Events in an assumed story take place in a certain order, for instance a child is born, grows up, marries, leads a contented life, dies. This order of events might be abbreviated as ABCDE.
narrative can tell about these events chronologically
in the order in which they occurred: ABCDE. But it could just as well
start with the character's death, then recall the birth, childhood,
marriage, married life. The order of discourse would then look like
this: EABCD. Discourse could deviate from chronology more radically
and present events in orders such as CABED or ACDEB and so on. In
such cases events are not told in chronological order,
they are anachronological.
In the category of order one also considers the question of the beginning and ending of discourse. Strictly speaking, these categories go beyond the concept of order, since they also deal with the information flow in a narrative (see the section on in drama).
The place in the story at which a narrative begins is the point of attack. A narrative that has its point of attack at the beginning of the story is said to begin ab ovo. In such cases the narrative usually starts by giving all the necessary background information about character, place and the very first beginning of those events which are later to develop into the plot of the narrative. In most cases, this preliminary information is given by a narrator before any action has properly started; it functions as an . Charles Dickens, for example, often uses ab ovo beginnings:
Note that an ab ovo beginning does not necessarily imply a beginning with the birth of the protagonist. It always depends on what the story is about. Say, a story is about the protagonist's difficult married life, then the ab ovo beginning would very likely be the wedding, or maybe the moment he fell in love with his future wife. A story about a strange meeting in the forest would have its beginning as the protagonist sets out for the forest and so on. The ab ovo beginning of John Buchan’s story about the successful restoration of the monarchy in Evallonia lies in McCunn’s rheumatism, contracted when he slips into the river while fishing:
It is often considered a more interesting beginning to start in medias res, that is to say, to have the point of attack when developments are already well under way, plunge the reader right into the middle of things, and give necessary information about earlier developments in various flashbacks or as part of the events in the story as in the following example.
Other narratives take their point of attack right to the end of the story, they start in ultimas res and then most of the story is gradually revealed in a series of flashbacks, explaining how things had come about.
Such different techniques in the arrangement of order on the discourse level obviously produce different types of suspense, one type of suspense created by an interest in how things happened, another type created by an interest in what will happen next (the distinction discussed usefully in Pfister 1988: ch. 3.7.4.).
Endings fall into two major categories: open and closed. In closed endings all plot difficulties are resolved into some (preliminary) order: death, marriage, or simply restored peace after disagreements as in the following example:
In open endings no definite resolutions are offered. It even happens, as in John Fowles' novel The French Lieutenant's Woman and other postmodern fiction, that several different endings are offered for the reader to choose. Though each one of these may be a closed ending, the effect is that of an open ending, because there does not seem to be one definite conclusion to the events of the story.
The third element of time analysis relates to the question of how many references are made on the discourse level to any given event on the story level. There are three possibilities: