Tags:
  1. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia

    Flashbacks

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GoodTweetyBird, Jul 31, 2013.

    While working on a story I decided that the opening would be much stronger with an event that happens at a point just a short ways down the actual timeline of the story. Pointers to good instruction on flashbacks would sure be helpful. I suppose if one were good at it the flashback could contain dialog but I suspect just narrative would be easier.

    Wished I had more interest when I was back in school. I am an engineer so I think I can handle grammar, spelling, etc from tech writing experience. But the good stuff that makes a novel is where I have a poor grasp. I laughed at myself when I was stumbling about where to place quotation marks and punctuation in a back and forth dialog.

    So bottom line I would ask someone to direct me to some good examples of flashbacks.

    Thanks,
    jh
     
  2. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I hear all the time, don't use flashbacks, but I have them in my story, nonetheless. I chose to use flashbacks because I want to include scenes from my protag's earlier years while writing the story about older teens and young adults.

    The first thing you need to decide is, do you need flashbacks or are you just using them to insert backstory that could be inserted some other way?

    What do you mean by, "a point just a short ways down the actual timeline of the story".
     
  3. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia
    Well I couldn't think of a better way to say it without an example. So let's say the life of the story opens on Monday.

    On Friday the company is having a team building meeting. John who has just rejoined the company on Monday is standing beside his former boss Brent at the picnic when Christie approaches and the general consensus is that fireworks will erupt. Brent asks John if they should move away to avoid the confrontation. John asks Brent to stay with him to be a management team witness should Christie unload on him. So to me this will be a good opening scene after I paint in the backdrop a bit more. People are probably glancing around and alerting others to the point of impact. But the reader does not know why there may be a confrontation. Turns out John is being coy, he and Christie met earlier in the week to solve their differences and Cathy is about to welcome him back to the company, much to everyone's surprised. Here I want to use my flash back acquaint the reader with what there problem had been and why John was returning to the company at this time.

    I was marching straight along the timeline explaining things and then realized I could open with the tension of a public confrontation and then flashback to the precursory events. Thought I could hook the reader quicker.

    Flashback can be effective and I want to find a good example with dialog in it. I have already decided I am going to use it, sparingly, and hopefully efectively. I am just looking for good examples with dialog and clear transistions.

    BTW, thanks for you post.



    jh
     
  4. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    It's a tad hard for me to follow that, but it looks like you should definitely open with the excitement but reveal the backstory as you go, no need for a flash back to do it. I know you say you've already decided, but there are other ways to fill the reader in on past events.

    I think you should look at what the flashback needs to reveal that you couldn't otherwise show. For me, my protag's younger years were important to getting to know who she is and why she is the way she is. If I just said she was a bullied tomboy I didn't think I could show the depth that I'm showing with the scenes from her younger days.

    Rather that just seeing the flashback as a convenient tool for revealing backstory, you should consider identifying the reason you are using it, what does it do for the story that makes it necessary.

    As for how to do it, that's not hard. You start a new chapter and make some reference to the fact you've left the main story. For mine, I refer to my protag's age. And it's clear the setting differs. I've made abrupt jumps by changing the chapter. I know some people have the character dream or think back. I didn't find that was necessary in my story.
     
  5. EdFromNY
    Offline

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2010
    Messages:
    4,684
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Location:
    Queens, NY
    Building on what [MENTION=53143]GingerCoffee[/MENTION] said, people often use flashbacks where a quick fill-in will do. I find that a good guideline is to give the reader only the information (s)he absolutely needs to have in order to understand what is going on in the story. Flashbacks usually overdo that, because we feel the need to fill in everything that happened rather than just the one key thing that we need to know. In your example, the nugget you want the reader to know is the fact that John and Christie had already resolved their differences. If you utilize a flashback, you will include a lot of other incidental information - where they met, what was said to resolve it, maybe even what they had for lunch. In other words, nothing that advances the story.

    But I actually see another problem - it appears from your segment above that the tension that you are going for is in the expectation of a confrontation, and that the confrontation itself never happens. That's a very quick resolution of the tension, and I wonder if it creates the kind of drama that you have in mind. I usually try to open with a crisis that it will take a long time to resolve. Maybe the expectation of conflict is a red herring for what other conflicts are to come - John and Christie maybe become allies in some other major struggle (btw, corporate life can be a terrific setting for all sorts of internecine conflict), perhaps? In which case, the quick resolution of tension is a good thing.

