Can Chapter One Be a Flash Forward?

Cli-Fi

John J. Falco
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Simply put. Chapter one of my WIP is currently a flash forward taking place five years before most of the events in the book. There's nothing final in it. It's just another day far out from the aftermath of the event in my main story. In starting chapter two I introduce the controversial villain more and work forward from the main event. So the structure goes like this:

  1. Prologue- Event happens.
  2. Chapter One- Five years later- villain all powerful. World in shock. Reader doesn't really know he is a villain and some characters agree with him. Villain is talked about and mentioned getting power, but he is mostly removed from the rest of the chapter as main characters live their daily lives. Should he be included more?
  3. Chapter Two- Villain is seemingly at his most vulnerable place. He is on trial for mass murder, but he is gaining a following and supporters. There is a hint of superstition surrounding him and even the White House is keeping tabs on him, wondering what the hell is going on.
 

Cathbad

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Salem's Lot was grrrreat! The original movie lost my vote as 'great', only because of its treatment of the #1 bad guy.
 

BAYLOR

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Salem's Lot was grrrreat! The original movie lost my vote as 'great', only because of its treatment of the #1 bad guy.
The Tobe Hooper miniseries was far more creeper and captured the mood of the novel. I still liked that version of Kurt Barlow but, yes liked incarnation in the updated film played by Rutger Hauer a bit better, He was alot closer to the book.
:cool:
 

Brian G Turner

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It sounds to me, though, like infodumping rather than story telling - from what you've said, the prologue and first 2 chapters are all about introducing information and context. You've said nothing about your protagonist and their actual story.
 

The Big Peat

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Probably doable yeah. It's not a million miles away from how Harry Potter starts.

Where's your protagonist in all this?
 

Max Egorov

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Personally I’d advise against prologues altogether. I think it’s best to introduce your main character or, if you’re doing an ensemble cast, at least one main character right away to give the reader someone to become attached to. If you have a prologue that describes an event but doesn’t have an important perspective character in my opinion in makes the event less interesting to witness.

As far as showing the villain at their most powerful before going back in time to show how they got there, I don’t know. Personally I would need to find the villain very compelling for me to want to know their journey to power. I’m this case I’m compelled to say how you frame the story is key.
 

HareBrain

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Chapter one of my WIP is currently a flash forward taking place five years before most of the events in the book.
From the rest of your post, I think you mean after.

So the structure goes like this:

  1. Prologue- Event happens.
  2. Chapter One- Five years later- villain all powerful. World in shock. Reader doesn't really know he is a villain and some characters agree with him. Villain is talked about and mentioned getting power, but he is mostly removed from the rest of the chapter as main characters live their daily lives. Should he be included more?
  3. Chapter Two- Villain is seemingly at his most vulnerable place. He is on trial for mass murder, but he is gaining a following and supporters. There is a hint of superstition surrounding him and even the White House is keeping tabs on him, wondering what the hell is going on.
It could perhaps work, but there are two jumps here, when one (at most) is usual, and I think a lot of readers would get to the start of ch2 and feel frustrated that they don't know when the meat of the story is taking place.
 

Finch

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The only way anybody is going to give a valuable opinion about your stories is by reading them. But personally, I believe an opening should be as close to the story as possible. If this event five years hence is so important, it needs to be told first , why not start there .
 

Elckerlyc

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As a reader I dislike flash forwards. Strongly. Unless perhaps when told in the form of a prophecy.
I always wonder why a writer thinks it is necessary to disrupt the normal, natural flow of narration to Jump Forwards And Back Again.
If done, it should be done for a very good (narrative) reason.

 

Cathbad

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As a reader I dislike flash forwards. Strongly. Unless perhaps when told in the form of a prophecy.
I always wonder why a writer thinks it is necessary to disrupt the normal, natural flow of narration to Jump Forwards And Back Again.
If done, it should be done for a very good (narrative) reason.
I'm just the opposite I have rather enjoyed this type of storytelling, but am rather a hater of 'prophecy' stories.

One of the things I liked best about Star Wars was that Luke rejected the 'prophecy', and proved his father still had some good in him!
 

Karn's Return

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I think I would avoid this sort of thing, especially for a starter. It can be extremely jarring for a prologue or chapter one to open up in such a way and then once it really gets going to be sucked back into the past of the story, it'll leave a reader with some questions. The same with opening with a dream sequence. Anything that wouldn't allow smooth flow into the next chapter, because the first chapter is simple introduction and trying to get a read on the main character's motivation for doing things. Playing the flashback/forward card right off-or right at the very end-is simply too violent a shove, in my opinion. If you have to have time jumps like that, best save them for somewhere more in the middle-not so far in as to be considered a copout, but not so early as to leave your reader saying, "What the hell? But this happened and she/he/they/it was dead/missing/gone and now, they're back?"

It's easier to show through visual media because humans are a vision-based species, and to be honest, today it seems like the mind's eye is going slowly more and more blind as technological advances start to overtake us, but that's just my own opinion. A reader could definitely figure things out later on, but getting jarred like that can put a hamper on a reader's enjoyment. Certainly did with me in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Not that he had flashbacks/forwards, but that he liked to jump his POVs around like kangaroos on cocaine, and that is just as jarring.
 

Steve Harrison

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It's a question - like with all writing issues - of finding what works for the job in hand.

I started the first book of my YA SF novel series with a flash forward to around the middle of the book and it I liked it so much I'm using the same formula on all the books in the series, breaking each one into three parts, titled LATER (short action intro), EARLIER (first half of the book) and NOW (the rest of the story).

I decided it suited the voice I'm using for the series and helped establish the flavour and tone, with the added bonus of providing me with the framework for each story.
 

Karn's Return

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I didn't say that it couldn't be used well or strategically. Time skips in either direction can be powerful tools indeed, if used in the right degree, I believe. Creating a series based around time skipping as a theme is nothing new, for instance, but I do believe that it could be used too much, at least in any literal sense. Just once per volume is probably where I would leave it, but it is entirely dependent upon the author themselves where they believe they can be used the most effectively.
 

Cli-Fi

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Thanks for the suggestions everyone, I'm working on what is chapter 2 right now and I'll post it in a bit to see where people think it should go in the novel. I think it might be a good chapter one actually without the prologue.
 

picklematrix

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Duncton Wood started in the middle, off the top of my head. In that instance, I am not convinced it was necessary, though for many stories it would be good to flash forward I believe.

Especially if the opening scene is particularly outlandish, or if the author wishes to use dramatic irony somehow.
 
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