Chronologically, the story begins with the protagonist as a child and description of her world, which is important to the plot.

Since I thought "girl abandoned by parents meets a man who explains how the world works" wouldn't really catch the readers attention, I decided to start the book with a 4k long flash-forward to a fight with elements relevant to the main plot (titled Prologue: A battle to come, to signal future events).

After these two Chapters I get to the main story (from her teens), with a few flashbacks here and there written in first person (the part about the description of the world is also in first person).

Does this make any sense or is it too complicated? I really don't want to have a somewhat boring beginning, which is why I avoided beginning with her childhood...

Thank you and sorry if there are mistakes, I'm not a native speaker.

4 Answers 4


This is very common. Many stories start with an event that the writer thinks will grab the readers attention, (some particularly dramatic event,) and then go back to tell us the whole story; or, the writer begins with the outcome, and then goes back to tell us how events led up to that.

There's certainly nothing wrong with doing this, but I would give two caveats:

  1. Make sure it is clear to the reader what is a flashback and what is in the present. Any time writers talk about flashbacks I'm reminded of a book I read years ago that began with the heroes winning a great battle. Then the writer flashed back to the events leading up to this battle. But nothing in the book indicated that this was a flashback, so I thought we were now talking about what happened after the battle. And there were so many things that didn't make sense. Why are they struggling with this problem in chapter 5 when I thought it had already been solved in chapter 1? Etc. It wasn't until I got to a section where some events happened that were clearly tied to a character in chapter 1 saying, "I remember a day when we ..." that I finally realized, Ohhhh, this is all a flashback!"

  2. Be sure there's a good reason for the flashback. I've seen many stories that start with a character saying, "Let me think, how did it all begin?", and then they go to the flashback. And it's like, why? What did that scene add to the story? Sometimes the scene includes some indication of the final outcome, which may or may not be a good storytelling device. Often it tells us nothing and I'm baffled why the writer included the scene.

  • Unlike the main story, all my flashbacks will be written in first person. I will use them as background information (training, discrimination) but only add them when it is relevant to the main plot. So this schould justify their use, right? So doing Flash forward - flashback/introduction - main story with flashbacks isn't too confusing?
    – E.Milla
    Sep 28, 2017 at 19:07
  • 1
    @E.Milla Not at all. At least not necessarily. If you do it badly it might be confusing! But that's true of anything. Many books are written this way.
    – Jay
    Sep 28, 2017 at 20:27

This is a very common technique among aspiring writers. It feels like playing tricks with the narrative line solves all kinds of writing and story problems for you. But this is largely an illusion. You rarely find these kinds of tricks in successful published works. Sometimes, certainly, but not often, because while they seem like an easy solution to a problem, they are actually very difficult to pull off effectively.

Here's the issue. You have some material that you think you need in your story to make the plot work, but you recognize that it is boring. What's the correct approach to dealing with this issue? Either make it interesting or cut it out.

Moving it to a different place in the narrative line is like trying to get you dog to take its pills by wrapping them in meatballs. It's still a pill and a clever dog is going to eat the meat and spit out the pill.

There is actually a very simple rule that you can follow to make this kind of exposition interesting: make it a story. Instead of "girl meets man who explains how the world works", do "girl has an adventure in which she discovers how the world works".

Yes, this means that you have to make up another story and make it work as a story while still getting across the information you need to convey. But that is what the pros do. All meat. No pill.

And the advantage of this is that when everything is done through story, you don't need to mess with the narrative sequence. You can tell the story in chronological order, which is what your reader will prefer 99% of the time.

  • "Either make it interesting or cut it out." This. Regardless of whether or not you end up using flashbacks/forwards. Feb 23, 2021 at 14:38

If you are hoping to get published, then a good rule of thumb is to hold off on the prologues. I'm not saying that it can't be done, but they are not "in fashion" as they once were. Instead, writers weave the past into the story more like how we experience memories in everyday life. We see a coffee mug or smell perfume, and it takes us back, for better or worse to another time in our life.

For example: Ramona and Jonathan are the protagonists in a romance thriller, but Ramona does not want to have anything to do with Jonathan at the beginning of the story. We show the reader this through her irrational irritation with his good looks and charm, later learning it is because he works in the oil and gas industry just like her abusive father did. We do this in lieu of a prologue.

Hope this helps.


Starting "in the middle of things" is an absolutely classic technique, and i see it done quite frequently in published fiction. I would prefer not to label such a thing as a Prologue, unless it is really outside the main story. Simply make it chapter 1, and start chapter 2 or 3 with your flashback. It is usually better to find some what ot make it clear what is a flashback. It can be as simple as:

When Jill first walked into the mansion five years previously, she was not expecting to meet Jack. It was a sunny day, and her mind was entirely on her new position.

Some link between the previous action and the flashback, perhaps in place, or subject, characters present, is often helpful, although not required.

A somewhat extreme but in my view very successful use of this technique was the late Roger Zelezney's Doorways in the Sand. In that novel, each chapter started with a scene of crisis of soem sort. The next scene then flashed back to just after the end of the previous chapter, followed by several scenes which showed how the crisis developed, then several more showing how it was resolved or the action moved on.

Chapter one has, say scenes D, A, B, C, E, and F (in that order0; chapter 2 had J, G, H, I, K, L, Chapter 3 had P, M, N, O, Q, R, and S. And so on. It worked well, but then Zelezney is a very skilled stylist as a writer.

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