1. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Handling Flashbacks

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by FrankABlissett, Nov 30, 2010.

    I've got a bug in my brain to write a short where the narrator is looking back on an event years earlier.

    I'm thinking something like "Wonder Years", where the narrator interjects current thoughts into an extended flashback.

    The most obvious solution I can think of is different fonts. While that may work well for graphic novels, I don't really see it looking good in pure prose.

    Any other ideas out there?

    -Frank
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How about isolating the narrator passages to the beginning of chapters, and writing it as a block quote (indented block)?

    The publisher is free to choose a different visual representation. Your job is only to set it apart in a form appropriate for manuscript.
     
  3. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Cogito,

    I'm not looking at chapters - just a short fiction.

    Hadn't looked at writing it for publication, so I suppose it can look clunky and unmanaged and all would be okay. It'd still be interesting to hear some ideas for managing it.

    The block quotes is a possibility I'll have to give a look at.

    -Frank
     
  4. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I'm confused. A flashback is when the real-time storyline is interrupted by a sequence of past action. But if it's simply a story with a reminiscent narrator, why do you need any fonts or anything else? Just have the narrator, like, narrate the story?
     
  5. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depending on how you go about writing it, you could just start in without any big banners announcing that you're about to move backward in time. Especially if it is the kind of flashback that happens suddenly.

    Other than that, from a visual point of view, do whatever you like best. If it was ever to be published that type of thing would probably be out of your hands anyway.
     
  6. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    Actually, I've been tumbling over it and think I've pinned down the issue. I want to switch tense back and forth mid-work. Hmm - maybe what I'm looking for is a switch in POV mid-narration as well? IE switch from character narrating events in past tense, to an all-knowing narrator describing those events in present tense.

    Narrator talks about past in past tense.
    Switch to past event in present tense.
    Narrator interjects with thoughts, in past tense.
    Switch again to past events in present tense.
    etc...

    Basically, trying to re-create flashbacks in television via prose. Wondering if there is a literary version of a visual fade or using different voices for the younger and older self.

    Worse to worst, I can just use the standard "we did this and we did that".

    -Frank
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The transitions back and forth will be disquieting, or even confusing, to the reader unless they are very clear and well-managed. It may not be worth the trouble for a short story.

    A given presentation method is only a win if it delivers the story better to the reader.
     
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    There's a reason television has [often cheesy] gimmicks like flashbacks. We can't be inside a TV character's head (without more cheesy gimmicks, like a voice over) so we have the flashback that represents the characters thoughts.

    My advise is to use the power fiction offers and not resort to the cheesy TV gimmicks that were invented because TV couldn't do what fiction can.

    The "Wonder Years" equivalent in fiction is to just have a reminiscent narrator narrating past events. The format of this often even mirrors the 'talk about things reflectively' beginning and/or end, and then have action of the events unfolding without much interruption. Even TV doesn't do constant voice overs or flashbacks, as it's disconcerting, and sticks to the occasional use where needed or to add flavor.

    It sounds to me (no offense intended) that you're trying to hard to do something that doesn't need done, which imo will probably come of as forced and awkward.

    If you really, really want to pull something off like this, the most I would recommend is in the middle of action, you interject in parenthesis which will clue the reader into the fact it's the present time narrator inserting a side comment. I don't know about anyone else, but after two or three parenthetical comments in fiction, I refuse to ever read the author again (yes, I'm a jerk like that, heh).
     
  9. leonzos
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    leonzos Member

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    Handling flashbacks?

    I tend to lie down in a dark room and tell myself they'll pass.
     
  10. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cool:cool:
     
  11. FrankABlissett
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    FrankABlissett Active Member

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    I'm leaning towards straight past tense, but I think I found the basics of what I had been thinking - though it may be beyond my current ability to do a full story. Maybe with more experience ... who knows?

    Anyway, here's the sort of style I was thinking:

    ++++

    It was the best day of my life. Senior prom twenty years ago.

    I can see it even now. John and I are sitting at a table and I'm wondering where my date is and why she's not here dancing with me. Next thing I know, Cindy's sitting down beside me - her date having just been kicked out for being drunk at the dance.

    Cindy. Homecoming queen. Sitting beside me. My palms are sweaty and my heart's pounding.

    Okay, maybe I should explain something first. I was a homely child. Ugly, really. Not your typical teen anxiety either - I mean, my friends affectionately called me "carp-face" for crying out loud.

    So, I found my ugly self sitting beside Cindy. No last name was needed - she had the same celebrity status to us as Cher or Madonna. And she had chosen my table.

    She's sitting there and she turns to me. "Hey, Brian," She used my real name!, "Thank you for helping my sister study for her French exam."

    +++++

    etc.

    -Frank
     
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    That's not really a flashback, though. That's just a reminiscent narrator actively ruminating on past events, using a story-telling style to tell the story.

    It's like telling a joke in first person. Nobody thinks there's actually anyone walking into a bar right then, that very moment.

    More experience usually leads writers very far away from traditional flashbacks, as they learn the best executed flashbacks are the ones that get deleted. :p

    A reminiscent narrator can be a good way to mix past and present action, as they have the power to, from the present tense time-line, reflect on past actions.

    But yawn. The 'I can see it even now' is always kind of silly to me, as that's not how memories work. If the narrator/character is telling the reader a story in the first person, then they can just reflect on events as they're recounting them (not reliving them). And if it's a third person story (harder to have a character 'telling' the story), having 'memories' be so fully developed is silly and contrived, as that's not anywhere close to how memories work.

    My advice is to break the current time-line, and create a second parallel time-line (using scene or chapter breaks). And make sure to ground the reader into which time-line they're in. Then we can experience the action as it happens and we'll understand it happened previously, and not be confused by whether the character just went into a trance or if why the real-time story-line just got paused.
     
  13. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    Typically if I am going to do a "flashback" I set it off in italics. For your example you could start out with the narrator dialogue and go straight to the scene without the lead-in and then back out to the commentary but the commentary would have to be both substantial and relevant to the flashback itself or it wouldn't work.
     
  14. Jakv6
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    I did this by setting chunks of the earlier timeline in italics at the beginning of every chapter. Eventually, the italics caught up with the beginning of the standard font, and then there were no more italics.
    It made perfect sense to me, but my test subjects said they were confused after a couple of chapters. I said they just needed to read more of the book. Naturally, I could not have made a mistake. It must have been my readers' lack of insight. :/

    J
     
  15. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    The way I do the whole flashback process I have the leading man being prompted by another character by asking them to talk about their life and the leading man gets a far off 1000 yard stare look in his eyes while his tells the story.

    Or the leading man has flashbacks in the form of nightmares or night terrors and the female character usually the leading man's wife or Sister will wake him up and she asks him which flashback caused the nightmare or night terror and he explains that it was a specific one or he will say "It was all of them."

    Then he will take a drink from the glass or cup that contained the certain beverage that the leading man asks for like soda or Ice Tea lemonade or coffee.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2014

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