Not unlike that impetuous friend of yours who tries, at every chance possible, spoiling a movie or a TV series for you, reading a story or writing one myself while knowing the end renders me exceedingly peevish. With that, I can say with certitude that any form of storytelling that is done in a flashback style would undoubtedly ascend to the top of my list of pet peeves as a writer.
I really like the movie Shawshank’s Redemption, but the title of the movie already took the mystery out of its story arc, so during the entirety of the movie there wasn’t even once when I had doubts as to whether the protagonist would redeem himself—because of course he would, as the title suggests. Imagine if Shutter Island was titled, instead, The Man with Schizophrenia, then I would have had seen the ending from miles away, therefore making the experience an awfully dull one(Sorry for spoiling it for you, those who haven’t seen it already). Had Camus titled his book L’étranger, and thank God he didn’t, L’homme qui a été exécuté, I would have thrown it out the window half way through with a blasphemous outcry. I still remember vividly playing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacriface on my PlayStation a few months back, and not much into the game I already knew the protagonist was going to die—again, as the title suggests.
I never understood why anyone would use such a storytelling device to its detriment; by spoiling the end, the story already loses half of its charm, and even worse if said story was a hackneyed one to begin with. Flashback, when used apropos, can be a great cliffhanger that keeps the audience hooked, but spoiling the end outright is just unapologetically foolish. It makes me, for one, less engaged and even indifferent to the twists and turns of the story, as those complications are nothing but the fait accompli of a foregone conclusion. “Foolishness Dante, foolishness,” as Vergil would say with his trademark sneer.
I believe it is in every story teller’s best interest to use flashbacks sparingly and at their own peril, unless the reverse sequence has a purposeful meaning to it.
When I write my stories, or just any whims off the top of my head, I don’t normally have an ending or a conclusion constructed beforehand, instead, I try to formulate my ideas while I write, or write while I formulate my ideas. As sloppy as that may sound, it is the kind of writing that I find most organic and convincing; an exploration I take for myself and my readers, too. The joy of writing—a pleasantly creative process as it should—will be halved if I had superimposed a verdict to it prematurely, since it would only inhibit my mind from making any “unnecessary” forays into the unknown/unrelated subjects, and for me most of my best stories were written while making those seemingly irrelevant forays. They add to the drama; to the dynamics; to the narratives, and mostly importantly to the enjoyment the writing as a process.
If I knew my character would eventually turn out to be one way, then why should I bother exploring some other additional dimensions to him/her? By the same token, if I knew the moral of my story, then why should I delve deeper beyond that “preconceived moral”? The exercise of forcibly knowing the end before the end will do nothing but expedite the end even before it can burgeon.
I like my stories written piece by piece, in such manner along every piece I could contemplate for the betterment without any pressure and limitations from the premature verdict. Admittedly, not every time my story would make sense when writing like this (In fact several stories had turned out to be disastrous), nevertheless it is a chance worth taking for when those pieces are pieced together perfectly, I’ll know for sure I have a masterpiece of a story written, and if that is not the greatest joy of a writer, then I don’t know what is.
Alas the ending and the moral of this essay is—
To be continued…