Why do authors use a nonlinear plot structure?

In this post, we answer a reader's question: why do authors use a nonlinear plot structure?

What is a nonlinear narrative?

This is a narrative technique in which events are depicted out of the chronological or logical order presented in the story. The pattern of events will jump around and not follow a linear pattern.

A non-linear narrative can also be known as a disjointed narrative or an interrupted narrative.

Why do authors use a nonlinear plot structure?

Storytellers like to use nonlinear plot structures as a clever and creative way to tell their stories in a unique way. This style of storytelling is very well-received when done correctly.

It's also a very interesting way to convey character development or tell a story without the plot getting stale.

Non-Linear Narrative Examples

On Television

TV is probably the best medium for these stories because you can use entire episodes for flashbacks, quick banter, and bouncing around the in-universe timeline season after season. Lost was one of the best TV shows to use this type of narrative. It features flashforwards, backward, sideways, and even across dimensions.

The show was so groundbreaking because it brought nonlinear storytelling to primetime. It used this narrative to trick the audience into believing things about the characters and then subverted those expectations by time-jumping.

This is Us has recently used the same strategy. The show moves back and forth in a more traditional sense than Lost, but it also skips time unexpectedly. Deaths, births, and adoptions are occurring at an alarming rate. And all with brilliant transitions that aren't typical of a narrative.

Family Guy takes on the mantle of non-linear storytelling in the comedy genre.


In Movies

Movies can be tricky when it comes to non-linear storytelling.

A movie script takes only 90-120 pages. So, you have to make sure that your story sells itself. You want to take risks, but you also want to do things right.

This form is used in one of the most famous films of all time, The Godfather Part II. We begin the film by watching Vito leave. But we return to Michael's story and Vito as he grows into the Godfather. The film uses time to tell a sprawling story about a father and son who are pitted against each other.

Finally, a film like Memento is presented and sold based on its nonlinear storytelling. It's a film that goes back in time and unusually tells Sammy Jenkins' story. It put the Nolan brothers on the map and became their calling card.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.


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