1. Zane
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    Zane Contributing Member

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    I´m not sure on how to write a flashback

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Zane, Aug 26, 2010.

    Hello everyone :)

    As the title says "I´m not sure on how to write a flashback".

    It´s a flashback from an important character, and i´d like to have that character telling what happened, the reasons to explain that character´s behaviour.

    Now, the problem is: I can´t write it without making it look somewhat boring. That´s the reason for why I made this question. I´d like to hear some ideas from you, ideas on "how to make the flashback interesting".
     
  2. jameskmonger
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    jameskmonger Member

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    Don't tell the reader it's a flashback. Use "the man" or "the woman" instead of the characters name. Don't reveal it's a flashback until near the end.
     
  3. Cecil
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    Cecil Member

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    Frankly, that would annoy the crap out of me. The character knows his/her name, so why don't I get to know?

    That said, I would be able to forgive it if it was interesting enough. So my advice for how to make a flashback interesting would be simply to make interesting things happen and to have interesting characters.

    However, are you sure you need to do a flashback? I don't know your story, but other options may include revealing the backstory bit by bit over the course of the story, or simply starting the story sooner. Also, is this really a flashback, or is it one character telling another character about his past?

    Lastly, if you can't cut it completely, or fill it with interesting stuff, then at least make it short. That way, the reader might still get the necessary information but they won't be bored for as long.
     
  4. sereda008
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    sereda008 Senior Member

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    I believe that you should reveal that it is a flash back using some specific memory which the reader would recognize. Keep your reader informed or they will close the book the second they have opened it. It happened to me a few times where I was guessing whether the character was male/female, young/old and even if it was a real character at all.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    then you probably shouldn't!
     
  6. Zane
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    Zane Contributing Member

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    Well, the character is a villain, and knocks down the hero and immobilizes him.

    Nobody knows the villain´s reasons for why he became bad and filled with hatred.

    The villain then instead of killing the main character, he talks to him, he doesn´t understand why the hero is sort of a monster but still, he´s loved by other people. Then the villain reveals his story, which will be really enlightening, and the readers will understand more about him. They will get to know the reason for why would a person that was supposed to be good [based on his family story] had turned bad, instead.

    That´s it. I´m thinking on making it a flashback, with some dialogue between the hero and the villain. I asked cause i´d like to hear some ideas on how to make it, before I tried it.

    Also Mammamia,
    If I don´t improve my techniques and give up when facing the challenges, limiting myself to only do what is easy to me... Then what´s the the purpose for my life? If I stop evolving then, there´s nothing more here for me. You may disagree but this is just the way I am and the way I think.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Part of experimenting is having a plan and a purpose for the experiment. If a flashback is not the right approach for that story, then your experiment is doomed before it begins.

    You should research other pieces of writing that employ flashbacks successfully, and analyze them to learn what makes them successful. That is the groundwork you need to do before running your experiment.

    Asking for ideas is okay, but how will you know the bad ideas from the good ones, or how to implement the good ones convincingly.

    We've already seen one idea that I would call bad (sorry James). Concealing the fact that it is a flashback will disorient the reader, and make him or her feel cheated when it is revealed as a flashback. Yes, it has been managed on occasion, but more often it is a disaster.
     
  8. JessaNova
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    JessaNova Senior Member

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    I think the best way for me to comprehend that it's a flashback is starting a little paragraph along the lines of: "I remember when so-and-so told me a while back about something he said I needed to remember."

    And then jump right into it in the next paragraph. Replay the scenario just as you would if it were current, just in past tense.
     
  9. Zane
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    Zane Contributing Member

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    Yes, I will research on the internet lists of books that contain flashbacks and take a look at it. I´m afraid i never read any book with that usage.

    My main doubt was "How could I make it really interesting/appealing" because I´ve only seen flashbacks on movies/animes, which in my opinion it´s much easier, since it´s a video and you can also add soundtrack to the video. I´m afraid it will be hard to do it by using only words, still, that doesn´t mean it´s impossible.
     
