1. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    flash backs

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by afinemess, Jun 18, 2009.

    I am writing in first person, and I have been using flash backs to get some good details of memories in the story. (MC has some losses of family members that are crucial to the plot, and I would be cheating the story if I just said 'so and so died so long ago...') I recently rewrote the entire first chapter in third person, to see if maybe that would be better and flow with the flashbacks, but first person is best for this story. Now I am contemplating just having her remember these things thru conversation rather than haulting the story and going to a flash back. I have read books before where this worked, and it wasnt confusing, more like it flowed into a flashback and then out with out haulting and totally changing gears. I hope that makes sense.

    Just to see opinions, which do you prefer to read? Do you think flash backs are cheesy? I feel like I am taking the easy way out using them, and I am going to attempt a different route, and I can always stick with what I have if I dont like it, but I wanted to see others opinions. Any advice is also always welcome!
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It really depends on what you need from the scenes. With a fullblown flashback, you can focus on any element of the scene (well, ok you're in 1st person so that's not entirely true, but) whereas in a dialogue-memory thing, there are only certain aspects of the flashback that your character may remember/want to talk about. Having the memory revealed in conversation is probably the more affecting way to do it, as well as the most realistic (memory doesn't allow those kind of linear flashbacks in real life) but sometimes you'll need to delve deeper into the scene, which is where a flashback is necessary.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would say that if you have to ask - don't do it.

    No, wait. Hear me out. The problem is that flashbacks DO come across as cheesy if you don't know what you're doing, and even accomplished writers don't manage flasbacks well.

    Because you asked the question, I'd say you probably should avoid that approach, because it's unlikely you will know what to avoid or be able to finesse your way through it.

    I mean no insult. I simply would not advise someone to free-climb a sheer thousand foot cliff face unless they were an experienced technical climber, when there are foot trails they could take instead.

    In other words, avoid the dangerous paths if you don't know the dangers.
     
  4. lovely
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    lovely Member

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    I agree with Cogito on flashbacks being cheesy if done wrong.

    That being said, I also do enjoy flashbacks from time to time. Maybe you should write a scene or two both ways (I know it's a lot of work) and see how it works out. If it looks like one way is definitely better do that. Also, you don't just have to stick to one way. You can do both on different segments. Just don't make it confusing in that aspect!

    I recently read a novel in which this was done in a sort of half and half manner. Most of the flashbacks were told through letters and diaries. The "authors" of these segments narrated them like they were flash backs.

    Just because you're unsure doesn't mean you can't do it. I would just be cautious and try several things before getting carried away and writing all of it in one style.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my best advice would be to avoid both first person and blatant flashbacks like the plague!
     
  6. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I think there's a bit of a difference between flashback and backstory, either one of which can be used to create what's gone before. Nothing wrong with a chapter of backstory (something that takes place in a different time and location) every now and again, or juxtaposing present (skillfully, natch) with this kind of storytelling. e.g.,

    So, we're dancing together and the music is loud, and whatever's going to happen is about to take place ... [then, instead of saying "I remember ... blah, blah, blah (a flashback) ... you can interrupt the moment if you pace it right (maybe with a new chapter or paragraph) ...]

    (IF YOU MUST USE 1ST PERSON): It was a rainy evening when we first went out together, headed for the senior prom. John picked me up in his vintage Thunderbird, and I was dressed to the hilt. [Backstory told in first person isn't necessarily a flashback. It's backstory told by a first person narrator who isn't necessarily recalling the moment she's describing at the point in the story where the backstory is supplied. It's a storytelling device, presumably told by a first person narrator who's actually doing the entire storytelling (rather than the author) as well as participating in the current happenings (as the events are unfolding).

    But there's also nothing wrong with a sequentially unfolding first person story (past or present tense), interrupted by a third person (even close) backstory presentation. It can get tedious to simply have the first person constantly interrupting the action to suddenly recall stuff the author needs to bring to the reader's attention.

