Comic Talk and General Discussion

QUACKCAST 253 - Starting in the middle : narrative order and the flashback.
ozoneocean at 6:00AM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 26,582
joined: 1-2-2004
This is Bravo's idea!
 
What do you think of stories where the narative order is mixed up?
 
- Doing stories that start with the climax, then flashback tell what happened to get there and the old narrative style of when finished switching the first few chapters around.

 
———-
 
My own reation:
Sometimes it works GREAT because it throws you right into the middle of things and you have to work your way back to that point… It works very nicely in The Hangover for example!
Often it's used very badly- in anime particularly, where they use it for forshadowing and a tease to try and get you interested in the rest of the story- but anime story structure is so formulaic that all that technique really does is give you a depressing spoiler. Other times it doesn't work well is when the writer isn't very good so the viewer loses their way in the plot… If the writer is GOOD though you end up with Pulp Fiction.
 
last edited on Dec. 24, 2015 6:04AM
tupapayon at 8:10AM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 148
joined: 5-8-2013
There have been plenty of movies and series with that approach… for me, most of the time it doesn't make sense to tell a story in that way… I feel that in many cases they're just trying to grab your attention, as the main purpose of telling a story… I feel it's beggining to be annoying to see that all the time… In my opinion there should be a logic behind telling a story in an achronological order, not just for show…
KimLuster at 10:35AM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 642
joined: 5-15-2012
Yeah, it does depend on the skill of the writer!  If done well it's awesome!   Has anyone every seen the movie ‘Irreversable’ (good movie but very hard to watch certain scenes…) - the narrative order is totaly reversed!!  And you get the feeling as your led to each scene (which is previous in time) a morbid sense of fated inevitabilty!  Thus the title…
Banes at 11:15AM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 441
joined: 8-13-2008
Very cool topic!

Stories that start with the climax…or the low point, or whatever, bring two movies to my mind: Maverick (the Mel Gibson flick) and Mission Impossible 3 (with Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain).

That seems like an approach that could work a lot of the time (and it works well in both those movies). Something to goose the beginning of a story.

Another one that always works is the beginning that happens after the entire story is over. I think the Dick Van Dyke show did it a lot, from what I've heard. It's set up so someone is telling the story of what happened: “Wow, Jim, you look horrible! What happened?” “It's been a looooong week, Janice. Listen to this…”

Stories that are more mixed up than that demand more attention, for sure. I haven't seen Irreversible, but I liked Christopher Nolan's Memento when I first saw it; the narrative plays in reverse in that one, too.

Nolan's earlier movie, Following, is all over the place and is pretty tough to follow. Both are well made movies, but I admit I had no interest in revisiting Following after the first watch. Memento I watched several times and enjoyed more, but will probably never watch again. To keep the Nolan yardstick, his sequential narrative in INSOMNIA (with just a few little silent flashbacks) is far more re-watchable.

Unless there's a good reason for it, and the writer is very very good, a shuffled - up scene order is a really bad idea in my opinion.
Vindibudd at 11:19AM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 420
joined: 1-29-2006
It used to be cool but now it just irritates the heck out of me. I refuse to watch TV shows that do it. LOST did it successfully when they had good stories to tell. Once Upon A Time though is just really trying to sit through and has killed the device for me. 
Genejoke at 3:39PM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 3,615
joined: 4-9-2010
That's because once upon a time is a mediocre show at best and lacks really gifted writers.
It's a tool I've used in the past, and likely will again, but only if I see a need. It doesn't bother me or excite me as a concept as I'm very accustomed to it, but done well it's excellent.  Just as starting at the beginning is great when crafted well. 
I think a fee shows and movies have popularised it and it's often used as a method of making a weak story more exciting.  I think experimentation in story structure can be very interesting, as long as it benefits the story. Take pulp fiction for example. It's basically a collection of a few cool shirt stories loosely inter connected, if it was more chronicalogical it would be even more rubbish than it is.  Sorry I'm not a fan of the film, I know it's some sacred indie movie but I never really liked it. Reservoir dogs is another one that plays with format and it works a treat for making the film work on a very small budget. Then take kill bill… based on what I watched of it before I turned it off… it's a very basic story. C'mon it's a bad remake of Steven seagals Hard to kill with a female lead… I guess Tarantino was ahead of his time there. Anyway it's a very big standard plot given start in the middle rejig and typical Tarantino stuff. I guess it makes it all cool looking but… meh I couldn't put up with it.  
Yet TV shows often do it well. I wonder if it's the hour with adverts format that makes it better. Does it work better when time constraints mean writers and directors have to be more concise with their story telling. Also with TV shows, being that they are an an going serial the characters are already established. Sorry I'm spit balling here. 
I only used that format with malwfic and haven't returned to it as yet as I've never had a strong reason to. In malepic I wanted a way to introduce an ensemble cast and the story in a short burst. It was for the first part of the story only though. I guess hero factor did it a bit, but to me that's just standard flashbacks. 
usedbooks at 3:57PM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 2,918
joined: 2-24-2007
I enjoy adventure shows movies that start at the end of a previous mission/quest and then follow chronological order. They can grab attention at the get-go without employing that  flashback gimmick thing. Most (maybe all?) James Bond movies do that, MacGyver did it. I'm sure a ton of others. Those are just the ones that spring to mind. In medias res is my favorite way for a story to start, but I really prefer the “end of previous adventure” beginning (usually finding something that ties into or begins the current adventure, but it doesn't have to).
tupapayon at 4:04PM, Dec. 24, 2015
(online)
posts: 148
joined: 5-8-2013
I agree with Genejoke… Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction… those are not great stories… but Tarantino made them work… I loved Memento, very memorable, but makes no sense to rewatch it…
bravo1102 at 5:35AM, Dec. 25, 2015
(online)
posts: 4,535
joined: 1-21-2008
Pulp Fiction was precisely  that. A tribute to the tropes of pulp fiction, with the hoods, the robbers and the down and out boxer right out of a film noire. Tarantino likes his own dialogue too much and is very self indulgent.  Kill Bill is actually from an Asian film which also inspired the forgettable Steven Seagal film.  Tarantino is very derivative and it's the originals he is paying tribute to that deserve attention.  So everyone seek thee out film noire Fritz Lang, William Wellman,  John Huston and so many more. Some of Corman's Poe adaptations made good use oc starting in the middle.  

