The majority of books that we read are constructed in a very similar fashion - the simple retelling of a story in chronological order using prose. It's a tried and tested format that works well, but there are alternatives and when writing your book it's often interesting to step away from the norm and consider writing in a slightly different format or structure. |
The immensely successful 'Da Vinci Code' by Dan Brown was a high profile book that did just that. Brown used the technique of writing short chapters that left you guessing as to where they fitted in the tale and each had a cliffhanger. Personally, I found the writing very simplistic yet the book was a huge success, perhaps in part due to this different approach which made his book stand out.
Whilst not a fictional story, Ingrid Bettancourt's 'Even Silence has an End', the autobiography of her 7 years as a prisoner of the FARC in south America, uses the idea of mixing up the timeline. She starts with an escape attempt which fails, she then is in a hotel room after her release and following that, returns to a more conventional approach.
Dreda Say Mitchell does this extremely well in her book, Geezer Girls. She starts with the penultimate scene, then explains how the characters came to be there before concluding with the final scene. In this way she is instigating suspense and intrigue right from the very beginning of the book.
Most fiction will be written in prose but your book doesn't have to be like that. In Thinking Pink, Samantha Pearce uses a mixture of prose, poetry, imagery and lists to create interest and suspense. With this writing style, the reader has to concentrate hard, use their imagination and thus embrace the story. It's not everyone's cup of tea but it will appeal to many readers looking for something more complex than just a story.
Most novels and other fiction is written from the perspective of the main characters and the reader observes the unfolding tale in real time. They are very often told mainly in the present tense but to get away from this, you could reveal the story as a conversation between the characters, enabling you to write in the past tenses or as a series of flashbacks or dreams. Used in combination with the 'mixed up timeline' technique, this can be very effective.
If you are writing a screen play or a series of books, you can vary the technique from episode to episode or book to book. This was done particularly well in Babylon 5, the science fiction series from the 1990s that is as fresh now as it was then. J. Michael Straczynski wrote the bulk of the episodes and used virtually every technique in the book and more to ensure that each episode was compelling.
Whichever of these techniques you choose, you need to have a very strong timeline. For example, Babylon 5 had a 5 year time line when J. Michael Straczynski pitched it to the networks, however, there was much more to it than that. He has prepared a timeline from before and after the main period which enabled him to give much more depth to the writing. It is worth bearing that in mind. When you produce your masterpiece, you may not have in mind any sequels or prequels - using an extended timeline could make that possible.
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