So. I'm currently working on a novel. (It's my first ever.) I need all the help I can get.

I had an idea where I start with a scene which is close to the climax, where the main character is to be punished (for inciting a rebellion) and she ponders over her mistakes and how different her life has turned out to be from what she thought it would be as a child, etc. And then the book skips to the very beginning of her story, her childhood, where we see the reasons that incite her to rebel, and then we see the rebellion itself, and ultimately we reach the plot point depicted in the first scene.

Basically, the plot progresses normally-- it is not an extended flashback, except we get a glimpse of the scene just before the climax just before the story proper begins, as a sort of hook. Is this really an acceptable way of beginning a novel? Are there any objections to it? Will it work out well?

  • 1
    I think the question 'Will it work out well?' depends on you: the quality of the plot; the characterisation; and, the quality of the writing. Structure needs to work for you, the storyteller, not dictate to you. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 20:29
  • I am solving the same problem. First chapter is situated near the end of the story of a book, but not a main character. I got plot, story, history and lots of notes about how i need the story to be told, but,,, Will it work?
    – Ernedar
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 7:11

7 Answers 7


The Power of Tension In Our Stories

We all understand that the thing that keeps readers reading is tension. So, we writers always want to include as much tension as possible in our stories.

What Kind of Tension?

You have to consider if you're writing the story this way in an effort to create tension because the story itself has so little tension.

Why Do People Read Books?

Think about some of the greatest stories you've ever read and consider whether or not they were exciting and kept you reading simply because of some interesting viewpoint switching or if they were interesting simply for two reasons:

  1. great writing
  2. great story

In other words, if the author is a great writer and the story is a great (interesting) story then viewpoint switching on top of that would simply be a gimmick.

Gimmicks Work: But New Writers Are Advised To Steer Clear

You will find that the examples where gimmicks work (like Pulp Fiction) are actually few and far between. And, even when they do work, it is probably because the writing is great and the story is interesting.

SIDEBAR: Interesting Viewpoints? Have you ever read one of those stories where the main character is in prison and he goes on to tell you about his captors and how they treat him. You get the idea he is on an alien planet, then it all ends something like the following:

"But today something different happened. After he fed me, he walked away without closing the door. I flew out of my prison and up, up, up into a tree. I was free again with all the other birds."

Isn't that terrible?! Lot's of new writers write that story and think it is beautiful and meaningful. "But," they whine, "it is such a cool viewpoint. I've tricked the reader into listening to me."

Yes, just like those stories where everything is a dream. Terrible.

Easily Determine Which Is Correct You can easily determine which is correct. Write the story the normal way and then read it. Does the story have enough conflict to keep the reader reading?

Get Feedback

Write your story as fast as you can and gather feedback.

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    Haha, pretty sure I wrote that exact story as a kid... Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 15:12

This technique is very widely used. It is known as in media res (in the middle of things), and as TV Tropes notes, it's a technique used in the Iliad by Homer, "and Aristotle diagnosed it in Poetics, making it one of the first identified tropes."

Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of films that have used this technique. For example, Walk The Line (about Johnny Cash), starts off with him about to go on stage, and he's looking at a saw, at which point we go back in time to him as a child and the memories he had of an incident with just such a saw. Pulp Fiction uses this to great effect (as do some of Tarrantino's other films). The Usual Suspects, Batman Begins ... there is a long list!

Since you're writing a book and not a film, then this technique is also widely adopted in written form: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein used this method, as does Margaret Atwood in some of her novels, and ... the list goes on!

How it works out is entirely up to you, but this is perfectly acceptable as a technique.


I think you're referring to [nonlinear narrative][1].

The pivotal moment for me was seeing Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino. I almost got whiplash being thrown around.

When done effectively, like in Pulp Fiction, you keep wondering: How? You are constantly looking forward, even though you are often looking back.

I can't tell you how to do it, but this may be a starting point.


Yes, it's called a hook, and it's a legitimate way of grabbing the reader's interest before settling down into the more mundane elements of setting up the story. Many episodes of Breaking Bad start, before the credits, with a hook that shows something from near the end of the episode or, in the case of season two, which culminates with the mid-air plane collision ("ABQ," season 2, episode 13), a few episodes begin with scenes from the aftermath of that crash. So by all means, seize your reader by starting in media res (in the middle of things).


You should most definitely use that technique. It's called the hook, because it "hooks" the reader's attention and envelops them into the story. This technique doesn't always have to be about the climax of the ending of the actual story; the beginning can be a hook without being related to the rest of the story at all. For example, a book could start out with a man skydiving into an island, and then the rest of the book discusses the plot that happens on the island that he skydived into. So whether if the hook is related to the story's other parts or not, you can use the technique to grab the reader's attention. This technique is notably used in many popular books and movies, and it definitely is successful in grabbing people's attention. One example that I can think of is the 2010 movie Megamind (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megamind), which starts the story with the climax, the part where the main character that has to fight with the primary antagonists. After a brief dialogue, the scene abruptly switched to the protagonist's childhood. Another example is the start of the famous Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451, where the main character discusses how burning pleasures him. It wasn't specifically state where he's at or what and how he is burning, but the sudden action of burning and the vague explanation is used to incite the reader's curiosity and successfully makes the reader want to continue reading. These two examples are the ones I know well, and there are countless other prices of works that use this technique. Hooks aren't really hard to do nor are they time consuming, so feel free to use it wisely and wittingly to create that hooking effect in the beginning.


Steve Martini's thriller The List starts that way. It's a terrific book. I think the technique is fairly common in thrillers. Not sure about other genres.


Writing a novel might be complicated but it depends on how inspired you are. You can start the novel from any part of the story, the beginning, middle or even the end. All of them are acceptable.

  • 1
    The question is asking a more specific question: Is it acceptable to begin a novel with the scene just before the climax?
    – rolfedh
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 22:52

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