Surprised noone mentioned Rashoman the Japanese film where each flashback tells the story differently. 
ozoneocean at 7:47AM, Dec. 25, 2015
(online)
posts: 26,582
joined: 1-2-2004
Do comics do this much? The webcomics I've seen that approach it are usually following the anime/manga style, where it's more like a preview of what the main action will be, before working up to it.
 
They do that in sitcoms a bit occasionally, there are some episodes of Archer like that and I'm sure they did it a lot of times on How I me Your Mother… that whole show was based on the idea of starting in the middle of the story!
 
bravo1102 at 9:46AM, Dec. 25, 2015
(online)
posts: 4,535
joined: 1-21-2008
It was fairly common in the war comic books I grew up on. You'd have a couple of panels set up, then a splash page with an ambush or some other intense conflict and the rest of the story going back to tell how they got there.  Anime and manga use it a lot but then I have always seen them as borrowing heavily from previous popular forms like the pulps as well as classic Asian storytelling where it starts with the problem and the rest of the piece is the journey to that .
tupapayon at 12:21PM, Dec. 25, 2015
(online)
posts: 148
joined: 5-8-2013
Something that can also be misused and abused is the flashback to explain  whatever the plot needs or to cover plot holes…
..
I really find it annoying when they just pull backstories out of their asses (or arses, depending on your region)… “I'll show this skill no one knew I had until this precise moment that the plot needs it to happen… so allow me to come uo with a convinient backstory”…
Banes at 7:33AM, Dec. 26, 2015
(online)
posts: 441
joined: 8-13-2008
Damn, I didn't even think of Once Upon a Time, with its jumping back and forth between time and reality. Agree with Genejoke on that one, though the structure, and the fun of seeing these versions of all the classic characters, kept my interest for awhile at least. Then the weakness of the writing started becoming clear.

Tupa, you're right that offering a flashback to show the ability to solve the problem seems lame. For some reason, I loved it in Kill Bill 2, when she's buried and then we see the flashback of her training

(of course, the flashback offers much more than that, like seeing her and Bill together and introducing that wild and wacky Pei Mei, or Peipei, or whatever the name was…)
tupapayon at 4:46PM, Dec. 26, 2015
(online)
posts: 148
joined: 5-8-2013
Banes wrote:
Tupa, you're right that offering a flashback to show the ability to solve the problem seems lame. For some reason, I loved it in Kill Bill 2, when she's buried and then we see the flashback of her training

(of course, the flashback offers much more than that, like seeing her and Bill together and introducing that wild and wacky Pei Mei, or Peipei, or whatever the name was…)
I wasn't too pleased about that detail, but the kung fu master played an important role even to the very end…. so I forgave mr. Tarantino…. I think his name was Shar pei…
..

