Most dramatic tension in story-telling comes from the audience being ignorant of the work's ending. Audience members invest in characters and plots and want to know how they are treated and resolved, respectively.
Sometimes, however, authors choose to go a different route. They will make known to the audience how their story ends before they even begin telling it. Sometimes they'll do so with an explicit statement (such as in a Spoiler Opening or How We Got Here), sometimes by writing a prequel that ends right where the original work begins. Whatever the case may be, the author has given themselves quite a task. They must find some way to establish tension and doubt when everyone knows how the story is going to end.
This can be easily confused with several tropes:
- It Was His Sled deals with twists or endings that, thanks to their assimilation into popular culture, no longer surprise us, although the author originally did not intend for everyone to know the ending.
- How We Got Here and In Medias Res are related, but not identical.
- Movies or shows which, by their predictable nature, indicate how the work ends, don't count either: the audience already knows that the good guys will win, that Batman will survive to fight another day, same-bat-time-same-bat-channel, yes; but the ending isn't canonically established; theoretically, Adam West could die at the end of an episode, although realistically we know he won't.
- Captain Obvious Reveal is when the majority of the audience unintentionally figures out the twist before it's revealed, usually because the creator dropped too many hints.
Authors might cheat with this a bit (or a lot), either by having the "ending" shown be context-sensitive and open to an entirely different interpretation as the audience gets to know the set up, or with an outright Twist Ending by having the "end" shown in a How We Got Here like fashion be only the first 10 or 15 minutes, and ending much differently than is likely.
Or the whole thing isn't about what happens at the end, but how it happens. The Whodunnit becomes a Howdunnit, and so on.
Can also be used to crank Dramatic Irony up.
Historical Fiction is tied to this trope, since history isn't changing (unless the author pulls a Written by the Winners and claim that the events as portrayed in his work is what "really" happened). It's also very common in well-established franchises especially prequels set before the events of another work such as Episodes I-III of Star Wars.
Compare External Retcon, where the audience is expected to be familiar with an entire existing story.
Doomed by Canon is a Sub-Trope of this, and deals with prequel characters and their attempts to either take out the main cast of the original story or survive to the end, attempts which we know are doomed because of the original story. Framing Device entails this to a certain extent, as any character alive to tell or hear the tale must have survived, and the setting may also hint.
In almost any story that has a narrator, you can safely assume the narrator will live. For similar reasons, in any Scrapbook Story, you can safely assume that somebody must have been able to put together the scrapbook. There are some deliberate subversions, of course, including ones where a ghost is narrating or scrapbooking.
This is Older Than Feudalism. Everyone who heard Homer (no, the other one) sing already knew that Troy falls and Achilles and Hector both die; nobody walked out of Sophocles's play saying, "Dude, he married his mom?" There's a long, long tradition of retelling the story everyone knows.
As a warning, this entry contains spoilers both marked and unmarked. Since several tropes can twist into a Subverted example, tread carefully.
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- Western Animation
- Hylas and the Nymphs: The painting illustrates a snippet of the Argonautica, when Hylas is being seduced by the naidas of a pond. The painting alone leaves ambiguous whether he succumbs, but the myths states that he is indeed kidnapped.
- Young Hylas with the Water Nymphs: To those who know anything about the set-up, the story ends with the nymphs taking Hylas, never to be seen again, while Hercules is left mourning his friend/lover.
- As Asterix is set around 50 B.C., nearly every appearance by Brutus contains a reference that he will go on to kill Julius Caesar.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow is trying to bring magic back to her world in Season 9. In the Season 8 crossover with Fray, Time Of Your Life, it is revealed that in the future there is only one slayer left and that Willow has regained her power and become the Big Bad after going dark again. And she gets killed by Buffy. That is, unless Whistler actually succeeds in changing the future.
- The Death of Superman got enough news coverage that CNN should have used spoiler warnings. Thus most people knew, at least from the beginning of the issue where it occurred, that the cover blurb was not just an example of Covers Always Lie. Even those living under rocks until the collected edition (or novelization) was published would generally have a good idea of what was going to happen, with titles like The Death of Superman, The Return of Superman, and The Death and Return of Superman.
- In Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, Captain America dies. The tension comes more from the whodunnit angle and general Avengers infighting.
