1. Chelsea
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    Chelsea Member

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    Flashbacks

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Chelsea, Jul 3, 2015.

    I am writing a book about a guy who has loved the same girl since High School. The book doesn't start in High School but about ten years later. What happens to them in High School is very important to the plot and characters of the book. So I was thinking of doing a flash back at the beginning of each chapter, like something important that happened in the past. I was told this was a bad idea. I just wanted some other opinions.

    If it is a bad idea would it be a good idea to separate the past and present into two separate books? My concern with doing that is would the first book then be a young adult novel because it takes place when they are teens? I am worried that I wouldn't have the same audience for both books.
     
  2. james82
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    If it's told specifically in first-person past when he is twenty-eight years old then it could work.
    But if it's in third-person that may be trickier to pull off.

    I have a tricky dilemma myself in which the bulk of one of my current stories is back story,
    but my story begins in present day in a room with my MC, who has become an activist due to
    a past experience and begins to talk about his experience to other present day characters.
    Then I flashback and go from there. But the final chapter is intended to be a return to present
    in the room where the story began with my MC's summation to the present day characters if
    that makes sense.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2015
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I like the idea of a short flashback at the beginning of each chapter. Or you might want to make them short chapters in between the regular chapters.

    I have a similar problem with my book. My protag's earlier years are too important to just address as backstory so I wrote out the chapters. But I didn't want to start the book with my character at ten because it was a story about young adults. So I'm weaving in the past with the present. The titles of my chapters will refer to the year so the time change is clear to the reader.
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I think beginning- or end-of-chapter flashbacks sounds fine. You title those sections with a date or something, put it in italics if you want (assuming it's short enough), and no one should be confused. Separating it out to two books definitely sounds like a mistake, IMO. Though you could tell the past and future events linearly within one book, if you decided you'd rather not do flashbacks for whatever reason. It seems like a personal taste issue - the person who told you it was a bad idea may've just meant they personally didn't like it.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    I heard that don't do it advice, just like don't do a prologue, yadda yadda. I've seen a few surreptitious eye rolls in my critique group when I mention I'm doing flash backs. But I plan to show them, mine work. ;) It really depends on the piece. One should be cautious when one hears the 'never do that' advice but it's not an absolute.
     
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  6. Clover
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    I think separating them into two books sounds a bit complex; like you say, the audiences could easily end up being different, and it sounds like you're thinking more about their future anyway. It might be easier to focus more on one time and setting. If you wanted to, you'd also be free to bring in more events between high school and now, to emphasise how long the character has felt that way.

    I don't think flashbacks are a bad idea. Personally I prefer the idea of it all being set later - after all, the past is the past. It would be more realistic to have it come up in conversations or the characters' memories. But that's only personal preference. A flashback isn't a bad idea at all - if you think it's what's the story needs, I don't see why it would pose a problem. The flashbacks could bring up interesting questions/ideas/past events that you could discuss in the chapter that follows, so they could help keep the reader's attention. There are lots of strong points for having them. If their time in high school is really important to the later story, flashbacks would be a great way of exploring it in more detail than you'd be able to otherwise. Basically, if you want them then give them a go. :)
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    Was a reason given for why this is a bad idea?

    I'm not a big fan of flashbacks, but plenty of people are fine with them, and this seems like a perfectly normal use of them.
     
  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your specific plot sounds like it lends itself to flashbacks very easily. Actually I'd think about running essentially two concurrent storylines in two time periods that eventually feed into the same conclusion. The advice that people give to know veer into flashbacks is good, but it's not ALWAYS good. My book has full-chapter length flashbacks, and when they're well-executed, my readers love them, because they contribute to the forward momentum of the story and aren't just there to fill you in on background...in my case the flashbacks have their own plot to string them together (slowly dropping details about a mystery that doesn't get solved until the end), and heavily inform the present action. Without my flashbacks, I don't have a book - because at the end of my book - my MC's long-lost sister shows up and plays a huge role in the endgame after having been barely even mentioned in the present action. Without the flashbacks, the sister is a deus ex machina and the plot falls apart...wiyh the flashbacks, she's an essential part of the story line and a linchpin of the building suspense.

