Remain wary of using fast-forward in story

A literary device that’s often overused by novice writers is that of the fast-forward. This involves taking the story out of its timeline by going to a point in the future. In doing so, the scene reveals important events that are yet to occur in the story. It’s sometimes referred to as prolepsis.

This is the opposite of a flashback, in which the narrative goes back in time to reveal important events that occurred prior to the story began.

A good example of a fast-forward is Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his future. Larry Watson also uses the technique in Montana, 1948 when he begins the story with the main character recalling images of the novel’s climax.

Unlike foreshadowing, which is merely a hint of what might occur, a flash-forward shows the actual dramatic events that are will occur in the story.

There are good reasons to use a fast-forward. When done properly, a fast-forward can help reveal the main character’s personality. This is the strategy Dickens uses in The Christmas Carol, as we learn through the scene showing how he’ll be remembered that Scrooge actually does care about what others think of him; this in turn influences his decision in the present timeline. A flash-forward also can be used to establish an event that is of high interest and so is a hook to encourage the reader to find out how the story will reach that point; in such instances, it often used as a prologue, as Watson does in Montana, 1948.

Despite these good uses of the literary device, writers always should hesitate to use a fast-forward. Unless it’s a really big, climactic scene that actually would hook the reader into working through an entire story and unless it really does reveal something significant about the character, writers risk reducing suspense and tension by revealing what will happen. This is especially true of minor scenes involving minor characters. If the reader knows the outcome, then there’s little reason to read the intervening text. After all, authors build suspense in part by leaving in question what the outcome of a decision or situation will be.