    I think MIDDLESEX (Eugenides) is a good example of a first person narrator who provides his own backstory (even delving into the goings on of his ancestors) as the book unfolds, but my books here are a little disorganized (organized by size, actually), and I can't put my finger on it right now to cite some good examples. I'm sure there are plenty of novels where you can find good examples, because it'd be a rare book that'd consist of nothing but flashbacks to provide sufficient details for the reader.
     
  7. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    Can anyone reccomend any books that have good examples of flash backs done in a smooth way that is not dialog? Just for me to reference, and see it done properly.

    I have let my husband read through some of my work, and he likes the flash back. He didnt find it cheesy, but I have read some threads here and in some of the books Im sifting through that it can be "cheesy". I dont want to be a joke, ya know?

    I'm definatly going to try it out a different way, because I think one of my memories is great the way it is, but future ones I think should be handled differently. I just want to make the memory of the MC's husband dying effective. I want the reader to feel it and connect, and I have been saving this for the end to tackle. I want to make it be fluid. Currently, she goes from having some crappy luck and an awful day and the scene stops. The next chapter begins with "Everything was white. I was folding clothes while the boys slept on the bed, and a warm breeze was ruffling my dress, tickling my ankles. I only had an hour to get dinner started before Max got home from work..."
    So I'm not doing it in a "The day he died..." kind of way, Im just writing it like its another chapter, and its pretty self explanitory to the reader that it is the past. I should have written this first, because everything else has been pretty simple for me to get out. I've of course been editing and changing things, but this is the real thorn in my side. To me, these memories and flash backs make the story. I think I'm just having one of those days...


    Im rambling and fighting an 8 month old. Thank you for the tips and advice.


    mammamaia~ what is wrong with 1st person? i ask seriously. i respect your opinion, i've read other responses from you on other threads. Is there a main reason it's not reccommened?
     
  8. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    You posted while I was posting, and you hit everything I was asking! Thank you, I seem to be doing it the way you gave in one of your examples. And thank you for the reccomendation.
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Middlesex is a good example.
    The frame story is 1st person, so for the "history" aspects of the novel, the narrater is almost omniscient, going over the lives of his/her grandparents in Greece, then their early days in America and eventually, when the MC gets up to its own birth, the narration goes back to being straight 1st person.
    Those scenes aren't exactly flashbacks though...the narrator was never actually there...the narration is based on family mythology, secrets and a kinda of mystical omniscience in a pre-birth state.
     
  10. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I've read many books on writing stating that flashback is not recommended in the beginning simply because the reader doesn't know the main character well enough, so why care about his past? Flashbacks can easily turn into "Oh, and woe to me, this bad stuff happened" and that kind of thing - even if it is legitimate, the reader doesn't really care.
     
  11. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Exactly right. He's a first person narrator who also participates in the story. Incidentally, I thought it was interesting that he used this first person device in a mystical omniscient pre-birth manner. My take was that was done purposefully in order to illustrate the fictional quality that might not be apparent otherwise, given the author's choice to use first person rather than third. And THAT choice was made in order to avoid the gender issues that would arise in this story with references to either "him" or to "her," which would be awkward, given this character's condition. I thought it was a very unusual, interesting way to write an awfully good story.
     
  12. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have lived with flashbacks and nightmares after Vietnam. I don't claim to know how others experienced such things, but mine were always in pieces. For example, one time when I was dating my future wife, we went across the border into Tijuana, Mexico. She thought it would be a fun day trip. I had a bad feeling about it. The street vendors, crowds speaking a foreign language and smells of filth reminded me of small cities in Nam. A truck backfired and I was instantly transported back to Can Tho. I shoved my wife-to-be under a trinket cart and dumped another cart over on its side for cover. I picked up a knife that had been sitting on the fruit cart and listened for the Viet Cong. Of course, the Mexicans thought I was crazy. My fiancé quickly brought me back to reality and we left Mexico immediately (never been back).

