Thoughts on THEN and NOW story format

Hey there!

So I have a question and would love some feedback on this:

What are your thoughts on a THEN and NOW story format? By this I mean, a format in which chapters are broken up into the current situation of the main character (NOW) and the back story of the main character and how they got to the current situation (THEN). I’ve seen this format work stunningly well (@ssmith314 and her AMAZING story Wyrmrot that actually introduced me to this concept and got me hooked), but I’m just curious to hear other readers thoughts on this style.

Would it bother you to jump back and forth?
What about a sequel to the first? If the sequel wasn’t in a Then and Now format, would that bother you?

I ask because I want to attempt this format for my NaNoMo story concept this September, and I haven’t read many stories in this format (other than the aforementioned one). I’m curious what people think of them.

I do realize that this is ultimately up to the writer and how they want to write their story. I want to hear PERSONAL feedback from readers on what they first think when the come across stories in this style.

Thank you!

I’ve seen it done a few times in books. Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” does this. It happens all the time in movies and tv. It’s not always stated outright but every detective show with a voice over does this. The movie “Double Indemnity,” might be the best example. And as far as a sequel goes, I think you’d have to break from that format.

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Yeah, that’s my thought process. But I’m wondering if that change in format would be a deal breaker for readers.

I suspect it might for some but as long as the feel of the characters is maintained most will be ok with it.

Good point!

As long as it works for your story and you can sustain it through the whole book then I think it’s good. Just make sure it’s clear to the reader so they know which time they are in without having to stop and think about it. You want them lost in your story.

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I wouldn’t mind so long as the flashbacks actually moved the story forward and didn’t feel like a stop-and-go kind of thing. If I’m learning more about character relationships or witnessing new plot revelations in the past, I’m much more inclined to keep reading (vs. knowing everything in the future cancels out the past).

With your writing style, I definitely think you can pull it off though.

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I actually love this kind of concept when it is done clean, and ESPECIALLY if it all adds up to something in the end. Like when they all connect, suddenly something in both of them make more sense. It can be really powerful.

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I’ve read a good one like this, and yeah I’m all for it if it’s executed well. I liked the one I read because it kind of let us into the traumas of the past and created a backstory and context for the character

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Thank you! I’ve got to finish a story first though :joy:

I think that will be the most difficult part. Making sure that the Then portions aren’t like a stalemate in the story that makes the reader want to skip forward. I’ll probably just have to attempt it and see where it goes/how it comes out.

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If you do it well, move both stories along, and everything that happens is important to the plot, then it should be fine! Experimenting is always fun.

When it’s done poorly, though, absolute dealbreaker for me. But that’s very much a tastes thing and not normal. I really dislike stories where they’re being retold by the narrator–if they’re meant to be someone’s diary, someone telling a story, etc. To me, that’s always like… why not just tell the story? Why do you have to tell us about the character telling the story? It’s my least favorite literary device. And this method of storytelling can dip into that. But plenty of people like those kinds of stories, so I don’t think that should stop you.

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The THEN and NOW view can be very hard to right because of each detail that you have to remember. The THEN builds your character’s personality, shows how they got to where they are in the NOW. You can separate the two in two separate stories or flip flop in between.
I actually write THEN and NOW.

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That’s my goal with the story. Making sure it’s done clean. Now, when you say they all connect, do you mind elaborating? I’m fairly certain I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m curious what you mean in your own words.

For this particular story, I’m hoping to accomplish a mash up of Urban Fantasy and The Count of Monte Cristo, so the Now portion is following the main character as she escapes from a maximum enchanted prison and plots her revenge against those that wronged her, while the Then portion goes into depth as to how she’s led astray and becomes entangled with the characters that falsely accused her. My fear would be that the two interweave each other but doesn’t add up to something in the end (I already know how the story ends in my mind between the Then and Now sections).

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Good point! From what I’m planning, it would be less of the main character narrating how that moment played out and more like two interweaving story lines showing how the MC got into the predicament she’s in and she’s grown into the character that’s now running around trying to get revenge lol

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Oh that’s really great to know! I’ll have to check out one of your stories to see how you wrote it! I thought about separating the two but I just can’t seem to unweave the story from my brain since I want to focus on the main story line (the revenge plot) but also want to incorporate how/why she got there (the interweaving back story).

For me, personally, when things bounce back and forth, it just feels like something more is accomplished when there is a connection, but it isn’t necessary.

extremely bad example:
Girl is… idk, raised from the dead or something, but she has very little memory of her life when she was alive.
It cuts between her past life, and her present life while her and some dude investigate her death, or something. Then when the past catches up to her death- it turns out she was murdered by the guy she’s been hanging with the whole time in the present. GASP.

You know just some little extra PUSH as to why it wasn’t chronological, like the last part of the past needed to be a secret.

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If it helps, write the main story first or the story you want to focus on. Then add the THEN in where you think it fits.

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This is a really awesome way to put it and SUPER helpful. I’ll have to try and see if I can work something like that into the Then portion. Right now, the Then portion leads up to when she escapes from prison, so I’ll have to try and think about how to incorporate that extra push…

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I think it could really drive it home, but make sure you dont lose anything else to make it happen. :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the advice! :grinning:

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