    Conversely, if I execute a flashback wrong, even I know it's bad and my readers get confused and wonder why I just made them read it.

    The reason people advise avoiding flashbacks isn't that they're BAD, it's that they're HARD. They create extra work for you as a writer, and when they fail, they tend to fail spectacularly. That said, if your story absolutely requires flashbacks, and it sounds like yours does, the solution isn't to cut them - it's to do your homework on how to properly execute non-linear storytelling.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015
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  9. Chelsea
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    I was told that editors didn't like them and that most flashbacks were often cut out of novels.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    Hmm. I did realize that when I was thinking of books that I've read where I could tolerate the flashbacks, those books actually had two concurrent storylines, as mentioned above.

    In any case, I agree that flashbacks are hard. Is there a reason why it's impossible to start in high school and then just do a multi-year jump?
     
  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even if that's true in some cases, it's not an absolute.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    Don't know who told you that but I see them in novels often enough to doubt the information you were told.
     
  13. Chelsea
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    I think the flashbacks do have their own story line and I think the flashbacks and present come together well. The way I'm going to do it is to put a flashback at the beginning of each chapter that ties in with what is going on in the present. I don't know if what I'm doing is the right thing or not but it's kinda how I have always thought about writing it with the flashbacks, I have never thought about the story without them. I'm just going to do it how I want for now, I don't even know if I would ever try to get it published or not at this point I just want to be happy and satisfied with it. Which for me being happy and satisfied with something I do is a big deal.
     
  14. Christine Ralston
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    Why not break up the flashback into little tidbits that come up as things in the present remind the MC of the past?
     
  15. OurJud
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    When is a flashback not a flashback?

    No, it's not a joke, but I would like to ask if having your character tell another character (during dialogue) about something that happened in the past, considered a flashback?
     
  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's a flashback unless it's told as it's own scene. Having one character tell another about something that happened is not technically a flashback - although sometimes people essentially try to hide flashback data in long speeches (I've done this) and if done badly it's just as bad as a flashback because essentially it's a flashback in first person with quotation marks.
     
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  17. OurJud
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    Mmmm.
     
  18. Shadowfax
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    I'd suggest it's worse than a flash-back - if done badly - because it comes across as an info-dump.

    Having a character deliver a lecture to impart some information to the reader is almost never good.
     
  19. Diablo101
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    Ive also been told the same thing, and to never start with a flashback.. why? i just heard it was in poor taste... My book starts with it, and there will be plenty of the flashbacks being recurring (may get boring if I dont change it up) My reason why the same scene or the same event from different angles plays throughout is because my character suffers from PTSD. And one thing about the sufferers is that they often revisit the trauma, action or event that caused it, in sleep and in waking life... The scenes aren't exactly paramount, but they blend in with my characters back story about why he is the way he is.. Why he cant love another, why he cant stand drunk drivers... why he is so defensive on losing his family etc...

    If you think you need a flashback, then you damn well need a flashback.. I like flashbacks, a small flashback at the start of each chapter sounds good to me, I personally like the added past exposure to the reader.
     
  20. Commandante Lemming
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    Flashback prologues are out of style because they've been done badly so many times, and there are a lot of people saying don't write them as a rule - but that's overkill. Really it should just be a word of caution that if you're going to do it, make sure you do it WELL. Make sure you're using flashback to push the story forward rather than info-dump backstory. I use flashbacks and have a flashback prologue, but I also acknowledge that doing so gives me more work as a writer, because I have to integrate those flashbacks into the forward motion of the plot, and half the time they blow up in my face.

    So - write the flashbacks but make sure you know why you're putting them there and how to properly execute them as a function of non-linear storytelling rather than just force-feeding backstory.
     
  21. WriterodLife1994
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    I think flashbacks are a good idea. I know I use them quite a bit. The only suggestion I can make is maybe don't be so rigid with them at the beginning of every chapter, let them be where they fit most naturally in the plot, maybe not every chapter needs one, maybe one would be better placed in the middle of a chapter... I don't know without having read it but I have learned that attempts at anything too rigid early on tends to cause my writer's block.
     

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