  10. rainy
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    rainy Senior Member

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    Is this an actual flashback going on in his head? Or is it through dialogue? Because it sounds like it's through dialogue, which would be a bit easier to write (and less jarring, usually).

    So isolate the conversation they are having at that moment. What does the hero say? How does the villian respond to it? Make his response lead to the story he decides to share.

    Like, the hero says, I'll never let evil like you (take over the world, blow up Sea World, enslave midgets, whatever the evil du jour is).
    And the villian replies, Evil? Let me tell you about evil. . .
    And thus embarks on his story.

    The example is intentionally cheesy and goofy, but hopefully you'll see where I'm coming from. Don't ask "how do I write this" but ask "what would they say".

    If telling his story requires a lengthy bit of dialogue, break it up with beats (things the villian and hero are actually doing during that time), thoughts (is it the hero's POV here? then what is he thinking about what the villian is saying?), and touches of humor or sarcasm (if it's fitting for the chars) would help as well.

    That's if I understood correctly it will be revealed via dialogue. Otherwise, disregard the above. ;)

    If it is solely told through flashback in his head, is it even necessary? Often stories follow the hero's POV. So, the reader discovers the villian's motives and reasonings as the hero does. I'm not personally fond of using flashbacks just to give information to the reader. Can you put it into dialogue, instead of dumping it on the reader?

    Best luck,

    //R
     
  11. Diablo Robotico
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    Diablo Robotico Member

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    My suggestion is don't lump the entire flashback at the end. Have other characters mention the villain's history in little pieces throughout the book, but have that history appear as an example of why he's evil. Then when the hero faces the villain at the end, have the villain offer more details about the already established history that would give him more sympathy in the situation.

    It sounds like your plan is to give the entire story/flashback during the climax of the novel, which seems like it would backfire greatly. Instead, let the history come to the story naturally throughout the book, then have it pay off at the end when the villain reveals more details.

    "Flashbacks" through dialogue isn't a bad plan. "The Council of Elrond" from the Lord of the Rings is essentially a group of characters sitting around telling each other what they know or experienced. It sounds like it would be slow, but it isn't, because the information provided is key to the plot, and there is action within the stories they tell. It probably wouldn't have worked so well at the end of the novel, though, because that's when the story should be reaching a climax.
     
  12. Zane
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    Zane Contributing Member

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    Hmm, I could do that indeed, that´s a good idea. The villain has a companion that shares the same story. That way I could have them talking about it sometimes. A conversation that woudn´t really make sense to the reader, something that would only make sense if the reader knew the whole story, in that way I´d be adding more mistery to the story, what do you think?

    Of course the conversation woudn´t make sense in the way that the reader doesn´t get to know the whole story, just some parts. I´m not planning on writing randoom words, and making the reader feel dizzy :p
     
  13. Cecil
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    Cecil Member

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    This might require you to re-write the whole thing, but one option would be to have scenes from the villains point of view. If this is a single POV story, then it would be jarring to switch to the villain at the end just for the flashback. But suppose you follow both the hero and the villain throughout the story, letting them both grow as characters along the way. Then, when you get to the climax and are in the hero's POV, we might already know the villains motives, or just require a very short conversation between the two that ties his motives together.

    Of course, this is just how I would write the story, so take my advice however you want.

    One thing that occurred to me reading your scenario is that it might come across as a cheesy monologuing villain trope, so the reader may ask why the villain didn't just kill the hero instead of monologue like a cartoon bad guy until the hero works out an escape plan. I think there needs to be some reason that the villain wants the hero to understand him.
     
  14. Zane
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    Zane Contributing Member

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    The reason regarding why the villain wants the hero to know it, it´s cause they are the same thing. They´ve both suffered a lot in their lives, but even with that the hero didn´t give up, and with time he proved himself to the others, and now he has very good friends. The villain not only feel jealous, but he also can´t understand how he did that. That´s why the villain decides to reveal him the story.

