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What Is a Prolepsis?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2016
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A prolepsis within a narrative is typically a moment in which the story jumps forward to future events as a way to show what will occur. This is often done to provide the audience with information or to show scenes that would not otherwise be depicted, since they often occur outside of the story's timeline. The term can sometimes be used synonymously with the idea of foreshadowing, though this is typically seen as be a more subtle concept. A prolepsis can also be a rhetorical device used in debate, in which someone presents a point against their own argument and then provides evidence to discredit it.

Also called a "flashforward," a prolepsis within a story is basically a jump in time ahead to a future events within the world of the story. This is different from the natural progression of the storyline forward because it is a single event that is often sudden and of fairly brief duration. A television show, for example, might have a five minute prolepsis in which the audience is shown events that happen 10 years after the events of the show. Those things depicted in this type of jump are usually actions that will not be shown in the natural course of the narrative.

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In some contexts, a prolepsis can be seen as similar to foreshadowing, or used to accomplish the same task, though it is often much more abrupt. Foreshadowing is typically a hint of events that are still to come in a story, usually those that will happen within the narrative. If a character is going to die by the end of a story, then events may be shown that suggest or hint at this to the audience. A prolepsis can be used in a similar way, by showing events that will happen after the narrative, to suggest things that must logically occur beforehand.

The term "prolepsis" can also be used as a synonym for "procatalepsis" which is a rhetorical strategy often used in debates or arguments. In this context, it refers to a technique by which someone presents an argument against his or her own point, in order to refute it. A person arguing in favor of gun control, for example, may bring up a statistic regarding police response time, and then present evidence to indicate how this has no bearing on the right to use firearms. This type of prolepsis is a popular way to throw off opponents during a debate, since it allows someone to present and refute elements of their argument before they do.

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feasting
Post 4

I once read a book that gave away its own ending through the use of prolepses. I didn't like knowing that one of the characters was going to die after reading the very first chapter!

I think that the author could have done without all the prolepses in this story. Just knowing that I was reading toward something very sad made me nervous and a little depressed the whole time I was reading!

I didn't put the book down, simply because I wanted to see how the character would die. Still, I didn't appreciate the way it was written.

OeKc05
Post 3

In a debate, a prolepsis can be a powerful tool. I imagine it is a bit risky to start off your speech with data that refutes your point, but think how much more potent your point will be as a result!

If you are brave enough to do this, then it usually means you have a firm grasp of what you are saying and a strong belief that it is right. You must also have strong statistics that work in your favor and hard evidence of what you deem to be the truth.

I have heard more than my share of boring debates, but the few that stand out in my mind are the ones in which the speaker used a prolepsis. There is nothing like seemingly contradicting yourself to get your point across and burn your words into the minds of the people in the audience.

shell4life
Post 2

@cloudel – I think it makes a story more interesting! I love it when future events are hinted at, because it makes my mind start churning to figure out what the missing links between the present and future are.

I like being able to solve the mystery before it is finally revealed at the end. If there are several uses of prolepsis throughout the movie, then it is easier for me to fit it all together like puzzle pieces in my head.

I know that it does disrupt the natural flow, but I appreciate that. Sometimes one long flow can be boring, and the story needs shaking up a little!

cloudel
Post 1

I hate it when television shows or movies make use of a prolepsis. It confuses me, and I think that it interrupts the natural flow of the story.

It would take anyone's brain a few seconds to adjust to a jump forward and then to the jump back to the present. It is really annoying when shows do this several times during one episode, because it makes me mentally dizzy!

I can tolerate it when the prolepsis occurs at the very end of a movie. Then, it is obvious that the story has jumped ahead in time, and there is nothing left to go back to afterward.

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