1. Yotam
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    Yotam Member

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    Might be redundant?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Yotam, Oct 1, 2013.

    Not many people read my manuscript, but some of the few that did criticize a certain chapter that in their words: "The story could work without", and that review got me thinking a lot whenever I edited my manuscript.

    The chapter in question is a flashback where when one character tells her past, how she got to where she is (bad place) with her family and how they obtained a certain rare object, to a group of three that mistakenly arrived to the bad place she live in and who saved her son.
    Basically the chapter starts when the character gives the time and the place and passes to me the storytelling.

    My dilemma is that I can see how useful it will be to cut a 7K words chapter which I agree, will not harm (in a way that will not be missed to the reader) the story if I will rewrite it to a short tale of the past, but on the other hand, when I read it I feel the world I created taking better shape than ever. It touches the Fantasy I worked and works on perfectly and paves the way for the next part of the story (its next titles, which I hope to publish one day, and frankly, who thinks of it except the author?).

    What I did consider, is to rewrite the chapter to a few lines of explanation from the character, and when I will be lucky enough to find agent and publisher, to ask for their permission to publish the chapter for free in a website of the title.

    So, what is your opinions on what I should do?
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Cut it. If it works without it, as you have said, then it's not a problem. The reason you feel it adds to the world is because you have created it yourself, and are therefore more attached to it. I myself had a scene like this, although it was much shorter than yours. When I came back and read it, I found out it was horribly written and added next to nothing. Does it add to the story? Does it create more 3-D-like characters? If yes, maybe you should leave it in but cut it down a bit.
     
  3. Yotam
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    Yotam Member

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    What it may add to readers who, as you said, are not attached to the story like me, is an extension to the lives of minor characters and a better understanding, picture of a world they are not familiar off.
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Thomas. You're emotionally attached to 7k words you spent time and care writing (perfectly understandable), but if you've had more than one person mention that the story doesn't need this flashback, heed their words. A flashback is little different to a prologue, it just comes somewhere in the middle instead of before the start of the story. It's a way to tell information outside the framework of what is happening in the present timeline of the story. To say that they should be forbidden from story telling is silly (no one has said this, I'm just saying), but there is a very strong tendency for them to be used as a crutch, as a way to cheat in the telling.
     
  5. Morgan Willows
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    Morgan Willows Member

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    Without reading it myself, the best advice I can give is to cut the chapter. If the information is as vital as you think it is, it shouldn't be too hard to find other places to insert relevant pieces of it in passing in later parts of the story. It may be very informative but lots of information in one big chunk (especially in a flashback which forces a reader to abandon the current thread of the story and think about something else) is disruptive and will do more harm than good no matter how enlightening the information is.

    For example, my geology teacher last semester did a lot of field work when he wasn't teaching. So he had a habit of pausing a lesson to tell us about some bit of field work he'd done that was relevant to the subject we were on. No one in the class ever listened to these because, despite it being very good information on the practical applications of what we were learning, it made us stop thinking about the lesson.
    "Composite materials are more often found in volcanic areas than not, in fact, I was up at Yellowstone last year and there was this one area we found while we were surveying that had...." and then he'd go on about that for ten straight minutes. By the time we'd get back on topic, half the time even the teacher had forgotten where we were. It was awful.
    Try to avoid doing this in your writing, no matter how illuminating the information is, don't interrupt yourself to divulge it.

    As I said, if the information is as vital as your gut tells you, it won't be hard to find other places to insert the relevant information without needing an entire chapter to get through it all in one go. If you can't find other places in the story for the information to go without it being disruptive, it's probably not as important as you think it is and you're just very attached to the writing (which I can completely understand, but still, don't do it).
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Seems to me you already received your answer from your few reviewers. Are you hoping we'll tell you, "Nah, keep it," so you don't have to sacrifice it?

    Not gonna happen. Sharpen the knife and start slicing.
     
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  7. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    ...or you could share it with us and see what we think?
     
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  8. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Explanatory dialogue or narration tends to be mostly bad idea even if it is just one line. It can sound very forced. So, you got to be careful there. I prefer a full flashback scene than such explanations.

    I agree with others that you already got your answer from your beta readers.
     