- In Captain America Reborn, Captain America comes Back from the Dead. Though not before some time-travel complications, as well as the Red Skull planning on usurping control of his body.
- This is why even the writers for Legion of Super-Heroes came to regret their first Flash Forward to the characters' adulthood — everyone now knew who was going to survive and who wasn't, ruining tension.
- Actual cover of a Deathstroke, the Terminator comic: "Not a hoax, Not a dream, it's the Death of Slade Wilson!!◊" It's not permanent. This comes after a Moment of Awesome where said villain takes on and defeats The Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman in simple physical combat all at once. Only to get effortlessly taken down by Superman, whom Slade doesn't even think he has a chance against.
- Magneto: Testament: Since this is an Origins Episode for Magneto, it's obvious that he will not die in the Holocaust and grow up to become the human-hating founder of the Brotherhood of Mutants.
- The writer of The Mighty Thor (renamed Journey into Mystery) made sure to point out that Loki turning evil again IS NOT a foregone conclusion, since Thor destroyed the Ragnarok cycle which contained the Norn's prophecies that decreed the destinies of the Asgardians. Of course, the whole "Loki gets turned into a kid with only his childhood memories" helps. He's in the Antihero area.
- Noob, due to events happening in both the webseries and the novel being about 90% certain to occur in the comic also (the three media have a Broad Strokes relation to each other). Its storyline is late enough on that of the two other media for a lot of in-comic Foreshadowing to technically be a Call-Forward.
- The mini-series Hunger revolves around Rick Jones and the Silver Surfer desperately trying to stop Galactus before he can begin his attack on the Ultimate Marvel version of Earth. Since Marvel has announced their next Crisis Crossover, Cataclysm (in which Galactus arrives on Earth and battles a bevy of Ultimate Marvel heroes), the readers are now keenly aware that Rick and the Surfer are going to fail in their objective.
- In every Diabolik story we know Diabolik will try a next-to-impossible heist and usually succeed, or he or Eva will get arrested and break out of jail in the nick of time, and that whatever happens a recurring character that survived his second appearance won't get killed off, especially if it's one of the big four of the recurring characters (Gustavo Garian, Altea, Bettina and Saverio Hardy). Except the authors killed off Gustavo...
- The sad fact is, a lot of big pieces of comic news get spoiled ahead of time to hype up new books. We know Thor is going to become a woman before it actually happens. We knew that Trinity War would end with the Crime Syndicate showing up so Forever Evil could happen. Often the premise of an upcoming big name project spoils the end of a currently running one.
- Subverted in the second series of Runaways, which starts off with the team getting a visit from the future version of Gert, who became an Avenger but was killed by a supervillain. Throughout the series, one might assume that, even as it's hinted that one of the Runaways will die before the end, it won't be her, because she grows up to lead the Avengers. She dies about three-quarters of the way through the series.
- Judge Dredd: Judge Death's Origins Episode opens with the mangled body of his erstwhile interviewer being found by the Judges after the monster dumped it in a chem pit. We then flash back to show the interviewer's long meeting with Death before he killed him.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: Of course the big and ugly spider would bite Peter Parker, and uncle Ben would be killed by a thief. It may be a retelling, but those things are a very strong part of the Spider-Man mythos to be significantly changed.
- Blue Is the Warmest Color: Clémentine dies. As this is revealed at the beginning, we know it's going to happen from the very first page.
- Despite having literally hundreds of comics telling adventures of his time as a young wanderer, Conan the Barbarian's comics, by virtue of being part of the Conan the Barbarian franchise, need to line up with the rest of the franchise. Namely, no matter what trouble young Conan gets into, he has to survive and live long enough to become King Conan of Aquilona, as established in the very first Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword.
- Transformers (2019) is unique in that unlike other Transformers continuities, it takes place before the war. And so, a lot of the drama of the comic comes not from wondering what will happen, but how and when it will. We know the Ascenticons will end up calling themselves Decepticons. And we know they're going to slam down against the Autobots eventually.
- Death of the Justice League, the book leading into Dark Crisis, ends with exactly what the title says (except for Black Adam).
- Aaron Carter's single "Oh Aaron" (with Nick Carter and No Secrets) has Aaron promising Backstreet Boys tickets to impress a girl and ends up asking brother Nick for thousands of tickets. When Nick asks about how this happened, all Aaron has to do is mention the girl for Nick to instantly get it.