..
bravo1102 at 1:19PM, Dec. 27, 2015
(online)
posts: 4,535
joined: 1-21-2008
tupapayon wrote:
Banes wrote:
Tupa, you're right that offering a flashback to show the ability to solve the problem seems lame. For some reason, I loved it in Kill Bill 2, when she's buried and then we see the flashback of her training 

(of course, the flashback offers much more than that, like seeing her and Bill together and introducing that wild and wacky Pei Mei, or Peipei, or whatever the name was…)
 I wasn't too pleased about that detail, but the kung fu master played an important role even to the very end…. so I forgave mr. Tarantino…. I think his name was Shar pei…
..

..
And as a fan of kung-fu movies know a loving tribute to the tropes of the master-student in those films and the chance for another great kung-fu movie actor to have a cameo.  Kill Bill is a tribute film and is best judged as a tribute/satire/fanfiction rather than its own story.  I laughed pretty hard at a lot of it as I recogized tribute piece after tribute piece to previous kung fu movie greats.
ozoneocean at 5:18PM, Dec. 27, 2015
(online)
posts: 26,582
joined: 1-2-2004
I'm pretty sure a lot of people enjoy Kill Bill as a film in its own right, I still haven't seen it, strangely. I'm sure I'd like it if I ever got around to it.
So many films are love leters to other films, full of references and inspirations, and still manage to be decent in their own right.
 
Speaking of “starting in the middle” as a writing technique, I don't think I've ever really used it. The only jumble in time I've had is with single panel flashbacks and chapters that depict earlier evenets in the character's timeline.
 
I HATE, hatehatehate flashforwards and “starting in the middle” with “flash back to what lead up to this” in novels SO much that I shy away from it in comics and writing it myself. In novels that's usually always done badly that it's surprising the very few times when they do a good job.
 
It's easy to do in film and TV because the audience is passively following along and even if they have to do a little bit of mental work to keep up it's really not that much of a stretch. It's SO very different in prose though: The reader does almost all the work there, they CONSRUCT the world, the atmosphere, and the characters in their own minds, they have the environment for the story all made up and existing in their heads and the author just RIPS it all away carelessly and ineptly which can cause a bit of a mental wrench.
 
In comics it's different AGAIN though because you're moving the experence to the passive, like TV and film, it's not stuch a big thing with you jump around.
 
bravo1102 at 1:15AM, Dec. 28, 2015
(online)
posts: 4,535
joined: 1-21-2008
But when a novel does jump around it is a magnificent ride. Atonement, and Moorcock's Oswald Bastable books. Behold the Man also wasn't linear until the end. As for myself I usually just plod along in order when looking back jumping around would have saved me and the reader lots of headaches.
ozoneocean at 2:13AM, Dec. 28, 2015
(online)
posts: 26,582
joined: 1-2-2004
I don't know about Atonement, but in the Oswald Bastable books and Morcock's other Eternal Champions stories the narative isn't jumping, rather it's the whole world and the protagonist is in the same boat as the reader- they're catching up with everything at the same time we are, which is a very clever conciet!
 
irrevenant at 2:45AM, Dec. 28, 2015
(online)
posts: 759
joined: 1-13-2007
Personally my rule of thumb is: If that little snippet can interest me enough in the situation and the characters that I want to go back and see how they got there, then it works well. Otherwise notsomuch. 

The catchup story also has to be worthwhile.  Sometimes a story would do better to start in the middle of the action and just keep going forward from there and sprinkle any necessary backstory into the dialogue and narrative.
I've been looking at the machete order for watching Star Wars and one valid point it makes is how little “The Phantom Menace” matters to the overall narrative.  We didn't need to go back and see what happened to Anakin as a little kid - and poor old Qui-gon and Darth Maul turned out to be completely unnecessary to the overall story. Start the trilogy at Episode 2 with Anakin as Obi-Wan's gifted but undisciplined apprentice and the story is tighter.  And just as effective, if not more so.

If starting in the middle works well that can sometimes be a sign that the middle is actually the beginning… 
ozoneocean at 5:11AM, Dec. 28, 2015
(online)
posts: 26,582
joined: 1-2-2004
HA! Starwars is a great example Irrenenant- except I'd argue that you should ditch the prequels absoloutely and completely and the story works perfectly that way. AND the beauty of it is that with the way it's written the first movie is pretending to be the 4th part of a fake on going serial so it IS apparently starting in the middle of something.
 
