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I started to create a tag for "nonlinear" storytelling, and then, decided, based on the common usage, that it should be "non-linear" instead. Even though I deleted all my initial examples, the system won't let me create the new one. Which one should be canonical?

The use would be for storylines that move backwards and forwards in time. There are quite a lot of questions that fit the bill, here are a few:

There are 59 questions that come up when you search "non-linear". None is marked with "timelines," and only 8 are marked with "branching-narrative" and only 5 with "time-depiction" indicating definite overlap, but that these are NOT synonyms.

  • All branching narratives are non-linear, but relatively few non-linear narratives branch.
  • Timelines seems to me to be about managing different settings that are separated by time instead of place, whereas non-linear is more about the storytelling.
  • I'm not sure what time-depiction means but it doesn't sound like a synonym for non-linear to me.
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    We already have branching-narrative, the tag wiki excerpt for which specifically says "Contrast this with storyline, which is about a continuous storyline." – user Sep 13 '19 at 19:40
  • @aCVn branching-narrative, I believe, is about many alternate paths through a storyline. It's uncommon (but not unheard of) in ordinary fiction, but common for video games. As discussed here, branching narratives are nonlinear but nonlinear narratives are not typically branching: writing.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1551/… – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 14 '19 at 11:41
  • Thank you for the examples, that was very helpful. I'm still not convinced that this warrants a tag separate from the time tags that already exist. – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 14 '19 at 14:21
  • @Cyn I understand this opinion, but that wasn't really my question. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 14 '19 at 23:44
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I actually disagree with Cyn's answer that and cover your proposed usage. They do not appear to me to do so.

I do think there are some unique challenges involved in telling a story where the storyline itself "move[s] backwards and forwards in time", unrelated to how one depicts time or where the characters themselves are time travelling. Those unique challenges could warrant a specific tag; certainly to the point that I'm not saying "we shouldn't have one like that".

However, I feel that just (regardless of whether the tag name contains a hyphen or not) isn't a very good name for such a tag. If it is added, I propose the name instead, to emphasize the fact that it isn't about just nonlinearity, but specifically about nonlinear storylines. That also allows for substring matching, so that when someone types either "storyline" or "nonlinear" into the tags field, they see "nonlinear-storyline" as a choice. That should improve discoverability. A bit of further clarification in the tag wiki excerpt can easily clarify that it's about the storyline itself, rather than events within the story.

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The more widely accepted phrase seems to be "nonlinear narrative". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonlinear_narrative

And I think "nonlinear" without the hyphen is preferable on the ground of simplicity if nothing else. I rather suspect that a lot of the usage of "non-linear" is people using a word that they use rarely and erring on the side of hyphenation because they are not sure that the unhyphenated form is acceptable. But in this case it is acceptable, so let's accept it.

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Given that most people seem to use "non-linear" with a hyphen, that seems to be the preferable spelling to use.

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  • The one problem with the hyphen is most people are hesitant to multi-hyphen, so then non-linear-storytelling seems a no-go? I dunno. – April Salutes Monica C. Sep 19 '19 at 13:33
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I know we don't really have the option of supertags, but [nonlinear] should definitely exist above [branching-narrative].

In addition to the achronological example you cite (and achronological may indeed be the word you are specifically looking for), the theory of nonlinear storytelling encompasses so much more than simple branching. It should encompass environmental storytelling, any form of web/bubble narrative*, etc.

In that sense, [nonlinear] may ultimately be too broad, but it is a good catch-all while the potential subtags aren't in existence or wide use yet.

* Ask me about the PhD I didn't finish! :P

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  • I have an unfinished MLS (library science)! Yay depression. What's your degree/unfinish-reason? – April Salutes Monica C. Sep 26 '19 at 14:00
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    Theater production; specialization script development. Unfinished because I basically had a double workload as I needed to produce both theoretical and creative work in equal measure while keeping up with the purely theoretical PhD students in the department. Umm, weirdly, my partner has an unfinished MLS... Do you need to tell me something? :P – Weckar E. Sep 27 '19 at 3:23
  • Mine was just depression got in the way, and I thought I could keep signing up for classes until enough credits were successful, but they cared about the GPA, and kicked me out. – April Salutes Monica C. Sep 27 '19 at 13:27
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We have two tags for time issues in a work:

This tag should be used for questions about timelines in written works, such as problems with aligning different timelines because of different PoV's or time-travelling.

This tag should be used for questions about timelines in written works, such as problems with aligning different timelines because of different PoV's or time-travelling.

When you want to ask a question about how you have to set or keep track of the timeline in a written work you should state your medium, such as a novel or a short-story or even a series, as well as the genre, such as horror or comedy. In the question you should list what you have tried and researched and why you think it didn't or wouldn't work, as well as criteria for what you want to achieve.

Questions about depicting time in written works. Do not use for questions about managing time.

For questions about managing your time, balancing writing with other activities, etc, use time-management.

Honestly, looking at this, I'd say these two need to be merged. We certainly don't need a third.

Is there are reason you think (with any spelling) is necessary when we already have these others? Or could it be a synonym?

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  • I don't see "nonlinear" and "timelines" as being at all the same. Timelines suggests time travel, or at least, distinct timeframes, while nonlinear is about a style of storytelling that doesn't go straight from point a to point b. I'm not sure what "time-depiction" means. If you do a search, there's no overlap between timelines and nonlinear, and very little overlap with time-depiction. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 13 '19 at 17:24
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    Timelines includes time travel but would also include stories that bounce around linear time for other reasons. An example would be A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This is a novel told from the POV of different family members and all over the place in time, because most of it is flashbacks. – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 13 '19 at 18:07
  • I still don't see these as being the same or being used in the same situations. One is more about the settings, the other is about the storytelling. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 13 '19 at 18:12
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    @ChrisSunami Can you give some examples of questions or works that would be nonlinear but that have nothing to do with timelines/time-depiction/etc? Thanks. – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 13 '19 at 18:48
  • I edited my question to add a few good examples. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Sep 14 '19 at 11:47

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