    Yes, maybe I will have to re-write a lot of stuff, but still... I´ve decided that I only want the reader to know the whole story behind the villain, in the same time as the hero.

    Also

    This is the type of story, where most of the readers will become very good fans with the villain. I want him within the main plot. It´s important to me, to write it that way, it gives me a pleasent sensation of just let it all go from my head.
     
  15. thesims
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    thesims Member

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    I've been reading the Death Gate Cycle for the past few weeks, and there are two flashback methods employed by Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman that you could try:

    First one is cliché'd... your character is distracted, which could be triggered by a certain sight, smell, etc. It starts with suspension points....

    ... and now you're inside the flashback. You don't have to explicitly state it's a fragment of your bad guy's past, as your readers should be able to recognize the villain. At the end of the flashback, you use suspension points once again...

    ... and you're back to reality! The other method is quite interesting, but you'll have to add an element of magic in there.

    In the Death Gate Cycle, two enemies (Haplo and Alfred) exchange consciousness for a moment. In other words, Alfred sees a remnant of Haplo's childhood where his parents are killed before his eyes. Haplo is momentarily inside Alfred's head, and experiences the Sartan's despair when he finds out his brethren are all dead. The authors attribute this phenomenon to their passage through Death's Gate, which links the four worlds.

    It's similar to the Pensieve in Harry Potter, it's original and serves your purpose. Have fun! :p
     
  16. Zane
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    Zane Contributing Member

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    Hello Sims :)

    I´ve googled Death Gate Cycle and it seems to be a good heptalogy. I´ll try to see if I can adquire the books in my local town library, they´ll probably have. If I start reading them, I intend to read them through the right order
    1-7 but just for the sake of curiosity, in which of the seven books can I find those flashbacks?

    I´m re-writing the whole story, it should keep me busy for some time. Meanwhile, until I reach that part I´m always having new ideas. Since I don´t know which one is the best, I´m just gonna try them all.

    One of the ideas [it´s the worst in my opinion] is having the villain´s companion have a diary, and after the villain´s death [if he dies] she scatter´s pages across the world and the hero will come across them, during his journey.

    Other idea is: The hero and the villain are conected, even though they hate each other. During the fight, when the villain immobilizes the hero, the villain will try to deliver the final attack but, he gets really weird and the flashback appears in his head, and it is as if the hero and the villain had been absorbed to the villain´s memories. That´s the idea, it´s a bit similar to yu-gi-oh when the egyptian gods of Kaiba and the Pharaoh clash and they both are absorbed to a memory of the ancient Egypt.

    I think i´ll go for that previous idea, cause I think it´s pretty much better than just having them talk. Still, it´s most likely that i´ll come up with more ideas soon.
     
  17. thesims
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    thesims Member

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    Hi Zane, I've read the first four books and so far I've found flashbacks in every single one of them. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure you can find one in the first chapters of Dragon Wing.

    I love the Death Gate Cycle, for multiple reasons: it's beautifully written, the characters are well-defined and the world is amazingly detailed. I had to create races for my fantasy novel and wrote basic information about them, in a similar way to the Dungeons & Dragons books. Upon reading Dragon Wing I realized how crude and simple my descriptions were... I re-wrote it and it's more elaborate now. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are definitely talented at creating fantasy worlds.

    Anyway, back on topic: I prefer your second idea. The loyal companion that follows the villain and holds a diary sounds very cliché. You could, perhaps, have the villain write an account of his childhood/past before he went mad, if you REALLY want a journal of some sort. Otherwise stick to the connection between the two characters, but have a well thought-out reason for them to visualize the memories. Have fun!
     
  18. KittyGoesRawr
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    KittyGoesRawr Member

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    I continue on. Letting the reader know something happened, but not telling them, and making them want more. Then the next chapter is entirely of the scene mentioned in the previous chapter. So it's a flashback, but it has all the details it deserves, and it's not like running into random italics.
     

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