In medias res and the non-linear narrative techniques in time travel fiction and in New Vision book series


The Iliad Homer

    If you did not read any volume from New Vision book series, you don't know it yet but it is written with a non-linear narrative. 

    The whole saga's plot in itself is non-linear as we meet the organization members in 2121 when they launch the "7 parallels" project and it is only after this first trilogy published that we go back in time to follow chronologically why and how everything started.

    Each volume is written according a writing technique called in medias res, medias res is a latin phrase meaning “in the midst of things.” It’s used as a literary term to describe when a story opens with the character already in the middle of things—whether it’s a high octane car chase or a group of friends’ discovery of a dead body, this narrative technique captures the audience’s attention, bringing them front and center into the fray.

 A non-linear narrative is a narrative technique in which the storyline is told out of chronological order. That can take many forms: by using flashforwards, flashbacks, dream sequences, or foreshadowing, non-linear plotlines can mimic the recall of human memory, or weave in fantastical elements like time travel or clairvoyance.

    Non-linear storytelling goes as far back as the fifth century, with flashbacks peppering the timeline of the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, which tells of two clashing groups of cousins. Homer’s Iliad used a technique called in medias res, where the story starts at its mid-point :

      Some writers craft the opening scenes of their literary worlds with flowery, descriptive language—powerful sensory adjectives that detail the environment and set up where the story takes place. Other writers prefer to drop the reader right into the middle of the action, letting the physical aspects of the world unfold as the beginning of the story progresses. 

    The non-linear is still going strong in the twenty-first century: here are a few new and noteworthy examples.

    1. Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse follows a family’s visit to the Isle of Skye over a ten-year period. Featuring no dialogue and almost no action, the novel unfolds in thoughts, observations, and childhood memories reflected against the present moment.

    2. In William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, the narrative is pieced together by separate members of a fractured aristocratic family. Each section jumps forward and back in time, covering the events whose ripples have led to the present fate of the family.

    3. Kurt Vonnegut, whose book Slaughterhouse-Five utilizes flashback and time travel to illustrate the life of American soldier Billy Pilgrim.

    4. Science-fiction writer Ted Chiang’s first-person short story, Story of Your Life (which was later made into the film Arrival) examines the existence of free will in the face of the inevitable. Told from the point of view of a Louise, a linguist who learns an alien language that allows her to view her future and comprehend time in a nonlinear way, the story opens with the birth of her daughter; the reader only learns later that she knew the child would die young and still chose to fulfill that destiny.

    5. In Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife, protagonist Henry De Tamble lives with a genetic disorder that forces him to sporadically travel through time with no warning. He falls in love with an artist (who lives an ordinary life on a standard linear timeline) and continues to jump in and out of moments in his own life, sometimes with dangerous consequences.

    The 4 Advantages of Using a Non-Linear Narrative

    Non-linearity as a narrative structure might be a challenge to pull off—the order in which everything is presented must still be logical, if not chronological—but when done well, it allows a more nuanced, masterful story to emerge.1. Intrigue. By disorienting the reader, a nonlinear structure creates a puzzle that requires more engagement with the individual pieces of the story. Cause and effect cease to be predictable or immediately visible, allowing the reader to curate their own logic. When a novel opens with a murder, the series of events that follow carry greater weight and add to the anticipation of the final (known) outcome. When the reader knows more about a character’s fate than they do, opportunities also arise for moments of irony, be they tragic or comic.

    2. Worldbuilding. Not only can you use a non-linear structure to incorporate different time periods into your story, taking a momentarily different point of view can give the reader more insight into other aspects of the setting—think subplots unfolding on the other side of the world that will eventually become meaningful, or perhaps historical events that come to bear on the lives of your characters.

    3. Depth of character. The more the reader learns of your main character’s backstory, the better they understand the choices they make throughout the narrative. Instead of simply telling the reader your character is an orphan, send them back to the moment they became one. Those experiences stay with the reader as they continue through the story.

    4. Flow. Nonlinear storytelling moves your narrative form into something closer to art. While humans might be instinctively drawn to the neatness of chronological order, they are enchanted by the complex. Interchanging the main plot with a non-linear plot allows you to capture more of what it means to be human, and then some: giving shape to all the connections that bind a group of people together, though they themselves remain blind to it.


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