1. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Broken Up Flashbacks - Good or Bad?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Thornesque, Dec 25, 2013.

    I know that someone might say, "If you execute it will, anything can be 'good.'" What I'm asking for is more of a general opinion on personal feelings toward doing this.

    I have a character who, following the death of a very close friend and lover, starts to think back on how they first became acquainted. I show this through a flashback, but it's not one solid stream of flashback. First she's sitting with a friend, and then she starts thinking about the events that immediately lead to their meeting. Then she gets interrupted by said friend who wants to distract her by taking her out on the town. They hang out for a while, but her thoughts, inevitably, lead back to the memory, to her first meeting with the now-dead lover. It's interrupted, again, by the arrival of another character, and it's not until she gets away from everything that she returns to the memory and it finishes up.

    Does this sound jarring, to you? Would you be frustrated by the constant switch, back and forth, between what the character is experiencing now, and where her thoughts are?

    Opinions appreciated.
     
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  2. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As long as there's some kind of mark to show that the scene is changing (dashes, asterisks, even just extra spacing), I don't think it would get too confusing.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's only annoying when you can't tell the scene has changed or if the flashback doesn't move the story forward. Have someone read the scenes aloud where they change and see if you can tell without the cues of a chapter change. (My preference is new scenes need a new chapter but others may differ.)

    My story is woven between the past and the present and I like how it is turning out. But I am keeping the timelines of the present and the past cohesive. I'm worried if I jumped about in the past it would cause problems. However, my character is grown in the present and the flashbacks are to her younger years. That made keeping the chronology intact important. I didn't want the reader to be confused how old she was in each flashback.
     
  4. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Definitely, definitely...

    Agreed. I certainly wouldn't be putting them in here if I didn't think that they would do something to advance the plot. There's definitely crucial details.

    I like this advice a lot, actually. May have to try and bribe a friend into reading it out loud to me.

    Thank you, guys.
     
  5. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The question isn't if it's a good or bad idea, it's if the reader will welcome the interruptions of the scene in progress. After the second one they'll come back to the scene in progress with the knowledge that it's going to be chopped again, which will effect their perception of it. Will that be a good or bad thing as far as the reader is concerned?

    It sounds like you're using the scene in progress to present a series of linked short stories. If so I have to ask, do they all work as scenes, in that they advance the primary plot and contain a self-contained scene, or scenes, each with a scene goal, inciting incident, and rising tension, that end in resolution or disaster and a return to the story's present? If not, if what you're giving is in essence expanded backstory to educate the reader on the character's history.

    In Irving Wallace's, The Seven Minutes, the story in the protagonist's present had a woman in the midst of making love. And as she does, a series of flashbacks presents the woman's romances with a series of men, as she worked out who she truly wants to spend her life with, with the climax of the book matching her own. That sold pretty well. So if you're telling a coherent story, and the reader is glad to both enter the flashback, satisfied by it, and pleased to return to the present, knowing it's going to happen again and again, the answer to it being good or bad is: good.

    If not...
     
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  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There're two problems that I might have with this as a reader:
    1) I get frustrated if these flashbacks interfere too much with the primary plot. I'm usually interested in what's going on "now". Few and far between works for me.
    2) this is even worse: some really stiupid link that makes the character think back. I find this more common on TV though. It's like they see a coffee mug and then think about a meeting on an airplane or smell freshly baked buns and that reminds them of bunnies in the zoo. I saw links akin to that in Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica. But of course, literature and TV are two different things. Just thought I'd mention it.
     
  7. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    Read 'If I Stay' by Gayle Forman. She uses the flashbacks throughout her book, and does it wonderfully. It's not jarring or confusing, and you can tell that it's a flashback.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That suggests you aren't enjoying the flashbacks as much as the current story. I'm hoping my flashbacks are just as interesting. I think to do so the past and present need to both be stories that appeal to the same reader.

    Another option is to make the flashbacks short so they don't take the reader away from the story for too long. It would be interesting to read how people here feel about tension that builds with a cliff hanger at the end of a chapter, but instead of the story continuing, it is interrupted with either a flashback or a different scene altogether. Are all cliff hangers page turners? Can a flashback after a cliff hanger just annoy the reader or can it possibly add to the tension?
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thanks, I'll take a look at it.
     
  10. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I'd imagine it's difficult to please everyone. It's like when you read people's comments on The Song of Ice and Fire. Some readers have enjoyed this character more than that, that's just how it goes. I think if the flashbacks and the primary plot both have goals and cliffhangers of their own, they can really work.

    Personal opinion: yes to the former, no to the latter. I daresay it's even likely the reader will skip the flashback to get to the resolution of the previous conflict.
     
  11. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm reading Big Brother right now and there is lots of flashbacks through internalization of the first person narrator and it's very readable. Funny and poignant. I would say in this story the information of the flashbacks is not presented in single blobs but introduced throughout as internalizations except one chapter dedicated to bringing the past forward.
     
  12. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    This isn't really an issue of whether or not the flashback is necessary - I've already battled that out in my head, because I know any deviation from the "real" story might cause some frustration for the reader. So, when it comes to something like dreams, flashbacks/memories, or anything like that, I sit down, usually before writing it (before I get attached to it) and say, first of all, "Is the information I'm portraying here really necessary?/Does this advance the plot?" Then, if the answer is yes, I say, "Is this the best way to portray this information/advance the plot?" So, I'm positive that I'm going to have this flashback in the story. So this is really just about the breaking-up of the scene.

    In theory, at the very least, the first third of the flashback could be eliminated. It's not necessary to know the specific details of what happens before my character, Imogen's meeting with Seth (the now-dead lover). However, the two of them go into their first meeting, both knowing what's going on - why he wants to talk to her. So, it just doesn't make sense for one or the other to go into an explanation about the whole thing. It just wouldn't feel natural to me. And leaving it out would make matters far too "shrouded in mystery" for my tastes. I want the truth out, here, so that it's understood why Imogen has conflict with Silas (relative of Seth) at the end of the chapter. Because, again, it just doesn't feel natural for Silas to go into this long explanation about why he doesn't like Imogen, when Imogen already, very plainly, understands. Nor is it something that can be done justice simply by means of Imogen thinking, "Oh, I understand why he hates me. It's because..."

    I am afraid that it might turn into an information dump, which is certainly not what I want it to be. But it also seems wrong to just throw the information in and go with it. Unnatural, and unjust to Imogen. Without an explanation, an implication is made about her character that's incorrect. With the explanation, her character is better understood. And I think turning the information into a flashback, rather than writing it out as an internal or external explanation, will make it a little less info-dump-like.
     
  13. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    it depends, my now shelved piece employed something of a similar sort, except, it was one continuous story with intermittent flashbacks scattered throughout, it can, if you make it work, i shelved the piece as i found myself losing steam over it.
     
  14. Cailinfios
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    Cailinfios Member

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    Personally, so long as its interesting, I find them fine. If the flashback consists of the main character mulling over how much life sucks, then whats the point? Check out Brandon Sanderson's book The Way of Kings, he has a lot of flahsbacks there and they're done very well!
     

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