-You could argue that the nasty prequels are the earlier episodes it's refering to, but of course that's bullshit. With the way the first movie starts what would have gone before in the fictional first 3 movies would've been the direct run up to the rebelion, not some silly made up crap that happened decades ealier, they only did that to cash in and because the original actors were too old for a prequel.
 
bravo1102 at 5:53AM, Dec. 28, 2015
(online)
posts: 4,535
joined: 1-21-2008
Moorcock wrote a mainstream book about London that jumped around in the 1990s.  And then there's Homer.  Lest we forget the Odyssey is a series of nested flashbacks and in fact starts at the last stop of Odysseus's journey. 
tupapayon at 7:14AM, Dec. 29, 2015
(online)
posts: 148
joined: 5-8-2013
Now that Star Wars was mentioned… the first time I heard that prequels were gonna be made I thought: but, shy?…. I thought it waas unnecessary to tell that story… and I was right…

irrevenant said it right. I agree that instead of having all those flashbacks, or going back to the beggining, just used dialogue, traces of objects (trophies ona wall, framed  pictures on a table), or some ohter creative ways to explain a background… I'm not saying flashbacks should  not be used, but they shouldn't be the only way…
Call Me Tom at 9:16AM, Dec. 29, 2015
(online)
posts: 305
joined: 10-28-2010
Currently doing a flashback in the Understanding. Probably going to be a lot of flashbacks what with one of the main characters claiming to be the master of memory…
tupapayon at 7:10AM, Dec. 30, 2015
(online)
posts: 148
joined: 5-8-2013
Call Me Tom wrote:
Currently doing a flashback in the Understanding. Probably going to be a lot of flashbacks what with one of the main characters claiming to be the master of memory…
That actually makes sence… you have a real reason and logic for that…
bravo1102 at 7:45AM, Dec. 30, 2015
(online)
posts: 4,535
joined: 1-21-2008
What about narrative variety? If you're  doing a multiple installment franchise having one with a mixed flow might be a good way to keep the reader intrigued.  Even some nonfiction works start you in the middle and then go back to explain everything. 
ozoneocean at 9:03AM, Dec. 30, 2015
(online)
posts: 26,582
joined: 1-2-2004
Non-fiction works that do that piss me off. In fact almost all non-fiction with a narative does. Especially articles. I once met a woman who worked with the guy who was said to have originated and popularised that style of writing for the New York Times (she was some kind of journalist bigwig… very arogant, massive name dropper!). She was saying how great he was and all I could think was that the man was a monster.
 
bravo1102 at 9:26AM, Dec. 30, 2015
(online)
posts: 4,535
joined: 1-21-2008
I read one where the author noted the style in the forward and that if you wanted to follow the narrative chronologically to read every other chapter to the end , then repeat for the skipped chapters then read the conclusion.  It defeats the purpose of comparing and contrasting the parallel stories but it is easier to understand.  It actually requires more effort from the writer as you have to finish the whole manuscript first and then reorder it.  Then there's  the novelist who finished the book through all the chapter headings into the air and reordered them in the order he picked them back up.
ozoneocean at 10:05AM, Dec. 30, 2015
(online)
posts: 26,582
joined: 1-2-2004
Off-topic, narratives in any order in non-fiction artices are horrible, especially when the author inserts themselves INTO the piece… Wait a minute. I remember who the guy was that that lady was blabbering about all those years ago- Hunter S Thompson. Jebus.
 
El Cid at 12:07PM, Jan. 1, 2016
(online)
posts: 1,085
joined: 5-4-2009
Sometimes, it can feel like cheating… like, “Hey, the first two-thirds of this story is hella boring, so here's a taste of the good part. Cool, now here's the boring part, SUCKER!” The story oughtta be interesting throughout, and shouldn't need gimmicks to reel you in.
 
That said, I don't really have a preference for storytelling order. You can do interesting things with any kind of story structure. You can have a character die at the beginning, and then go back and show events which make that death more significant, and even completely change the audience's perception of the opening events. You could show a story that begins with a disastrous conclusion… then go back and show all the good intentions which led to it. You can use it as a tool, not just as a gimmick. So it all depends on how it's used.
 
My previous comic ‘Death P#rn’ had some flashback elements to it, because parts of the narrative referenced things which had happened before the story's timeline, and in some cases in a separate comic which the readers likely hadn't read. So it was the most creative and interesting way for me to get that information into the narrative. Originally, the ending of the comic was also supposed to include an epilogue that was in fact a prequel. After the end credits, the two main characters walk out onto a dirt road and are run over by a car being driven by themselves some years earlier, in a sequence which details the harrowing day they first met. Thankfully, I chose instead to end the comic where I did.
 
My current comic may include some switching around in timelines, but only because it's a space opera where the locations are in some cases sixty days away from each other or more, and so rather than using the ‘30 DAYS LATER’ text boxes, I'll probably just shift between narratives at different locations. I haven't entirely worked out how I'm going to make that work yet.

Forgot Password
©2011 WOWIO, Inc. All Rights Reserved Google+