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Starting at the end…

Something only my earliest critique partners know is that the first draft of Give Up the Ghost started with Cass preparing to go to prom while talking with Paige — an extended version of the scene that now appears in the last chapter of the book, ending with her reminiscing about how she came to be planning to go to prom at all, and looping back to what is now the beginning of the book.

The technique of starting with an intriguing or tense scene from the end of the story before going back to show how it all began is a well-loved one. Heck, Twilight does it. But it didn’t end up feeling right for GHOST. The risk with giving away part of the ending is you leave the reader knowing something that’s coming, so that part of the ending can no longer be a surprise. Basically, the suspense created by wondering how the character will get there has to be greater than the suspense lost by knowing where they’re going.

Now I have a new idea that might start at the end. I love the idea of using this particular scene as the opening. But I’m also wondering if it’s definitely worth the risk.

So I’m curious to hear: How do you feel about books that start with a glimpse of the end? What makes that work or not work for you? Any favorite examples?

Originally published at another world, not quite ours - Megan Crewe's blog. You can comment here or there.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
For writers like you (ie, those who are particularly skilled), I enjoy the starting at the end. I know I won't be let down...and that's a good feeling :)
Jan. 12th, 2013 12:11 am (UTC)
Well thank you. *blushes* I'm definitely a lot more patient with writers I trust to tell a good story based on previous books, than if a new-to-me writer goes off on an odd tangent or does something that seems to weaken the story.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 12th, 2013 12:12 am (UTC)
That's a great example! It seems that the key is giving away enough info to hook the reader, but not so much that their most pressing questions are answered. :) I do love the way it's handled in REBECCA, too.
Jan. 11th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
I think Heidi Kling did this in SEA, giving us a foreshadowing glimpse of a tense moment near the end of the book, then going back to the beginning.

I did this with my WIP but I don't know whether it will stay that way or whether I'll eliminate the foreshadowing glimpse.

Thanks for bringing up the topic. I hope others can come up with examples where it is well done.
Jan. 12th, 2013 12:15 am (UTC)
I hope this post helps you out too, then! There are more comments on my Wordpress blog over here if you haven't already seen them.

The example that's stuck with me the most, so I guess you could say the most effective example I've seen, is Donna Tartt's THE SECRET HISTORY. Part of what makes it work so well there is she isn't revealing something from the end or the climax of the book, but a huge turning point from the middle/third quarter. So you spend the lead-up both wondering how the characters will get to that point, and how they're going to deal with the consequences.
Jan. 12th, 2013 05:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Megan. I'll look up THE SECRET HISTORY.

Actually, that's what I hope to accomplish with my short prologue scene. It's a scene of high tension at about the half-way point which forces the protagonist to take action.
Jan. 12th, 2013 08:10 pm (UTC)
My head's a bit foggy so I can't think of any examples - not even TV ones, where it can also work to great effect - but I think the technique can both work and not work if it's done for the right reasons and in the right hands.

#1. The opening scene foreshadows the end in such a way that you spend the whole book with a sense of awe or dread wondering how on earth they end up there This works even better if it's a twist - ie: the foreshadowing looks or sounds very much like the a school dance or a simple chase scene, but when you actually get there it's a bomb blast or a sinking ship or something 10 times more exciting or, indeed, something completely and utterly different than what was hinted/suggested. Or something, but either way, you go on the journey and still end up somewhere you weren't expecting. It sets the tone for the journey.

#2, when it doesn't work for me, is when an author uses it to tell the reader "look how exciting this book is going to get! Stick with it!" Maybe a fight or an explosion or some other big-hitting scene but handled clumsily just looks like an advert for Chapter 17, and at its worst it's just begging the reader to hang around. I used #2 shamefully in my youth :p

Ooh, I did think of one example. I'm a huge fan of the Deptford Mice books by Robin Jarvis. Throughout books 1-3 a character mentions his childhood friend, Widget. He speaks of him in the past tense, with some sadness, but never much more - and Widget's clearly not around so you get the feeling he's hiding something. Later in a fit of madness he cries out for Widget or begs someone to stop (again, sleep-deprived memory loss!) which adds another layer of intrigue. After the three books come three prequels; one is called Thomas. You already know before you crack the spine that this is going to be about Widget. Chapter is set in the present day; Thomas is crying and suffering. Again, you know this is about Widget and you would be pretty accurate in all of your assumptions as to Widget's fate. And so even though you read the story, which is now the 4th book of Widget hints, the moment still hits you like a truck. I guess because the details were left hazy but the lasting effects were what was important in books 1-3.
Jan. 13th, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I like the idea of having a twist! Where you think you know what's coming but it turns out to be even more intense/shocking. The tricky part is pulling that off so the reader feels pleasantly surprised rather than annoyed at the idea that they were misled earlier... It has to make sense that the additional details wouldn't have been mentioned, not seem like a gimmick.

Your Deptford Mice example is very cool--I really enjoy that sort of foreshadowing when it's done well.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books

Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014

The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012

The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013

The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014

Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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