I’ve been thinking about reading in terms of the writer reading vs. the reader reading. I believe writers reading stories interpret the plot, characters, and overall arch of a book differently than readers do. While some readers are very savvy about plot structure, character development, etc., especially if they belong to a book club that dissects the novel for deeper insight, I think once one has written a book, the storyline takes on a new light. Key points, framework, and story design flag the writer’s mind as s/he is reading it, details that may go unnoticed by the reader.
Prompting this reflection was a book I recently read, All the Missing Girls, by Megan Miranda. I’m not giving an official review here, though I would rate it 4 stars. It was well written, intriguing, and I enjoyed the unusual format of it. However, it was the unusual format of the book that annoyed the heck out of me. Miranda wrote the story line in reverse. It’s not a new concept, and it’s also a difficult one to pull off. I do give Miranda a two thumbs up for that endeavor – it was clever, and I think for the reader reading it, it was probably fresh and original. But for the writer reading it, it was a nightmare.
I had a difficult time focusing on the timeline of events in the story because my writer mind was trying to piece together a timeline that worked opposite of what most storylines follow. The entire process of tests, trials, challenge one – obstacle two, climax, epiphany, resolution, didn’t parallel with how most stories begin, proceed, and end, because I was constantly thinking, this hasn’t happened yet, and yet it has. I know the reader is saying, Exactly! That was the whole point! But no. It’s wrong.
If the story were put in reverse, how it would have actually happened, it makes no sense. It would be a flat, odd, and illogical storyline. The climax, the heart of the story, happened the very next day following the main character’s arrival in her hometown. Everything that happened afterward decreased in conflict and didn’t feel rational as far as character behavior went, but when you right a backwards story in reverse, I guess you achieve the usual format, even though the story is still backwards.
After the initial climax the first day, characters would have mentioned the climatic even in future conversations, which never happened because it would have obviously given away the climax at the end. You can’t have a catastrophic event occur between two characters, and then never mention it in future conversations. It isn’t realistic. But because these situations took place at the beginning of the book, even though it was the past/end, they had to be left out. See what I mean?
It’s difficult to give examples in the book without spoilers, so I won’t go into them. While I would recommend All the Missing Girls for a good read, I would not recommend writing like this. There is a reason every story under the sun follows a rough format, because it is Universally logical for situations to go through an initial trigger, struggle, inner resolution, climax, the end. That is the structure of a story. Writing in reverse often damages the inner workings of a story. I’m not claiming that every story in reverse is bad or wrong. I’ve read a short story done in reverse which I thought was brilliant, but like I said, it is difficult to pull off, like second person POV.
For me, I would have enjoyed the story more had the timeline been set up with the climatic situation actually happening in the future as a new discovery rather than in reverse occurring in the past. This probably only makes sense if you’ve read it. Give it a try. Either way, it’s at least an entertaining read, to the writer and the reader.