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  1. #1
    Tom Impelluso

    Devices and Advices


    May I ask for advice on a device?

    In some stories/films a main character is in some precarious or
    preposterous position. The reader wonders how it got this way, and then
    the story begins from the beginning and climaxes back at the critical

    I have written my first novel and all friends (yes, I know,
    friends always say the nicest things, but bear with me), say
    that the 14th Chapter is fantastic, wonderful, excellent, worth
    the wait, etc.

    I have had it read by five of the best agencies out there. Four never
    even made it to Chapter 14. Only agent did finish it, and that one
    suggested I rewrite the novel (she loved that 14th Chapter).

    So, it dawned on me that I should move the 14th Chapter forward
    and use that as the hook.

    But I step back from this thought as I feel it is a bit disingenuous.

    So I am wondering about this device of 'hooking' the reader with the
    finale. I am not sure it is particularly good writing. In fact (as in
    my case), I would dare to suggest it is the mark of a lazy or inept writer
    (again, I am referencing myself and apologize if I offend anyone).

    Naturally, in some stories premised on non-linear story telling, such
    a device may be essential, so I am excluding the cases of that style.

    But in a regular novel, do such devices only serve to mask inept story

    Are there any novels/film out there where this devices is accepted?
    (Notice, I did not ask: "are there any films where this device 'works'?;
    for, if it 'works' then it is an integral part of the nature of the

    I am trying to decide if I should make another go at this, or
    start another. And please with hold advice on 'put it aside and
    try again or some such'. I really am asking about the valid
    use of this contrived device of beginning with the hook when there
    is no need to begin with a hook other than... well.. to hook for
    the sake of hooking. Please also with hold advice on strategizing
    with that one agent... I am really only interested in the use
    of this device and if and when it ever works. (In my case, if I
    use it, I truely believe I will be using it for deceitful reason -
    to mask my inept story telling).

  2. #2
    Arden Wolfe

    Re: Devices and Advices

    An example of this device is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Cause and Effect.


    In novels, they work because they do the opposite of foreshadowing. Let's call it postshadowing. You have to be careful though not to give too much away, but not overly tease the reader. Even with the 'ending' given, the reader wants the journey.

    If I told you the Titanic sunk, would it have ruined the movie? Book prequels are based on the knowing the ending.

    It works and is not inept, but unique if you have the talent to do it correctly.

    On a personal note, well ... let's say I know it works and leave it at that.


  3. #3
    Gravity Fades

    Re: Devices and Advices

    Tom, it's called "in media res" (Latin), and it's a perfectly valid way of writing a story.

  4. #4
    Mya Bell

    Re: Devices and Advices

    I'd be tempted to figure out what is magical about that chapter and try to apply those principles to the rest of the story. No point in having a great chapter 14 if the rest doesn't hold the reader's attention.

    --- Mya Bell

  5. #5
    Mya Bell

    Re: Devices and Advices

    Arden mentioned: "If I told you the Titanic sunk, would it have ruined the movie? Book prequels are based on the knowing the ending."

    I always wonder though, if the rules for nonfiction and fiction are different. All those people really did drown on the Titanic. There's a stark awe accompanying the reality of it that helps carry the story, I think---even if the retelling is a fictionalized version.

    I wonder if knowing the ending first in fiction removes some of the motivation to read the story. Sometimes the story holds up under retelling (examples include Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, War and Peace, and Frankenstein) but I suspect it has to be a story that taps deep into human experience and cultural archetypes to survive giving away the "punch line" at the beginning.

    --- Mya Bell

  6. #6
    Arden Wolfe

    Re: Devices and Advices

    Good point.


  7. #7
    Joe Zeff

    Re: Devices and Advices

    As I mentioned in another thread, I used to have a book that started with the sack of Constantinople by the crusaders then went back to over a generation earlier to show what lead to it. Knowing in advance what the outcome would be helped the reader understand why some of the seemingly reasonable decisions were probably bad ideas and made me (at least) more aware of how shaky the empire had become. As the story goes on, you can see the strong rulers being undermined and the weaker relatives coming to the fore. I don't think it would have had so much impact on me if it had been written in the more obvious way.

  8. #8
    Joe Trent

    Re: Devices and Advices

    Anyone see the movie "Memento?" It starts with the ending, then tells the story in reverse in little clips to get to the beginning and the "why."

    Kind of a gimmick and you couldn't tell many stories this way, but it worked for me.

    It seems to me that if you start with the ending, the beginning and middle better be good.

    For what it's worth.

  9. #9
    M. Deschanel

    Re: Devices and Advices

    Tom- if the feedback you're getting says the 14th chapter is quite good, and just polite silence on the preceding 13 chapters from friends, maybe some drastic reconstruction of your story is in order. Because no one wants to slog through 13 chapters to get to the good parts.

    And in fact, if there are 13 chapters that are dull and unengaging to a reader, you need to ruthlessly cut out the deadwood there. Seriously, slash and burn, and don't look back.

    How long are your chapters btw? Because I wouldn't have patience for a book that had many more than that-

    Life is short. Time is precious. Never be boring.

    Best to you.

  10. #10
    The Midnight Writer

    Re: Devices and Advices

    A couple of years ago i was working on a story with the ending first, but i wrote to where you couldn't tell who any of the people were. It opened with a man shot in the face, and the police investigating three teenagers--very like the reader was a bystander. Then after that brief little glimpse of the end, I started the story for real, and introduced my heroine and took it from there, until you realized she was the one who shot the man. Worked for me, though the MS got shunted aside for what i'm currently working on...

    Just a personal experience. It can be done, it just depends on how well you craft the story and how much you want your reader to know at any given time.


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