traditional superhero films; hence Cupi's boredom - the last thing a Media Res/plot focus fan is going to enjoy is a character study in ... a superhero origin movie.

So picture a murder mystery beginning ... at the solution. Instead of the normal plot emphasis where the reader is analyzing suspects and clues ... you might focus on ... what? Or a romance, where we start with the happy couple coming to the realization that they are right for each other and deeply, deeply in love ... we focus on ... what?

In fantasy, we have many popular plot lines with traditional structures, mainly Quests, adventures, transformation (literal), maturation, etc - but again these have tradition final acts and beginning with them ... baffles me in terms of what you could focus on in terms of plot, character, or setting, that would be doable, let alone entertaining. But it's a thought-provoking exercise.

I saw an analysis of the methods used to produce the latest iteration in the Mad Max series - which did not have a screenplay or real script. Instead, it had 3,500+ storyboard pictures. It is virtually entirely action (hello plot fans), with minimal dialogue, and all of its characterization (and there's actually a LOT of subtle characterization and it's dynamic - the main characters and their relationship is neither static nor cliche) is portrayed through action, decisions, and the great talents of the actors' faces. So if unconventional approaches can work in film to produce "stock" blockbuster films, why couldn't a writer approach traditional structures and come up with something?

This path is not for me, but I salute anyone willing to try. Have fun storming the castle!
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Not Lu

Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2018, 05:50:15 PM »
Really just an idea that occured to me. But what about writing a story that starts close to the end of the overall plot. Only the final chapters, so to speak. The protagonists and antagonists all know each other for a long time and have a lot of shared history. No flashbacks and only limited exposition.

When I've seen this done well the author treats the reader as if they're on the first day of a job. The reader is dropped into a situation where they have an outline of what is supposed to happen, but lacks the specifics of how the people, groups, and departments all fit together and work with each other. If done well, the reader is introduced to several characters and by watching how they interact start to see who belongs to each faction. Who's good and who's bad. Who's working for one goal and who's working for another.

In order to pull it off successfully, the book most likely needs multiple POVs. Each character has to have an explicit personality, a job to do, motivation, goals, etc. that relate directly to the overall plot of the book. Each scene should advance the story and point to the end of the book so the reader is always looking forward instead of wanting information about the past (via flashbacks, backstory, info dumps, etc.).

Offline Yora

Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2018, 06:11:17 PM »
The vague image I have in mind are something like two characters with a long shared history, whose details are not really important, and one of them has finally caught up to the other to have their final confrontation. Or of a group of people who had a lot of adventures or a long career together, and the story starts just when everything goes to hell and then eventually ends in total disaster.
Something very roughly like that that comes to my mind are the Hellboy comics. Hellboy and friends have been fighting the supernatural together for 50 years when the story starts. It's a long running series and probably wasn't planned like that, and it has various stories that turn out to be more aditional side content. But the main story that is visible in hindsight really has the first adventure be the marking point of the beginning of the end.

This feels like something that could potentially be very interesting. But also probably really quite difficult. Nothing I'd want to try my hand at, but I find it a fascinating possibility.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2018, 07:35:25 PM »
That sounds to me like a "treatment"; meaning you are applying details and nuances that suggest that there's a long history among the characters, without actually presenting that history to the reader in the narrative (via actual narration or simple summary). So basically a conventional structure with hints of momentum. Two issues to this: first if it is a full novel, we know this isn't the actual final confrontation, because it's too early in the story. Second, we expect the hero to lose, stalemate, or "win but at great cost" (sewing the seeds for the next).

This isn't a critical problem, it's just predictable. You see this in the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring, where we know that the big battle with Sauron isn't THE big battle; and in most Bond and Mission: Impossible films- where the chase/mission/fight will not be important in the overall story; and the list goes on.

As someone said earlier, the risk with starting with a major confrontation is that no one has had time to get invested in the characters or care about the consequences, i.e., the Last Jedi's opening space battle. Without empathy, the conflict has no stakes to the reader, even if the characters are intensely concerned and the special effects kick ass.

The next problem, if you are thinking of a long work, is what do you follow that weighty opening confrontation with, even if you are successful in getting readers hooked in the first few scenes? This is a traditional problem with any Media Res opening, and ratcheting up the scope of the next conflict isn't always easy. Usually the solution is an element of mystery and/or recovery from that confrontation.
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Yora

Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2018, 08:25:02 PM »
I was thinking about spreading it out over a great length. Not start with a fight, but with the protagonist being on his way to the place where he knows he will find the antagonist. Then he can go through preparations. Have encounters with the antagonist in circumstances that prevent them from having their final fight right that moment.

Which makes me think about Once Upon a Time in the West. It's a really long movie (though with amazingly slow pacing) and starts with Harmonica having tracked down Frank. There's still over two hours of movie before he confronts him. What the movie does is to interweave it with a murder mystery and a conspiracy. As the plot develops, the murder is revealed to have been supposed to be the final move in a bigger game, which also makes it another case of a long story of which only the last chapter is shown.
And of course, the movie is all about the end of the Wild West but also came close to the very end of the Italo-Western genre.

I also have a vague memory of something similar appearing in some noir movies. (And in many ways, Italo-Westerns are Noir-Westerns.) Characters who knew each other come together again but it turns out that their relationships were already over and now they just tried to use each other. Though I can't think of any specific case.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2018, 08:31:30 PM »
That sounds totally doable, and many successful works emphasize the history you're talking about for a bunch of dramatic and practical reasons. The first Rambo movie First Blood is a great example, where we 'see' Rambo's past and get a lot of characterization through Troutman in very economical bits. The nice thing is, this approach gives you a method to providing exposition in a context that isn't boring.
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Elfy

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Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2018, 08:47:26 PM »
Sounds very similar to the now overused thing in TV shows where they begin with a central character in great peril and the audience is wondering how this happened, because the previous episode ended with them fine and then the words XX hours earlier appear on the screen unfolds up to the point where the character gets to the original scene, by which stage there's only a few minutes of the episode left to play.
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Offline Skip

Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2018, 05:37:21 AM »
Funny you should ask. I just finished John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that does something very like this. The point of the novel is the MC is looking for a mole in the British spy agency. The people involved have a long history, and the mole has been embedded in the Circus for many years. There has been a couple of recent incidents that indicate matters are coming to a crisis. The novel alternates between the major players maneuvering for the final confrontation, and semi-flashbacks (told mainly via George Smiley, the MC, digging through agency records and reports, plus his own recollections).

It's a bit leisurely, but with good suspense at the end. IMO, fantasy could do with some more varied pacing.

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Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2018, 08:03:51 AM »
Sounds very similar to the now overused thing in TV shows where they begin with a central character in great peril and the audience is wondering how this happened, because the previous episode ended with them fine and then the words XX hours earlier appear on the screen unfolds up to the point where the character gets to the original scene, by which stage there's only a few minutes of the episode left to play.
This is what I thought too, but then Yora said that we wouldn't go back in the story.
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Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2018, 02:52:08 AM »
I kind of felt this way with Gardens of the Moon. Maybe it didn't drop you into the end of the story, but it definitely didn't feel like the start.

Offline Yora

Re: Starting close to the end
« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2018, 05:55:17 AM »
Doesn't that one still end up as 10 doorstoppers?
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