I'm writing a short story with the following structure:

B tells A she is gravely sick and wants to be alone (present)

A talks about how he met B in a hospital (flashback)

A talks with his friend about B's call (present)

A talks about how he continued seeing B after they met at the hospital (flashback)

A locks himself in his room (because of B) and starts getting sick (present)

A talks about how he and B finally got together (flashback)

A continues getting sick (present)

And so on.

As you can see, each scene alternate between present and flashback (and follow a chronological order).

The only story I've read which have such structure is All God Children Can Dance by Haruki Murakami.

I didn't find the structure particularly annoying. But I'm not sure about other readers.

Would it be annoying for the reader if I write a short story with a structure like this? What other alternatives could I use?

  • I seem to recall that Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Dispossessed had alternating chapters effectively providing two storylines where the "flashback" storyline at the end of the book reaches shortly before the start of the other storyline. I think her novel The Left Hand of Darkness inserted chapters that provided cultural context. Always Coming Home (in my opinion her best novel [of those I had read] in terms of literature but I also disliked it) also had chapters with background information interspersed with the main storyline.
    – user5232
    Aug 12, 2013 at 23:02

2 Answers 2


The answer to any non-traditional story pattern is... it depends. Why do you want to adopt this format?

Most stories are written in a straight-forward chronological order because this is how we normally experience events and it is what the readers expect. It can be jarring as a reader to learn at the end of the story some basic fact everyone in the story knew all along. If you aren't planning on 'hiding the ball,' then you need some other logical reason for the layout. For example, if you want to emphasize the parallels between the events, this style could work very well.

In the end, it depends on your ability as a writer. Try it. If it doesn't work, you've learned something, and may be able to change to a standard chronology later. If it does work, you might have something special. Either way, you don't have anything to lose but a little time.

  • Thanks for the feedback. Well, the reason I'm doing this is because the flashback scenes are too many, and there isn't much going on in the "present" (just the main character wandering in his apartment). And the story begins with the call, because that's the hook.
    – wyc
    Aug 12, 2013 at 17:20

I don't think that the structure itself is a problem necessarily. I'd want to make sure that the first scene is sufficiently long enough that the audience isn't like "wait, what?" when scene 2 ends and you jump back to the present, but sure, otherwise this is more or less exactly how a frame is supposed to work. I think I intimated yesterday that another person using flashbacks ought to use something closer to the structure that you have, actually.

You also don't necessarily be slavish to the "one on, one off" structure, but I also think that a good time to figure out when to deviate from this is when you're actually writing the story, not the outline portion.

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