All right, short writing post tonight about the nature of timing. This one’s really quick and simple, so there won’t be as much ruminating as usual.
Telling a linear story is great. Stories are quite often told linearly, but there of course are many exceptions. Linear plotting makes events easy to follow, which is nice. But here’s one piece of advice from Ron Carlson, who is an amazing writing teacher. Say you’re writing a short story with events numbering 1, 2, and 3, which happen in the world in that order. That’s fine for your own knowledge. But in the work itself, one may make the story more interesting if one tweaks the order so that 2 comes first, then 1, then 3. For even more fun times, one could mix it up even more.
This advice doesn’t mean that story must be a bunch of mixed up events. Many stories employ this method while still telling a linear story. Consider this an extension of the writing advice to start “in medias res” or in the middle of the action. The action would be event #2, where things are happening, and #1 will come up later to illuminate the world and the characters. Maybe as flashbacks or in dialogue, or what have you.
To study this concept, consider any number of books. There’s the classic, The Iliad by Homer. The first line tells us that Achilles is angry, at a pivotal point in the Trojan war. We don’t see the Greeks rallying together and sailing to Troy, which linearly would be event #1. The story is better for it.
Another example is Beloved by Toni Morrison, which is an amazing feat of plotting and timing. The opening chapter starts at an important point in the main characters’ story, with an arrival, and later there are many flashbacks that tell us the complicated, heart-breaking past that surround and will affect this arrival. Misfit by Jon Skovron starts in a “present” and brings up the past in alternating chapters, which I loved.
So that is the advice I pass on tonight. It doesn’t have to be a huge shift to start further in the story–you can always provide the same information later if it is that important–and not all stories will work with it. But it might help get a reader’s attention, at the very least.