1. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    Flashback vs. Time Skip

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by kburns421, Jan 1, 2015.

    A major event happens, something critical to the story and the main conflict, but then some years pass before the main conflict actually occurs. So it's not just backstory, but more like the inciting incident of the inciting incident because, without it, the story events wouldn't happen.

    Which is worse: showing the event in real time and then skipping years forward in time, or starting at the main conflict and using flashbacks?

    Does it depend on how much information there is to convey about the event? On how many scenes the original event would take? On how much time would be skipped? On which part is going to hook readers more? On how many flashbacks it would take? On the POV? On the genre?

    I would love to know what peoples' opinions on this are.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think there's an answer to this, because for all of your "does it depend" questions, the answer is, yes, it DOES depend.

    If you want to build mystery about what happened in the past, obviously you don't want to do the time skip approach. If you want to use the past event as the hook to get readers into the story, probably you DO want to do the time skip.

    I think you've got to figure this one out on your own. Sorry.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Best way to answer this is to write the scenes then decide later if you want a flashback or a prologue or something altogether different.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a third option: Not depicting the event in "scene" at all, and just letting the characters react to it and/or discover it. Like the initial murder in Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie.
     
  5. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    Well, I didn't include specifics because it's a problem I seem to run into with a lot of ideas, and I wasn't asking anyone to figure it out for me. I'm just trying to figure out the pros and cons of using one over the other, like what you said about building mystery vs. hooking the reader.
     
  6. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    @ChickenFreak I haven't read that, so I'm not sure what you mean. Like, no actual flashback scenes, but just hints and references?

    @GingerCoffee I was afraid of that, haha. It's just either I'm going to be keeping some secrets from the reader throughout the book or they're gonna know everything the protag knows, so it'll be doable but a pain to change once it's written.
     
  7. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    @kburns421 I can think of two methods I would use for this scenario.

    1. As you suggested write you book placing it after that event and use flashbacks, I myself have used this method, I have put the flashbacks in the form of a dream that has been prompted to make the character remember the moment. Another one I had (mine is supernatural by the way) is my MC is recovering memories from another characters mind so that we can find out pivotal information about that character.

    2. Just make a prologue. Turn your history into a prologue and you can easily make chapter one based several years later, I can't recall names right now but I have definitely read books that have done this method. I even tried it myself in a previous version of my novel.

    Personally I prefer option one, it feels a little more natural for me, and my readers are being provided with the information they need when they need it, instead of reading it at the start and possibly forgetting by the time they need to know it. It is entirely up to you of course but these I find will be among the best resolutions to your dilemma.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Secrets are good. And I agree with @ChickenFreak that you might have that third option.

    I have a very limited experience to draw on so keep that in mind. [My apologies to everyone who must be getting sick of this account by now.] I struggled with backstory because it wasn't just backstory, it was part of the story. At the same time I couldn't write the story chronologically because the backstory is when my protagonist is 11-14 yrs old and the story takes place when she's 17-18.

    I know a lot of people would just have her younger years leak out as backstory bits, but it was cutting out too much of the story.

    I couldn't decide so I just wrote the scenes. 3/4 of the way through I decided how I would manage it. I could never have written the beginning first. And I threw some chapters out altogether, don't be reluctant to do that.

    I'm pleased with the end result.
     
  9. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    @GingerCoffee So how did you manage it? Sorry, I'm just not quite understanding. But that's what I'm worried about, too, that I'll be cutting out too much or unable to explain important things if I use flashback even though flashback would have better flow and pacing. I'm afraid things will seem like they're happening too fast, one after the other, even though three to five years will have passed.

    @Amanda_Geisler I don't think the reader will forget in this particular story, but I hadn't thought of that. I'll put that one in the pro list for flashbacks. I know I've read books that have done both, too, but I can never remember any examples when I need them!
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I wrote the chapters of my character's younger years as if I was writing the story. The chapters were spaced about a year apart. I kept writing skipping from age 14 to the current story that started three years later. I didn't worry that I didn't know how I would start the story or how I would work the earlier scenes in.

    Eventually I settled on weaving the two stories until the younger years caught up with the current story about midway through the book. I wanted the past scenes to relate to the current scenes but that turned out to be unworkable. And finally I had started with a short chapter, the character age 10. But it came across too much like a prologue trope so I chucked it and started with the current story, adding a flashback after things got started. The flashback did tie in well with the current events. My character was very much alone and making big mistakes (at least in her mind) in both timeframes.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well said. This is it, in a nutshell.

    Before you decide, ask yourself: How much do I want my readers to know, right at the start?

