1. makakazo
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    makakazo New Member

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    Help using a single flashback right at the end of the story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by makakazo, Feb 17, 2013.

    Hi everyone,

    I just finished writing the first draft of my first book, a mistery/sci-fi/romance short novel around 36,000 words. There's a thing that's been bugging me and I'd like some guidance as I'm really new to *serious* writing.

    The whole story takes place in a very linear way, in a span of about a month and a half. There is no prologue, it starts with the main character having a dream in present time, that leads him into a misterious journey. The thing is, right after what would be the end of the story, I have to insert a flashback that gives explanation to a couple of loose ends, because if I don't do that, the reader might not actually figure out what has actually happened, and why. I keep the reader in the shades the whole time, trying to figure out why some stuff is happening, and I only tell them right at the last minute, by using a flashback that goes back to one year before the start of the first chapter. This is the approach that I like the most and I think it works well.

    The point is, the book is seven chapters long, which all take place in a sequential order in the present time, plus this flashback. In the begining I just called this flashback 'epilogue', but then I figured that an epilogue shouldn't be talking about things that happened in the past, and it could misled the reader into thinking those things are happening after the seventh chapter. But I wouldn't say that this flashback is the eighth chapter. So I'm having a hard time thinking of a way to insert this flashback bit after the seventh chapter, right at the end of the book. How do I call this? Is it a new chapter? I need to make sure that people understand that the time frame has shifted to the past.

    I've seen this done in movies and I like how it works, but I don't have any available book references that use this technique. Can I get some insight?
     
  2. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    Personally i dont like flashbacks much as they'r overused too much...

    But in general you need to look at flashbacks like prologues if they work for you than you can bend the rules
    I would suggest first to cut the flashback at the end and give it the story to a beta reader (or a couple of readers if you can) and see how they feel at the end, did they figure it out, did it maybe add more to the mystery or does it really need a flashback (dont tell them that you cut the flashback so they dont know what to expect at the end)

    Some published writers like using flashbacks a lot and in general they use a chapter by itself if its a big part or just break and add it in the same chapter if its a small one

    What you dont want to do is use a flashback in middle of a scene that's dynamic and were you built the tension as it might break it

    But i suggest first if you can use a beta reader and IMO it would maybe be best as a prologue at the beginning but that does'nt reveal too much but that would make sense at the end, for me to have a flashback at the end explaining an event a year ago is like cheating but thats my view and if it works for you go for it

    Hope it helps
     
  3. makakazo
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    makakazo New Member

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    Firs of all, thanks for your advice.

    I'm using several proofreaders among my family and close friends. I have received feedback from three of them so far (awaiting for more). Two of them understood that the action in that 'epilogue' had happened before the begining of the first chapter. The other person didn't. She told me that if it's called 'epilogue' then I can't place a flashback there. She says that an 'epilogue' can narrate events that take place after the main story, but not before it. I don't know about that, hadn't even thought about it. I think that I can call it epilogue, but I just have to make sure people understand that those events take place before the beginning of the book.

    The thing is, I don't like flashbacks at the beginning in a prologue. When I read a book or see a movie that does that I usually totally forget about that flashback when I'm halfway through. Also, in the beginning, it's hard to notice and remember details in that flashback that may be meaningful in the future. In the end, I usually have to read the flashback again after having read the whole thing to refresh my memory.

    In the beginning I thought about not using the flashback at all, but I thought that maybe there would be some loose ends that people might not put together. I then went with the flashback thing, a very short one where I just depict a couple of events. Well, turns out even that wasn't enough. All my proofreaders liked the story overall, but they didn't figure everything out right. To 'solve' that I might either change a character during the whole story, or go a little further in the flashback. To be decided.

    Anyway, the flashback stays. My main concern now is if I shouldn't call it 'epilogue' at all and in that case, how to call it (and do it).

    When I thought of this I got the idea from the movie *PSEUDO-SPOILER ALERT* "The Machinist", where they use a flashback right at the end to explain important things*/PSEUDO-SPOILER ALERT*. I liked it.

    I understand that some people might consider this cheating, but I really like how it works. For me, if I have a secret to keep and I know that the reader is awaiting for the answer to that secret and on the way he is creating and changing/refining his own theory about what the answer to the secret might be, then I'm definitely going to hold it until the very end and then try to surprise him with an answer that he didn't expect, but that he is going to like anyway.

    BTW, sorry if I'm not very clear at some points, English is not my first language, I write in Spanish.
     
  4. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I don't like the idea of using any writing device to explain away a 'couple of loose ends'. Flashbacks IMO should be used sparingly and be a part of the story, not a means of explaining things at the end. Sounds a bit like a cop-out.

    All my proofreaders liked the story overall, but they didn't figure everything out right.

    That sounds as if you need to do more work to ensure clarity for your readers. Your story doesn't sound complete - maybe the plot has holes in in and you need to fill them in.

