Writing Exercise: Start at the End

Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash – Adjusted by Erin Penn

Have you ever read a story out of order? Sometimes authors lead with the end of the story and the mystery is how the person ended up in that situation. “Dude, where’s my car?” and “The Hangover” are just two recent movie examples where people wake up after a night of debauchery wondering what happened to them and have to backtrack the night.

For writing, often a writer will drop readers in the middle of the action and in the second chapter backtracks a couple hours or days and fill in the backstory once the reader is hooked.

Today’s writing exercise is to create an out-of-order flash. Normally, this would be frowned on because the flash medium is too short for backstory and timeline confusion. But breaking the rules to learn a new skill is okay.

Often when setting up a story in this manner, the first action is set in present tense and the remembrance portion is written in past tense. When the action catches up to present, the verb tense returns to present tense.

Example starts: “I stopped digging when the hole was deep enough.” “Blood is not my color, but at least it was washing out.” “The hangover wasn’t bad until I moved my head into the sunlight. When I opened my eyes, I realized it wasn’t sunlight.”

Remember the mystery is how the person got from a “normal” state to their present craziness when writing timelines out of order. This focus keeps the reader on the hook until the end.

WRITING EXERCISE: Write out three things that will happen in a flash in time order, and then write the flash with #3 as the first piece of information presented.


My Attempt

Flash Title: Too Big
I stopped digging the hole when it was deep enough. Mud covered me from head to toe which covered the blood. I hoped the mess would wash out, but burning everything remained an option. I had a stack of wood under a lean-to close to the house from clearing underbrush this summer which would provide a good firestarter. I didn’t want to run around starkers at home, but I’ve done that before chasing kids when I was younger and fitter and the young escape artists were slippery from their baths. Somehow the clothes would be taken care of before I went inside.

I wasn’t tracking evidence inside my home.

I guess I should start at the beginning.

Yesterday was normal. Wake up, take the kids to school, drop the spouse off at work, run errands, do the laundry at home – walking the dog between loads and picking up after the kids and setting up for dinner and paying bills and the hindered of other tasks needed to keep a house of six people alive. I work weekends while Samantha works weekdays, that way someone is always home with the kids. It does mean the two of us don’t spend time together much, but considering number five is on the way, we do spend enough time together for some things.

Then I got a call from school. Mardi had gone missing with two other children off the playground. I don’t remember getting to the school, but the time between me hanging up the phone and signing in at the office was four minutes. The school is five miles away.

She was still missing when I got there, police were arriving behind me. One of them may have been following me for speeding. Don’t know, don’t really care, but I didn’t get a ticket for it. The two other missing kids were eleven year-old girls, dark hair, dark skin, just like my Mardi. She takes after her mother but has my high cheekbones and narrow nose from my Native American ancestors. The two other girls were also mixed races.

The police didn’t like that pattern at all.

Well, long-story short, since this story should be about 500 words. The police have the bodies of the human traffickers. Well, the low-level guys.

Their boss is too big to fail.

The clothes burned fine once they caught fire, and Sam hosed me down once I got out of the backwoods. Not my woods, mind, the woods owned by the guy too big to fail. One of my buds who wasn’t able to help me today already is calling in an anonymous tip about a suspected body being ditched.

Too-Big-to-Fail is going to have a bad day tomorrow. Worse than mine was today.

(words 459, first published 02/25/2020,