    If you want us to find out about the inciting incident gradually, then filter it in ...either through flashbacks, or through characters revealing it to other characters. It will serve as a mystery.

    This approach can be tricky if your POV character knows 'the truth' and deliberately withholds it from us. Unless it's done skillfully and with purpose, we can feel we've been unfairly tricked.

    It's less risky if the POV character is as much in the dark as we are, and discovers the truth when we do. Unreliable narrators can be a lot of fun, but you're less likely to annoy us, later on, if your POV character lets us in in on all their secrets right from the start.

    If you want us to know what YOU know, right at the start—even if your characters don't—then begin with the inciting incident. It will serve as a hook. This means we will either be eagerly awaiting the moment the incident comes to light, or will be watching the characters cope with the fallout. Or both.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
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  12. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    This is something I was worried about. I've seen it done in other books though, so I wasn't sure if I was just over-worrying. I originally was against using flashback, but the more I worked on the plot, the more it seemed like the passage of time is going to seem off in the beginning. I thought a Catch-22-esque method, revealing pieces until the reader is dying to know the full story, might work, but the event that happens in my story is an awful big thing to hide from the reader.

    Maybe I've been a bit too quick to dismiss a prologue. The definition in your sig is making me reconsider, haha. I've just never quite felt comfortable with that idea.

    @GingerCoffee I probably have to accept that I'm going to end up doing the same with this issue, trying one thing and then rearranging to try it different ways.
     
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  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm totally against an absolutist knee-jerk reaction to issues like: Never write a Prologue. Always Filter Backstory In.

    It's so important to consider what you want your readers to be thinking and feeling AS they read.

    I speak from some experience on this issue. I originally wrote my novel without a Prologue, and did filter deep-past backstory into it. However, I ended up with my first beta readers getting annoyed. One beta kept telling me to 'cut to the chase,' meaning he was dying to find out what had caused the story problems, and felt I was taking WAY too long getting to the Big Reveal. This was not the way I wanted my readers to see my protagonist's introverted personality ...as some kind of mystery/puzzle to be solved. Instead, I had wanted my readers to achieve slow understanding of why he'd became the person he was. That was what I wanted to happen, but it wasn't happening. (Always pay attention to beta readers!)

    It took me some time to get around to the idea that I needed to do my Big Reveal right at the start.

    When I finally did this, and wrote the deep-past inciting incident as a Prologue, the whole problem was turned on its head. And it worked a treat. Only the readers and my protagonist know about this incident. The other POV characters don't. The story arc morphed into something entirely different from what it had been in my first draft. Now my readers immediately understand what the other POV characters don't, and they are waiting for the proverbial shit to hit the fan later in the book. This works a lot better in terms of story tension.

    Play around with possibilites, but forget—entirely—the notion that you should or shouldn't do things a particular way. Shape your technique to the story you're telling, and always consider what you want your readers' experience to be.

    Here is a link that expands on Jeff Gerke's (the guy in my Signature) notion of Prologue, and what it can do. I hope you can access it. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-approaches-for-the-first-chapter-of-your-novel
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
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  14. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    You know, somewhere in my planning, I lost sight of this and became overwhelmed by all the advice and "rules" and plot and who knows what else. I wanted readers to know everything my protag knows, and only what she knows, so they'd understand her actions, feel her emotions, and be just as shocked/horrified as her when she gets surprising information near the climax that relates to that first incident. Thinking about it that way, I might be sacrificing a whole lot for some mystery that might just annoy readers anyway. However, a more omniscient POV might be a possibility because the other character she's spending her time with knows the important thing she doesn't, which, as you pointed out, creates tension in the reader. I know I can always change things after I've written, but it'll be nice if I can get as much right as possible the first time.

    Your experience may have been a pain for you, but it's been helpful for me! Thanks for the link, too--I was able to see it, no problem.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I think it's important not to pander to prejudice. If a Prologue works best for you, use one. Yes, there are people who will automatically skip it because they think it's going to be boring and isn't going to matter anyway—but that's their problem, not yours.

    The notion that a Prologue means you won't get published is just laughable. It really needs to be ditched. I just downloaded a first novel from the author who is the featured writer on the current cover of Writers' Digest. And you guessed it. His story starts with a Prologue.
     
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  16. kburns421
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    kburns421 Member

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    @jannert I still have decisions to make, but I feel better armed with information now and will likely end up somehow keeping that event first like I planned. I think there's more emotional impact/connection with the protag that way since it's such a driving force in her actions and integral to the conflict. I need to do more research about what's appropriate for a prologue, possibly tighten it up instead of using numerous scenes, etc., but this has definitely been helpful.
     
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