1. rybowman
    Offline

    rybowman New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2010
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0

    Looking for some input on flashbacks

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by rybowman, Aug 24, 2010.

    Hi everyone,

    I was just hoping to get your opinion on flashbacks. We can start off by agreeing that they should only be used when absolutely necessary and only in the right situations.

    My questions are regarding the technique when they are used.
    1) Is more detail or less detail better? The benefit of lots of detail is that it can bring the reader into the scene, but at the same time, lots of detail means that the flashback will be longer, thus more time away from the actual story. Should I makes it as detailed as possible, or keep it general?

    2) narrative vs. summary? What do you believe works better in a flashback?: a detailed narrative, that is, play by play action of the flashback including details and even dialog, OR summary, a general explanation of what happened, giving the important info and the gist of the flashback.

    Any advice, experience regarding these questions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
    Ryan
     
  2. arron89
    Offline

    arron89 Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2008
    Messages:
    2,460
    Likes Received:
    91
    Location:
    Auckland
    I don't think you should write a flashback any differently to how you would write any other part of the novel. They shouldn't be seen as time away from the story, but a crucial (albeit non-linear) part of it--if that isn't true of your flashback, then consider whether you really need it at all. As for detail, it really depends on what you hope to achieve in the flashback. If the particular scene requires a high level of detail, then write it that way; if a briefer summary-style passage will work better, do that. Again, the narrative style should be dictated by what you aim to do with the flashback, how it arrives in the story and who is narrating. If the flashback is being described from one character to another, then obviously the writing style is going to be very different to a flashback told in objective third person narration.
     
  3. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    Here are the key things:

    1) Make it clear that the character's having a flashback, and that you're not switching character POV's or something instead. At the end, when you transition from flashback to real time, make this very clear.

    2) Write the flashback like it's a "real scene" from the real time of your novel. Use dialogue and action and vivid imagery. No one likes reading what I call "history diatribes."

    Good luck, let me know if I can help further, happy writing :)
     
  4. Northern Phil
    Offline

    Northern Phil Active Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2009
    Messages:
    198
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    UK
    Well I disagree with your first statement, I don't like using flashbacks in novels as they can be confusing to the reader. In movies they work as it's easy to see the difference in clothing and hairstyles and you can put a caption on the bottom.

    If you need to convey past events to the reader then seperate your novel into two parts, the first part being the past events with the second being the current events. If you need to refer to the past events then you can easily do this with dialogue.
     
  5. rybowman
    Offline

    rybowman New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2010
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    @ Phil: I agree flashbacks can be confusing to the reader, but not if they are done properly. Granted they are overused in fiction, but they do exist for a reason and have been used to great effect by many authors in many novels.

    Past events can not always be conveyed with dialog and readers will often be able to tell if the dialog, or even internalized thoughts, are forced. To me a well written flashback can get far more information to the reader, and do so more naturally than dialog. Like Mallory said though, it must be clear that the character is having a flashback.
     
  6. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    There are many ways to write a flashback, and many opportunities to blow it.

    If the flashbacks are meant to deliver backstory, lose them. Don't write backstory. Write story. If your characters need to discover information about the past, show the discoveries, and let them try to fill in the pieces in between. Let them make some wrong guesses too. But avoid the temptation to drag the reader through backstory.
     

Share This Page