December 10th, 2009

A Birthday

flash forward

He didn't know it, but he would be dead in fifteen minutes. . . .

Ah, the flash forward. Rarely seen -- and with good reason.

Once in a blue moon, I have seen it used effectively. A first-person narrator is doing something and comments that afterwards, people who watched him noticed this, that, or the other thing that it would be implausible -- or ridiculous -- for him to notice. Occasionally, a chatty narrator -- whether first-person or omniscient -- can get away with it, if it fits the voice, and the voice is interesting enough to lure me along without suspense. Because that's the fundamental problem with it. You might as well wave a flag and announce, "Hey, Readers! I can't think of making this suspenseful or interesting, so I'm going to bait this with what's going on ahead."

Even Ciaphas Cain, much as I enjoy the books, can be annoying when he declares that if he had only known that his careful selection of the safest-looking place would precipitate him into danger.

And in third-person limited, where there is no narrator to be chatty or who knows how it will turn out, it just doesn't work.