    I've now got this picture in my mind of a reader in a Noddy-type car bouncing along a plotholed road and only seeing the 'BEWARE PLOTHOLES' at the end. I don't think you should do that to your readers.
    Do a bit of work on it and I'm sure it'll come out good.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Two things. First of all, the word is 'mystery'.

    Secondly, a flashback is writing a scene out of sequence. It can be a useful way to bring in past events in a way that maintains tension in the story. But it isn't the only way. You can make reference to a past event in dialogue or even in narrative, a short reference that alerts the reader to the past event without describing the event in detail.
     
  6. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    Many of the things that work in a movie dont mean that will work in a book, as movies have many other elements that work for them and they can get away with it...

    The reason i said it would be cheating for me, cause like Evelon said you will be explaining things at the end and in general thats very bad practice, to tell the events in the past at the end would make me feel the writer cheated on me as he didnt hide some clues or some event in the story but something that happened in the past and that should have been in the story not at the end

    Revisiting the prologue or the first chapter after completing a book is'nt that bad, as it ties the beginning and the end in a nice sort of way, and if done right gives a nice feeling as the prologue makes sense to you later on, and if the story is'nt long people might not need to reread it

    Not saying you need to put it at the beginning, rewriting is key to every good writer so look for a way to put it somewhere in the story...

    Cant remember the name of a movie, but was about some serial killer and the ending was great once they got the guy, but they didnt end it there they added 10min more a part were some guy explains it all in some college and kind of ruined the movie as i didnt need the explanation and guess so did many others as they hated the ending... so give your readers more credit and use hints maybe?
     
  7. makakazo
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    makakazo New Member

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    Thanks to both of you. I'm going to describe a little more the context of the story and the moment when the flashback is inserted. I see that no one has still answered the question 'can an epilogue contain a flashback amd still be called "epilogue"?' which I'm really interested in. You are downright trying to make to abandon the idea of using it. As I said, I considered it in the beginning, but this is why I decided to go with it:

    The story is a sci-fi plot that revolves around human memory manipulation. At the end of the story, the main character remembers something very important, and kills himself because of it. That's the end of the story. The thing is, the reader shouldn't be able to know exactly what it is that he has remembered, until after he remembers it. But those two moments, his remembering of that thing, and killing himself, are so close in the narration, that I cannot insert a flashback there in between, it would totally break the flow. Now you would say that I should hint at what that might be beforehand so the reader knows, or at least has a quite accurate idea of what that memory was. I think I have already done that, and most readers who pay attention to the story will be able to know what it was and will suddenly understand everything. Anyway, I want to include a *very* short description of that memory for those who didn't quite get it. I don't think it's actually needed, but I don't think that it hurts the book either, so I'd rather have it than have some readers wondering if they got it right or not.

    Based on the feedback I have received, I'm going to tweak and change some little things at the end of the story to make some things more clear. None of the readers have figured out that one of the characters was dead all the time. Pretty big stuff to miss, uh? I was afraid it was going to be too obvious, but it turned out to be the opposite. I'm going to make it more obvious, because even though it's not the most important aspect of the story, if they understand that it will help them put other things together.

    Thanks for your suggestions, this isn't a finished job, of course, and I'll be trying new approaches. In any case, I still think that the very small flashback will stay, although I have an alternative ending that changes pretty much everything and doesn't need a flashback but a regular epilogue that describes a future situation in which it is revealed that the main character wasn't who he thought he was. I still have to write that one and feed it to my beta readers to have them compare both endings and tell me which one they like better.

    PS: Sorry for "misteries" and similar mistakes.
     
  8. makakazo
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    makakazo New Member

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    @Bimber I totally get what you say, and evelon and EdFromNY also gave very interesting pices of advice. I don't have that feeling that I'm cheating because I don't think I'm hiding anything. In fact, the story starts in the present day, but everything that unfolds is related to some events that took place one year ago. All those events are gradually investigated and discovered during the book by the main characters. But there's this one litttle specific thing that the main character doesn't discover until the very end, triggered by some conversation and a death and a picture. At that point everything is so fast. It's like: the guy remembers -> the guy kills himself (which is the end of the story). That's like one page. Sharp readers should know what it is, and then everything comes to them abruptly and suddenly everything makes sense, but some might be a little lost. For those I offer that very short final flashback which is also like one page long, not a chapter or anything like that. It's like when you are watching a movie with a friend and when it ends he doesn't get it. Then you tell him 'they were dead' and he's suddenly 'oh my god!' and you see the light in his eyes. I just want to make sure that guy knows what happened in case he didn't get it by himself. As I said, I don't think it's necessary, but not hurtful either. I will try with and without anyway.

    Thanks to all of you! ;)
     
  9. Bimber
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    Bimber Contributing Member

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    Well first off no one here is trying to persuade you to do differently, each writer tells his own story, we are here just to share what little experience we have ;)

    As for epilogues according to wiki:
     

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