    Another time, I was having drinks with a buddy in a seedy bar when some guy grabbed me from the back by the shoulder. Again, I plunged into hand to hand combat. I spun to one side and struck him in the throat with a four finger jab. Poor guy needed paramedics. It was another flashback.

    My point is, all the flashbacks I experienced were momentary pieces of a scene rather than long, drawn out recreations of an event. They always had a "trigger" which could be anything from a shocking sound, surprise touch from behind or even an emotional scene in a movie or on television.

    If you choose to incorporate flashbacks as a means to provide back story, you might want to bury them in the rest of the story line, letting them leak out in bits and pieces after some "trigger" has been hit. For example, if a woman was to have a flashback about having been raped, it might trigger only when a man touches her or only when she hears a certain background song that was playing during the terrible event. How long will the flashback last? How intense will it be? What pieces of memory will bubble to the surface?

    As long as the flashback seems natural for the scene, it can provide powerful visuals and a bit of back story at the same time. Obviously, if poorly written or used too much, it will come across wrong. I would encourage you to experiment with them and see if they seem to flow in a manner that you like. If not, dump them.
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    My take was that he used the first person to reinforce the notion of an aural tradition, emphasising the idea of story-telling. Also, in first person, it focuses the historical narrative into a direct cause-and-effect pattern, whereas if it had been done in 3rd person, while it would have been a compelling story, it would have lacked the focus that the 1st-person framework gives it. I also love how it explores the idea of family both in the emotional/human sense, and in the strictly biological sense, like on the one hand you have this amazing family history with these quirky stories and characters, but then Eugenides makes that almost incidental compared with the genetic history and the biology of identity.

    Man I could talk about this book all day. But I won't. End of thread derailment.

    (Though if anyone wants to open a thread in book discussion :cool:)
     
  14. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure what people are meaning by "flashbacks". I think my book contains millions of flashbacks, but they aren't like.. an entire scene or chapter that is written in real time. They are just.. tidbits, little stories from my MC's life. Is that a "flashback?"

    Here is an example of what I mean:

    "“What was your first kiss like?” Cora aimed the stream of her hose at a clump of tomato plants and looked over at him. Hanging out with her was like being interviewed by Rolling Stone. The funny thing was that aside from Monty, before coming to the farm, he couldn’t remember the last time someone asked him a substantial question about himself and then actually listened to the answer.

    “Hot.” said Devin. “She was fifteen.”

    “So?”

    “I was twelve.”

    And just turned twelve, at that. Her name was Stephanie Wan. Not exactly his first crush, but definitely the first crush he ever got to a base with. Aaron had liked her little sister Casey, so for the first half of one summer their days were spent taking advantage of the fact that Casey and Stephanie had a swimming pool and two parents who were always away at work. Despite young Aaron’s self proclaimed pimp status, he never got anywhere with Casey, but at least Devin benefited from the deal. He would never forget the way Stephanie’s black hair was pinned with little blue barrettes or how delicious her butterscotch lip gloss had tasted. Life was grand until two days later when Aaron started chasing after a new girl, breaking little Casey’s heart and getting the boys banished from the Wan residence for the rest of time.

    Cora smiled. “Ah, so you were a little player from the get-go.”


    ^I do that a lot so hopefully it doesn't come across like a cheesy flashback? I've been hearing awhile now people saying don't do flashbacks and I'm really confused about the definition.
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    @starseed: I'd turn that into dialogue. It works as exposition, it would work better as dialogue. Especially after hearing this: Hanging out with her was like being interviewed by Rolling Stone. The funny thing was that aside from Monty, before coming to the farm, he couldn’t remember the last time someone asked him a substantial question about himself and then actually listened to the answer.

