Reverse Chronological Structure
One of the more original structures we’ve seen in movies is telling stories in reverse chronological order. Now, this differs from the Fabula/Syuzhet structure. While we do start with the end—or near end—we aren’t going back to a chronological storyline. We’re slicing the screenplay into pieces and then arranging the story using those sections from end to beginning with each scene itself told in order.
Memento is the prime example of this screenplay structure. It brilliantly uses the reverse order of scenes to create unique tension and wonder of who the character is, why he is doing what he’s doing, and whether or not the characters involved in his story can be trusted. With each regression of the story—as opposed to progression in three-act structures and chronological applications—we learn a little more, while at the same time more questions are presented.
The beginning of the story becomes the main cause of tension, curiosity, and intrigue.
If you watch the film in chronological order, it’s a completely different experience that erases much of the tension and intrigue.
Reverse chronological structures are difficult to construct. It’s not as simple as slicing that script into chunks and reversing the order of those story chunks. You have to still write a compelling and engaging story that plays better in that reverse order, leaving cliffhangers and presenting questions that readers and audiences may ponder—all while answering questions at the same time.