- Iron Maiden's seriously long piece "Empire of the Clouds" drops the name of the airship it's about in less than a minute after the vocals start: the R101. The music in the beginning is swelling and optimistic. Those familiar with the history of aviation (or have seen the single's cover) know that it's not going to end well.
- Everywhere at the End of Time by The Caretaker is about a person suffering from dementia. Their loss of memory and personality and eventual death is alluded from the very beginning with song titles such as "We don't have many days" and "A losing battle is raging". This doesn't make the project any less horrifying and saddening to listen to.
- The Bible:
- Classical Mythology:
- Since The Achilleid begins by citing Homer, the audience knows that despite Thetis' best efforts, she can't stop Achilles from joining the Greeks in the Trojan War.
- Anyone familiar with the myths of Thebes knows that Oedipus Rex is going to end with Oedipus realizing his true parentage and blinding himself.
- In Norse Mythology almost all of the gods are fated to get killed (in very specific ways) at Ragnarok, along with most of humanity, trolls, giants, monsters and assorted other species.
- In Islam, when the final judgment takes place, each of the dead will be judged one last time but have little chance to defend themselves. This isn't out of malice—it's because everything is already recorded and therefore anything they would say to defend or justify themselves is already known and they're quickly shuffled off to their respective places in the afterlife.
- Calvinism offers us theistic determinism, saying God has predestined the fate of all human beings (differing on details such as whether this took place before or after the Fall of Man). Some forms of Hinduism do also.
- By the beginning of The Adventure Zone: Balance's Stolen Century arc, the audience already knows that the crew is going to create the Grand Relics, Lucretia is going to erase everyone else's memories, and Lup and Barry are going to die]].
- Those who watched The Dark Crystal knows how Age of Resistance will end: Thra will become a decaying world thanks to the darkening, the Dark Crystal will remain shattered, Aughra will survive, the Emperor will remain undefeated until his deathbed at the end of the movie, only nine Mystics and Skeksis will remain and the Gelflings will be exterminated by the Garthim, with only Jen and Kira as the sole known survivors of their species.
- A variation occurs in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978). The narrator, noting that stress is a growing problem in the world, chooses not to unduly stress the readers by giving away the ending of a suspenseful sequence: The planet they are above is Magrathea, and the nuclear missiles approaching the ship will cause no damage, save for a nasty bruise to the forearm. To order to preserve some sense of suspense, though, he does not say whose forearm — until the closing credits of the episode. It was Arthur.
- When Ford says that's he's not going to watch the football match later the bartender assumes that it's because Ford considers it a forgone conclusion that Arsenal will lose, although it's actually because Ford knows that the Earth will be destroyed before the match.
- Bleak Expectations: Since the framing device is a character recounting his past activities to a reporter, he obviously isn't going to die no matter how ludicrous the situation gets (and it does get plenty ludicrous). That doesn't stop his wife and best friend temporarily dying during those situations though.
- Fate/stay night: Saber will return to her timeline and die atop a hill with the corpses of her countrymen surrounding her. It's already been recorded in history, and anything that happens during the Holy Grail War cannot prevent that from happening on her own personal timeline. Somewhat subverted in that the point was never to prevent her from dying, but to let her live life to the fullest before her death.
- Subverted in Melody. The opening text makes it seem like the protagonist is destined to end up with Melody, but reading over the actual text, it can apply to any of four love interests in the game. And there are also bad endings in which the protagonist doesn’t end up with anyone.
- Rose Guns Days takes place in The '40s and tells the story of Rose Haibara and her club of ladies of the night turned mafia family, Primavera. In an Alternate History where Japan was destroyed by a disaster and repopulated by Chinese and American immigrants, she desperately tries to keep Japanese culture alive and prevent the Japanese people from disappearing. Before the story even begins, in 2012, we already know that she failed and that Primavera degenerated into a violent nationalistic group that has little to do with what its first Madam wanted it to be. Over the course of the story, several important elements are also unveiled in advance, like Wayne surviving and having children or Jeanne having taken over Primavera by defeating Rose.
- Hakuouki focuses on The Shinsengumi from their rise to prominence through the Boshin War. While the addition of supernatural elements to the story creates a degree of uncertainty, players who know anything about that period of history and the fates of the real-life Shinsengumi can tell from the beginning that it's not going to be pretty.
