1. Snail
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    Snail New Member

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    Explaining the past

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Snail, Aug 16, 2011.

    I have written my novel over and over again, and still don't know what to do, so I thought I would ask for some advice:)

    My main character's past is very relevant to the plot, so I really need to include quite a lot of it in detail, but I am unsure how to go about doing this. Initally I made the chapters alternate between past and present, but I just never felt confident about it. I was also trying to hide the fact I was writing about the same person, but wasn't sure if it seemed odd having two separate stories going on that don't appear to be linked. I tend to hate that in books, so I decided to try a different way of including it.

    When I did my second draft I tried to slip it into the present story, but I thought that might sound like I am "telling" too much and it could interfere with the flow? Now I am thinking maybe I should go back to the way I originally did it?

    So, what do you all think? What is the most interesting way to write about a character's past?
     
  2. Snail
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    Snail New Member

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    I have just been reading through some other posts and found another thread asking a very similar question. So I guess my question is sort of answered somewhere else.

    Still happy to hear thoughts on this if you have any:)
     
  3. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you seen the film 'Alexander?' It does this quite well, in my opinion, and they technique I picked up translated into my writing quite well.

    The best way to write about a character's past is to do it through objects, dialogue, and their reaction to things - all in the story. What do they hold dear to them? What do they say about certain things? What are their opinions? Do they have any irrational fears or hates that seem odd and possibly out-of-place? Drop clues and build up a big picture. Eventually your reader will figure it out. You could have one of the characters spell it out for them if you must.

    But do not do it primarily through the narrative. It just breaks the flow of the story.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Alternating between past and present is totally okay and has been done before and done well. Holes was cool like that. A novel on Web Fiction Guide called Corvus (by L. Lee Lowe) also did that pretty well, I thought.

    Flashbacks are frowned upon, generally. But you just need to find what you're comfortable with.
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never really understood why "flashbacks" are frowned upon if they are not overused. I've not used many but I've used a couple I felt necessary. (And only at good times.)

    I don't think there is a general "right" way to explain the past. You just gotta try out stuff that you feel would work until you get something that clicks with your story.
     
  6. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I actually like stories which take the readers to the past only when it is necessary/relevent. If well written it won't interrupt the flow. As far as 'telling' goes don't try to give direct informations of the past, instead think more in the lines of inserting a scene/chapter of the past which will indirectly give the informations you want to give.
     
  7. DBock
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    DBock Member

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    Are there scenes or moments that can take place in your book that can explain past by showing your characters reactions to them?
     
  8. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Why are we saying flashbacks are bad? Shutter Island was based off of one big flashback. I think it can work when done well.
     
  9. DBock
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    DBock Member

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    If written wrong they can remove the reader from the story and make them very confused and disconnected with it.
     
  10. flipflop
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    flipflop Senior Member

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    If the past is important perhaps you should cover it all in capter one as a story in itself. Unless it would be considered spoiler or its too fragmented to build a story on in which case i would not write it at all and let the reader find out the truth another way. (perhaps leaving it to the end like a mystery)
     
  11. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, ANYTHING written wrong can do that. ;)

    I think flashbacks done right can help provide a good backdrop for certain things. Like anything else, they can be done wrong. But I think they can create a good effect if done right. (Also, sometimes a memory can be brought up by an event. And IMO, if the memory is interesting enough and it's clear what is going on, there's no problem with showing it instead of just telling about it.)
     
  12. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    You should try incorporating the past into the present. Use the character's past as if the character is still doing it now. And then try bridging the past time into the present. It may not be easy to do, but that's what I would do in this situation. Not only that, you can try using that past situation as a scene as well as the ones you are writing now are described.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write story, not back story.

    Allude to the past only where and when it is necessary to the story, and keep it brief.

    And never - ever - explain the past.
     
  14. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    This is why I feel that writing the past as if the character is still doing it now is better than just writing the character's past. In other words, if the character's past is very important in the story, the past is PRESENT and it is HAPPENING now. Otherwise, you'll be writing back story, which I find boring.
     
  15. therealdjcamm
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    therealdjcamm New Member

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    Have you tried writing the back story as if it were a separate book completely? Whilst it might seem a bit of a chore, by constructing the past narrative in its entirety you'll be able to extrapolate from it a vast selection of traits and signatures ready to be re-used in the present. Everything comes from something so it's an idea to build the most thorough template you can for your plot.

    Anyway, it's entirely up to you, don't write something you don't like, just do whatever seems best considering the context of your work. Let us know how you get on :)
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    What is the difference between flashback and writing the past when you alternate present and past as you said?
     

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