1. adt1990
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    adt1990 New Member

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    Flashback technique

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by adt1990, Jan 24, 2013.

    Hi guys, long time reader of the forum and have finally signed up hoping that someone can clarify something for me.

    Mid-way through my novel I want to include a flashback to how three characters first got to know each other- it's going to be a whole chapter. However, my question is how to transition from the previous chapter into the flashback.

    For instance, I was thinking of ending the chapter with something like 'Fred couldn't help but remember that things had been very different in the past, and his mind wandered to a specific day six years ago.' Obviously that sentence needs to be polished up, but my overall question is whether a similar sentence is an acceptable way to end a chapter, and whether you can then start the next chapter with 'SIX YEARS EARLIER' and write from that point of view.

    It seems like quite a tricky transition to me, but it's not really possible to convey the information with just a throwaway comment from a character in the present day.

    Any advice would be welcome!
     
  2. Xcarthan12
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    Xcarthan12 New Member

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    The series I am writing right now uses flashbacks extensively, and I always write "six years earlier" or such to indicate to the reader that we're making a time shift. Though, I do make sentences connecting to the flashbacks, whether before or after, such as... The flashback ends with the character as a kid, laughing with his friends. In the next scene, back to real time, the opening line is, "He heard that laughter, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, but he paid it only passing attention."

    As long as you are clear in the flashback itself who's flashback it is, and when it is, then you shouldn't have much trouble.
     
  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    It is a tricky one, as many people prefer many different ways in which to do a flashback, so really you have to experiment with what works fo you. Some people think that instead of long flashbacks like yours, they use little snippets and small sentences to give the reader a chance to work out what is happening in the present. Others would do as you do, and have a whole chapter as a flashback, with 'six years earlier' at the beginning of it. Personally I would use italics and not use 'six years earlier' at all, instead giving the reader clues to make them work out the particular chapter is a flashback.

    In short, see what works for you. That's why there are so many different types of book out there: because there are many different types of writer. Try both having a whole flashback chapter AND interspersing the past with the present in one scene. Hope I helped. :)
     
  4. adt1990
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    adt1990 New Member

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    Thanks for the advice :) I suppose the best thing to do really is just write it and see how it 'feels'.
     
  5. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Writing to see how it feels isn't a bad idea, I recommend trying it, but I still feel the need to add a bit of response to this subject.
    For me, as a reader and a writer, I prefer to make the flashbacks clean. In other words, I like knowing that I am reading about a flashback and that the story didn't just shift in some direction that I have no clue what's going on. I find that reading books like that easily confuse the readers and makes it harder for them to stay focused on the story. There was this one book I read that constantly switched from present to past without warning, it confused the hell out of me, and I was unable to finish the book. So yes, I do prefer books that say little things like "Six Years Earlier", or direct your attention to a flashback by the thoughts/dialect of a character. Just be sure to let us readers know when we're switching between present and past, so we don't get lost on the way.
     
  6. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    So many techniques are used by various authors to for flashbacks. Some use dreams, some use italics, some simply put it 3 months ago, and others mixes everything together. You'll need to test out the methods, see which one goes with the flow of your writing and your characters. I think that sometimes authors create flashback scenes with a method that is out of character for the hero and that's when I feel the transition is jilted – if that makes sense to you.
     
  7. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    The best advice is to read great authors who've included flashbacks in their short stories. One that comes to mind is Bradbury's, "The Swan," which has a few that are masterfully done.

    I would say the most common way to insert one is after a page break, to let the reader know it's an entirely different scene, setting, and even time period. You can clue them in with the first sentence, or you don't really have to, as long as there is something there that lets them know it's back or forward in the timeline.

    You don't always have to do the pagebreaks, and you'll see in Bradbury's short he uses that technique, and also seamlessly transitions into a flashback without having a pagebreak. This is done by a masterful first, and last sentence, which brings the reader out of the current scene without detaching them from the narrative, while also bringing them back in the same fashion.

    From what I've read, the best flashbacks used no typographical tricks, such as italics, to cue the reader a flashback is taking place. They've let their words do the work for them, and if there was any trick employed, it was nothing but a simple page break.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    amen!
     
  9. Caesari
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    I am writing a novel in which I employ the flashback technique to begin every chapter... revealing just a little more about the main character. It keeps it simple, but it also provides just enough info to continue, without revealing too much.
     
  10. adt1990
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    adt1990 New Member

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    Which technique are you using, Caesari? How does the reader know?
     
  11. Caesari
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    I use italics, writing 2-4 paragraphs focusing on different instances in the past. A snapshot, if you will. When it is over, I use a line break, which indicates the transition back to the "present."

    So while I do use a "gimmick," it is because they are short and relatively frequent. When writing a whole chapter, or a large chunk of one, I'd recommend avoiding gimmicks.
     
  12. adt1990
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    adt1990 New Member

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    Yeah, obviously a whole chapter in italics defeats the purpose of it.

    I think I'm just gonna go with the whole 'SIX YEARS EARLIER' thing.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Italics should not be used as duct tape to fix shortcomings of unclear writing.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!

    and paragraph-long chunks of italics are hard/annoying to read...
     

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