1. John Carlo
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    John Carlo Active Member

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    Do flashbacks work or are they always cheesy?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by John Carlo, Oct 20, 2009.

    Hey all,
    Can using a lot of flashbacks (in a novel length piece) work well without it feeling like a constant break of flow? Let's say, this is speculative fiction, and the land the person is in causes the travelers to dream actual memories. However, keep in mind, there is a lot of scenes and action in the land itself. What are your thoughts? Do you think this would come out annoying - going from fantasy world to real world (through memory), too often?
     
  2. Revlis
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    Revlis New Member

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    It's a little tricky because you could potentially lose someone in your writing; not in the good way. Unless your dictation is clear that you're going to a flash back than you will most likely fail. It won't be cheesy so long as the flashbacks have a point. They must establish a concept.
     
  3. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I asked this question a long while ago, and I got some great replies. I bet if you searched 'flash backs' you might find the thread.
    I will say, that when i wanted to use them, I gave in and tried writing without them and I like the product much better.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You have to ask yourself why.

    If the land is causing memory dreams that pertain to things that have happened on the land in the past, a la, "I am The Land, here is my story, little walklings," then why? Why would this happen? And how? What is the vehicle for this phenomenon? What purpose does it serve in the story itself? What is the message you are trying to convey by using this particular plot devise? Is it just a neato thing with no deeper meaning other than in this story the land talks through dreams?
     
  5. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    Sons of Avonar is one big book of flashbacks. Throughout the whole book, she jumps from the present to the past, from the past to the present.

    I can't get past the 2nd chapter. The way she does it is horrid: it constantly interrupts my attention, generally confuses me and makes me forget what I just read, and makes me don't care for the characters or the story at all.

    I did read on a lot of forums that the plot/the story itself was really good, and that if you could get past the writing style, you would enjoy it; the ultimate downfall of the book was its writing style scares away the causual reader, which if you are in the business to write for money, is not what you want to do.

    My philosphy is "write for the reader, not just for yourself."
     
  6. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Merrick, by Anne Rice, switches between the past and present. They are two stories that progress foward. The more you learn about the past, the more sense the present makes, and they are equally good stories.

    This same thing is done in some episodes of True Blood.
     
  7. Dermit
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    Dermit Member

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    Can it work? Abso-friggin-lutely. Lots of novels use them to great effect. But it can be tricky.

    The reason flashbacks can be so hit or miss (for me) is because sometimes I don't want to go back. If I'm happy with the pacing and the way the plot is moving there's a good chance a flashback will just be an annoying intermission, where I already know the eventual conclusion. Don't annoy your reader.

    Now, when they work, it's often because the author has made me give a damn about that character's past. A few hints at dark and sinister memories, or strange, random quirks in the characters personality - why are they there? What happened to make them that way? Dangle a little literary foreplay in front of their eyes and the reader might be downright eager to delve into a flashback.

    But the timing has to be right, as well - it's unlikely your character is going to calmly reminisce about the good 'ol days when he/she is in the midst of a battle to the death. And if they did, I wouldn't want to hear it at that point, I'd be too interested what's happening now.

    So, as far as I'm concerned, when done well a flashback can work. Done poorly, you'll put people to sleep. Same as pretty much any other aspect of writing.
     
  8. HondaWriter
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    HondaWriter Member

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    I enjoy reading novels with flashbacks, specifically when the character is flashing back to their childhood. Dont know, just personal preference as you get a different insight with the character.
     
  9. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    There are many readers who are more interested in what is going to happen more than what has already happened. Then again, as long as the flashback blends naturally within the story, it shouldn't hurt.
     
  10. Little Miss Edi
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    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

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    The Rainbow Opera by Elizabeth Knox is something you might want to look at.

    Her characters enter a world where they pick up dreams only the dreams turn out to be memories. She handles the back and forth quite well. It's a childrens book but also provided the only descriptive passage where I've been physically repulsed. Really quite excellent.

    Flashbacks if handled badly do come across as flow breaking or cheesy, but again it all comes back to the skill of the writer and some ruthless editing once the first drafts complete to get something that holds itself together and flows well.

    Good luck.
     
  11. Shinsoku
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    Shinsoku New Member

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    I always cite Blindsight as example when it comes to flashbacks; I love the story itself when its progressing, but during flashbacks I just have to skip the flashbacky bits because they're just boring.

    Most readers, as far as I know them, want stuff to happen and don't really care about what has happened, at least that's what I think and how it is for me ... Then again I like schlock, pulp and horror, so what do I know.
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is really one of those "It depends" concepts. They can be great, if done skillfully and with a purpose, but if done clumsily and/or without good reasons, then they aren't.
     
  13. Speedy
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    Speedy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just dot overdo it.

    Once came accross a book that wanted to spend 1.3 of the book in a flashback, and by the time it came back i forgot what the hell was happening. Felt like one bigunneeded info dump by its end.

    But done well, they can really do wonders for the story in a whole.
     

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