Writer’s Wednesday with Chase Ambler
Different than the use of flashback—which just shows one scene out of order—reverse chronology is a writing technique that flips the timeline of events completely. The opening scene is the final scene of the story, the next is the penultimate, and so on until reaching the beginning of the story timeline. This way of storytelling forces the reader to approach the scenes completely differently than if the author told it in chronological order. This technique tends to highlight the importance of the choices the characters make because it shows the outcomes and then directly links them to the previous choices that brought the character to that outcome. It’s almost as if the protagonist is in a state of constant reflection on their choices.
Of course, not all stories are great candidates for reverse chronology. A murder mystery might be a poor choice because the killer would be revealed initially leaving the rest of the work seeming pretty pointless. I want you to keep this in mind as an option to try if your story feels like it’s not hitting the mark somehow.
The beeping monitors, countless tubes and wires, and white walls. A photograph of the night sky hung on one of the walls. Infinite stars twinkled above a dark mountain range.
Where was I? A man holding a clip board came in through the door. Strangely, he was wearing green pajamas. No, wait, they were hospital scrubs.
“You’ve got a visitor now that you’re awake,” he said.
“Who?” I asked.
The man stepped aside. She walked in. Instantly, my head was no longer in the hospital.
A few hours earlier, well I really had no idea how long I’d been out, the license plate was square in my vision. It took up everything. It was the largest license plate on the planet. Galaxies spun in the gap between the ‘L’ and the ‘5’. Space. I thought there was enough space between the truck and the kid. I thought I had pushed him far enough.
“I just need some space,” Gloria said. Her eyes scanned over me and then wandered out of focus in thought.
It was horrible. My insides felt like they were on a crashing shuttle without me. It was awful because she didn’t cry. She didn’t seem hurt. There was nothing left between us but empty space.
“So this is the end?” I asked.
She just walked out of the restaurant without another word.
She threw the words at me like knives the moment she walked in the door. I was caught unaware, lost in the world of the new Planet L-5 game, oblivious to the fact that I had completely spaced on our date. I was going to meet her mother. I just sat there in my bra and sweat pants helpless, vulnerable, and unable to move. I couldn’t even put the controller down I was so frozen.
“You’re so selfish!” she screamed in the end.
I think this little story is a lot more interesting because it flows from the chronological end to the beginning. Also, it’s fun that the beginning of the story is actually the new beginning and is chronologically the end while the end of the story is what the protagonist thinks is the beginning of the end and is chronologically the beginning. . . if that makes any sense.
The protagonist’s selfless act gets her relationship back because in the end of the story we learn that all her problems occurred because she was selfish. The character arc is complete by the end, and in remembering the events in reverse the protagonist realizes she has redeemed herself.
Now you try it. Flip a story around to see how it reads differently. You might like the outcome.
Chase Ambler is an American writer who spent his childhood in South and Southeast Asia. His life has been shaped by strange obsessions: heavy metal music, mountains, travel, and soccer. These subjects have all molded his poetry and prose in some way, but the birth of his daughter may have the greatest impact yet. He lives with his wife, baby daughter, and dog in Colorado. If one went looking for Chase, they could find him anywhere from changing diapers to summiting 14,000 foot mountains, but odds are he’s in front of the computer working on his next novel. Visit the FB page for his Novel: Snowsong