- Ace Attorney:
- Case 2 of Justice For All has Maya as the defendant. Considering she shows up just fine in the first case, which takes place after the second one, it's fairly obvious she'll be found Not Guilty. (Well, not to mention the Like You Would Really Do It aspect.)
- Case 4 of Trials & Tribulations is a flashback to Mia's first case as a lawyer. As soon as you find out the prosecutor's identity (Edgeworth) it's meant to be clear that you can't win because Edgeworth never lost a case prior to meeting Phoenix in court. Although it was a subversion since neither lawyer won: the defendant commits suicide while testifying and the case is thrown out without a judgment. It's also made clear in the same game that Mia is going to lose the case, as shown by her thinking back to it in the first case of the game and reflecting on how badly it ended. Of course, this still led players to expect her to outright lose, instead of neither lawyer winning, so it's still a subversion.
- In Apollo Justice there's a flashback trial that you know will end badly, because you've already been informed that it's the one that caused Phoenix's disbarring.
- In Dual Destinies, Juniper Woods in the defendant in both the first and third cases, but since the third case takes place before the first, you know she'll be found not guilty.
- In Ace Attorney: Investigations, Edgeworth is shown at his first trial during a flashback case. It's not the one with Mia, so you know something's going to go horribly wrong; the suspect is killed at the beginning of the case and instead of prosecuting him, Edgeworth has to figure out what happened. And when he does expose the real killer, he doesn't get to prosecute her in court as she quickly goes on the run after being exposed. At the end of the case, present-day Edgeworth comments that his true first case would take place months later, and if you've played Trials and Tribulations, you already know what's going to go down...
- Investigations 2 features a flashback case where you get to play as Gregory... against von Karma. Anyone who's played the first game will know he maintained his perfect record until he went up against Phoenix, so it's clear Gregory won't be able to win. Not only that, this is the case where von Karma received his only penalty, so you know that Gregory is going to find out von Karma forged evidence and that won't end well for him. You also know you won't be able to catch the real killer in the flashback portion of the case. But they still managed to pull a few surprises though, such as Badd being involved in the case, von Karma only barely winning due to Loophole Abuse, the moral victor was firmly Gregory and, most significantly, the Chief Prosecutor at the time being involved in the forgery, and he only gave von Karma the penalty to cover his own tracks.
- In The Great Ace Attorney, the second case is a flashback to between Cases 4 and 5 of the first game, in which you defend Soseki Natsume, the defendant of the former case. It's obvious that Soseki will be acquitted, since he makes it back home to Japan by the end of the first game and testifies in Japanese court in the first case of the second game.
- The Fruit of Grisaia has one for each character, each in their own routes. While this is mostly done well, some are...less so. Amane's in particular stands out due going on for well over half the length of her route before concluding for a result you already know.
- Since Zero Time Dilemma is an Interquel set between Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue's Last Reward, the player already knows that one of the timelines will end in Radical-6 being released into the world, killing six billion people.
- Genba No Kizuna features Nobuhiko Shinpuku, Raiko's uncle and a high-ranking police officer. He appears in the denouement of Shinrai: Broken Beyond Despair to interview the survivors of the murder incident, and since he's still alive and on the force, it indicates that he won't die or be arrested in Genba.
- PARANORMASIGHT: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo: At the beginning of the game, the Storyteller introduces the first playable character, Shogo Okiie. Seconds later, a news report reveals that Shogo dies by drowning. Indeed, he dies in both of his story branches, but the very end of the main story gives the player enough information to prevent his death and achieve the secret ending.
- Dark Simpsons:
- In "Homer Gets into a Street Fight", Homer gives Marge a Last Request that she blows up the hospital if Homer dies in the operation. Sure enough, he dies in the operation, and the video skips over the funeral scene to show the hospital being blown up.
- The thumbnail of "Homer Lives Out the American Dream" shows that Mr. Burns will die in this video. He does gets killed by Homer by throwing him out of an building at the end of the video.
- Critical Role: Exandria Unlimited: The Calamity mini-series is about how the Divine Conflict of the Calamity came about, resulting in the fall of all the flying cities of Exandria, the destruction of the continent of Domunas, and the deaths of most of Exandria's population. The city of Avalir and everyone inside it is doomed from the start, and the series is more about exploring how things happened, rather than any real attempts to prevent it from happening.