How to entitle this… ‘A column of story’… ‘Linear writing’… ‘Following time’…
To be honest, I can’t even describe to myself what I want to say!
Two steps back: I’d like to talk about something I’ve noticed in my writing and others in the few months I’ve been writing and submitting flash fiction (aiming at the 1000 word mark). It primarily concerns how time flow is dealt with in story telling.
About two months ago I wrote a story called ‘Megafauna’. Super quick summary: humans mess things up, wipe out humanity except for a few people who jump into cryostorage, pop out XXXX years later and the story happens. The first part (the background about the fall of humanity) was written as an ad-lib exercise, but I knew it was background, so the whole lot flashed by quickly and was written in past perfect tense (they had messed things up, a select few had decided to end it, et cetera). I wrote the rest of the story (past simple; standard stuff) and really liked it, but felt the beginning was, for lack of a better term, shit. Every time I re-read it, I was struck by how boring it was just reading through a bunch of background in an extremely distant and non-narrative tense before the exciting part of the story even began.
Eventually, after fiddling with it for a few weeks, I came to my first real learning moment since I started: If there is anything you are less than 100% sure about in your story, it means it’s crap (just the bit you ain’t sure about)… if its own father/mother doesn’t love it, there’s no way a stranger will.
So, I decreed to keep my crap-dar keenly engaged while reading my own work and if it quivered even slightly, I would be willing to engage in hardcore re-writing.
Back to Megafauna: the problem was the background section. I trimmed it and trimmed it until finally I realised that if I think it needs trimming so much, it just needs removing–so I removed the whole bit. It was approximately half the story (500 words) to begin with, and essential background for the main bit of the story, but I thought I would attempt to integrate it with the main characters’ chatter. It turns out that 500 words of background narration can be reduced to about 50 words of careful hints!
Well bugger me!
Or, to put it another way: Tris had spent much time fiddling with the story and had realised it needed changing before he asked the world to bugger him.
Now, it doesn’t finish there. I’ve just read the novel (series of novellas?) Wool by Hugh Howey and while my review is far from glowing, it does employ this ‘forward’ storytelling technique exceptionally well. In fact, I had a peculiar feeling that the text was a long, thin column of words that flowed downwards exactly in synch with with time. I haven’t experienced that sensation before with a piece of fiction, but it did make it very easy to read.
So, in short, things I’ve learnt recently are: if you don’t love a bit of your story, it needs changing AND you should do your best to tell the story in chronological order, starting with the first relevant event that befalls the protagonist.