    It all boils down to what works best in your own story.
     
  6. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,809
    Likes Received:
    7,333
    Location:
    Scotland
    I would add to what Ginger said, in that, if you do a flashback, try to make it a 'scene,' not just information. Let us witness that scene between John and Christie, where the original problem occurred. People don't mind flashbacks if they are exciting scenes in their own right.

    Do beware of flashbacks that read "...John was thinking back to when he met Christie earlier in the week. He and Christie had been walking down the street together, and Christie had said..." Instead, insert a chapter break, and write the scene as if it is happening in the present. Just make sure the reader knows it's not—either by a smooth transition from the present meeting, or making it clear in the flashback what day it is.

    The dangers with flashbacks are potential dullness—if they're presented as infodumps—and also confusion for the reader if they don't realise they are actually reading a flashback.
     
  7. Steve Day
    Offline

    Steve Day Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2013
    Messages:
    107
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    PA
    At the risk of some horn tootin', check out my piece over in the Writing Workshop. (The Pastor and the Antichrist.) There are, I think, nine 'flashbacks' or back story instances in the 1800 words.
    Starts in the present, refers back to his new career choice(made in prison), then back to before his birth, to his birth, then the present and his teenage twin boys,back to prison where he meets his wife. jump to her backstory, jump to prison again, and finished up with the birth of their twin sons.

    There are snatches of dialog in most, lending immediacy to the moment.


    Here is a snippet I condensed from one of those 'bestseller' authors. CAPS shows time shifts- back to 'fishing', and Ben shakes his head, putting the reader firmly in that time frame. The conversation goes on for several pages. NOW and LOOKED brings us back to the present.

    Adam shut his eyes. A moment with his father CAME to him. Jenny WAS off island, and Adam HAD ASKED Ben to go fishing.
    Ben SHOOK his head. “No, can’t, I have to, etc. .”conversation
    And NOW Jenny HAD become his father’s heir. Adam LOOKED at his uncle, said” How can this be happening, etc. . .”
     
  8. Steve Day
    Offline

    Steve Day Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2013
    Messages:
    107
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    PA
    oops, double post.
     
  9. GoodTweetyBird
    Offline

    GoodTweetyBird Member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Virginia
    Hi Ed,

    Good points, well made from limited info given you. Much more is happening then the two resolving their differences. The tension is great, as everyone thinks Christie had a hand in John being fired and in fact she had great disdain for him earlier but has learned from other ladies since he left the company that he is indeed a pretty darn good guy. She had been quite pissed at him because he suggested what turned out to be the truth in her material situation. He was gregarious and she was quite shy and John had been one of the few men who bothered to talk to her (it happens sometimes when all the guys are engineers). Now she needs his help but why would he give it to her if everyone "knows" they hate each other. Still I am just on the surface here but I misled when I conveyed the idea that they had minor differences to settle. It is hard for me to condense 25-30 pages into a few paragraphs.

    However everyone here has given me food for thought and I will consider all of it.

    Thanks all.

    jh
     
  10. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    I used a flashback in my novel twice and both times I worked smoothly into the scene so it came across smoothly for the reader. It depends totally on your skill as a writer to pull it off.
     
  11. The Peanut Monster
    Offline

    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2013
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Wow, some excellent advice here - thanks Ginger, Ed and jannert. I know its personal preference, but I cannot STAND flashbacks. On the other hand, I love back story. My preference in getting to terms with back story is to have it through dialogue - I really get a lot from hearing a character's perspective on the back story (and that being transmitted for some relevant reason to someone else). Flashbacks take me back to the event and let me see it. I don't want that, I want to stay in the story, I want to hear it from the characters (often unreliable) perspective, I don't know why, it helps me connect more, perhaps a little paradoxically.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Well, you'll just have to read my book when it's finished. ;)
     
  13. The Peanut Monster
    Offline

    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2013
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Hehehe. I look forward to a conversion, of course :)
     

Share This Page