    It seems like he would want to tell her, to have this conversation about himself out loud (though obviously I could be completely wrong since I know nothing about either character XD)
     
  16. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Thanks.. but no.. I tried it as dialogue and prefer it as internal narration. Neither of them are too big on talking about themselves, probably why she keeps asking him questions to get the attention off of her. ;) Also I don't like putting all of the story in dialogue simply because it can be so much more well written in narration. When my characters talk I make them talk like people really like.. lots of "ums" and "like" and pauses.. it doesn't read as well for a long story. But hey, does it count as a flashback tho? lol still confused.
     
  17. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'd say so....shift in narration to an earlier time period? That's a flashback right?
     
  18. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    OKay, I don't know, I haven't ever been sure of the definition. Sometimes I think when people say "flashbacks" they mean something more dramatic. Like a dream of the past or something. In that case, yes my book is all flashback. Essentially it's about a character reflecting on his entire life and what it means, so that's why I do it that way. Hope that helps the OP! I think my method of doing it would work equally as well in first person. Better even.
     
  19. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    You could theoretically, cut the story into two stories. Each experienced by the main character, but in different time periods. I've seen a few cases where this is done. However, unless done well, this can be really annoying to the reader. The reader could already be getting into the story, and an abrupt change into the future/past could be dissapointing. This was actually a problem for me while reading Lord of the Rings, but instead of switching between time periods, it switched between different areas of Middle Earth. Then again, Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books, so I guess that doesn't say much.
     
  20. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Check out list of the top 100 novels of all time. I think you will find most of them are written in first person, and most of them have many flash backs, even the newer ones, 1960 and forward.

    I don't think I've ever read a novel that didn't include flashbacks.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    but it's not 'internal' anything, since it's not thoughts of the character, but only narrative by an observer...

    yes:
    agents'/editors' eyes roll when they see a ms starting out with 'I' or 'My' for the reasons listed below, for starters...

    1. first person in a novel keeps readers from being able to 'experience' the story as if they're 'there'... we can't be vicarious participants, which is what keeps us turning the pages, are forced to be just observers...

    2. in the hands of any but the most brilliant writers, those constant 'I's and 'me's can quickly become an annoyance...

    3. most readers don't like reading first person...
     
  22. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    ^I guess to put it in short, what you're kind of saying is like first person is like as if there's the MC right there in front of you telling the story, so the difficulty comes in when you have to make sure the reader doesn't get annoyed by the level of intimacy they have with this person they barely know... something like that?
     
  23. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    No.. in my book, although it's third person, it is the thoughts of the character. It's basically as if a guardian angel who is inside his head is telling the story. The narrator isn't just an impartial third party. I like that point of view because it has all the benefits of first person with some of the benefits of third. Basically a blend of the two.

    I disagree about first person. The Beach and White Oleander are two of my favorite books of all time; both first person and both I was very very into, and had no trouble experiencing the story right along with the characters.
     
  24. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    There is nothing wrong with the first person narration, if it's done well. Such as this op-piece written by a L.A. Times staff writer, Richard Farrell:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-farrell19-2009jun19,0,2160571.story

    If this was written in a third person, it would fall flat and read completely emotionless. Because it was written in first we are glued to the pages, and unable to look away.

    Unfortunately, the problem with this man's writing style is that he tells more than he shows, losing the overall impact of the story. How much more compelling would it have been if he showed in the first person, instead of tell?
     
  25. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    to repost more politely something I said before (sorry Cog XD I meant it friendlyly, guess the internet just makes me seem rude...

    @maia: ...I disagree on all 3 points lol
    1. I feel much more immersed in fiction I read in first person, I have no problem getting into the scene, understanding the story and often I find that having the perception skewed by the 1st person character's perception adds a level of depth to the story.
    2. 'I' is no more annoying than "he"/"Arron" over and over.
    3. I love first person, are there are a huge number of first person novels out there, so if there was ever a time that people didn't like first person (and I doubt there was....even early fiction is often 1st person....) I doubt its still true.

    I can see how first person might be a bad choice for beginner writers (we've all read overwrought teenage angst with far too many pronouns....) but don't you think swearing off it altogether might be a little rash?
     

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