Jump Forward, Fold Back

Linear plotting may be straightforward and designed for readers to follow easily, but that doesn’t mean it has to plod or be predictable.

Hooks and plot twists serve to jazz up a story and hold off monotony.

One variant of the hook technique is known as the jump forward, fold back strategy. It can be used to open a book chapter partway through a story. It can be used in the middle of a short story to keep readers slightly off-balance and intrigued.

Generally, it’s most often employed after the protagonist has planned what he or she will do next. Okay, Reader thinks. This is what we’re going to do next.

Except that when the page is turned, Reader finds herself jumped ahead of the planned event with the characters already involved in what follows it. Then there is a foldback that summarizes what was jumped over.

This technique injects a little excitement into a story event where something important to the characters is going to occur, but it lacks enough conflict to be dramatized into an actual scene.

Let’s draw an example from romance author Betty Neels, one of Harlequin’s most successful authors, who wrote well into her 90s. Often in these “sweet romance” stories, the waif-heroine will be offered an outing or a date with the handsome, rich hero. It’s built up with much anticipation. The heroine has to plan the outfit she’ll wear, and she usually worries a little about how the date will turn out. Directly after this build-up, Ms. Neels jumps forward with a transition sentence such as …

“Late that night, Heroine climbed into bed and thought over the evening. It had been more special than she’d ever dreamed possible. The restaurant was … ” And then the high points of the lobster thermidor gourmet meal, the dancing, etc. are mulled over in the heroine’s thoughts.

Another variant of this technique is when the event that’s jumped over is both dramatic and vital to the development of the story. In such an instance, the fold back becomes a flashback delivered in full scene/sequel structure. In novels, it’s useful in the middle to convey backstory and explain character motivation by dramatizing some key points of conflict between the protagonist and another major character. Televised soap operas also employ this method.

It can also be used to open a story at an exciting point and then deal with what led up to it.

An example would be this week’s episode of the television program CASTLE. Generally, CASTLE is one of the better-written shows on television. Aside from the little injections of humor, a deftly handled romantic subplot that’s broken the so-called MOONLIGHTING Curse, and engaging characters, the show is worth being studied for the way its scripts are written.

Last night’s teaser opened with a night-shot. A huge building fire roars in the background. Firemen, cops, and paramedics are standing around helplessly. Beckett is on the phone with tears in her eyes, telling the pregnant wife of a fellow officer that “something’s happened.”

Then the story rolls back twelve hours and brings us up to speed on the case and the investigation.

This was a brilliant plotting strategy, given that the crime of arson this time overshadows the crime of murder. And the best way to effectively convey arson isn’t by showing a ruined ash heap but by showing fire engulfing a building.

Jumping forward and folding back is simple enough to use. It works effectively, yet it’s not confusing. Just make sure that you work out your plotline in a straightforward, linear, step-by-step fashion for your own understanding. Pick the slowest spot in your story and jump over it, making sure that you then inform or show the reader what initially seemed to be skipped.

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