  9. Yotam
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    Yotam Member

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    Actually, I was prepared for that... I have decided to cut the chapter (save it, though, for a future use) and take my time working on it on a different angle.
    Thank you, guys, for your thoughts and advisees.
     
  10. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That seems to be going a bit far. While I agree it's entirely possible to have explanatory dialogue which sounds very forced, and you've got to be careful not to do it wrong, most books will have dialogue at some point explaining things. I think you normally get far more explanatory dialogue than flashbacks.

    I'd far prefer to read a downtrodden peasant saying a line like

    "Life was much so much better, under the old Lord Roberts, god rest his soul. The young Lord Roberts has no clue. He's driving this town to ruin."

    than launch into some flashback scene, where life is good under the old lord.

    The only reason the mention of the old lord is relevant is to show that it's possible to run the town better, thus emphasising the young lord is the one at fault for things going wrong now.
    I hope it at least slightly prompts the reader to want to find out more about this young lord and why things are going wrong under his rule.

    The peasants line would of course need to be in sensible context within the rest of the story to not feel forced and it might need to be reworded a bit to fit in naturally with surrounding dialogue, but it doesn't need to be dropped, just because it has an explanatory function.
     
  11. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    • The chapter in question is a flashback where when one character tells her past,

    That's not a flashback, it's a lecture. It's explaining not entertaining. A flashback is expected to be a live scene, and just as entertaining to read as any other scene. You also need to bear in mind that for every single line of the flashback nothing at all is happening in the story the reader came to experience.

    Flashbacks can work, of course, but not as an info-dump of backstory. To see why the approach of telling about the past can't work, read this letter from David Mamet to his cast

    Here's the thing. The reader does not come to use to be educated on the factors leading up to the story. They don't want to know how the character came to be what s/he is. They don't want to study and they don't want to read facts that may be of use later. They come to us to experience the story in real-time. They want to focus on that tiny slice of time the protagonist calls "now." They want to know that time-slice as the protagonist does, without the author stopping the clock every few lines so the chirpy narrator (or a later incarnation of the protagonist) can say, "So...hang on a minute while I explain the background for what's gonna happen." And they are not looking to be told that the protagonist is in love, is happy, or anything about their emotional state. They want to be made to feel that emotion themselves. When you read your own story it comes alive and you know exactly how everyone in the story feels, because you know them intimately. If something sad happens it's easy to make ourselves cry. But the reader doesn't give a damn if you're crying so hard you flood the floor, because they want you to make them cry. They want you to make them worry. And that can't happen if they're reading a report or a chronicle. Making someone you know nothing about cry is a bitch. But it's our job to know how.

    So dump the chapter. It doesn't set the scene. It doesn't develop character meaningfully. And of most importance it doesn't move the plot, it explains it.

    Focus on getting the reader into the protagonist's head and yourself into the prompter's booth.



    “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ~ Robert Cromier
     
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  12. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Your example is exactly why explanatory dialogues should be avoided. It's fine if it's in a children book, though. And I never said it should never be used so I am not sure if I am being far fetch.

    As @JayG said flashbacks should be "a live scene" like any other scene, and I would add, they usually "shows". Why ruin it then for the readers with the explanatory line in the beginning as you are anyway going for a flashback scene. Transitions of scenes/timeline can be done in many ways other than relying on explanatory lines. For example, change in tense from simple past to past perfect in the beginning of the flashback scene might be enough of an indicator of the shift.

    Personally, I would skip the explanation and rather read a scene about how the peasant had lost his goat and found out that it had become dinner for the king's soldiers stationed outside the town. He complained but instead of being compensated he was punished for straying his goat in the soldiers' station, something the old king would have never done.
     
  13. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Though I guess whether the old king would have done it or not is irrelevant backstory that the reader wouldn't get to know? (well not without another flashback)

    I don't think I made my point very well. My line would indeed be weak as an introduction to the concept of a town in decline. I was thinking of it more in the context that a main character has reached a town and seen it is much more of a dive than expected (hopefully with lots of nice, showing rather than telling) and then it might be acceptable for a local to deliver (a better version of) my line by way of explanation. At this point it would at least seem preferable to me to the local launching into a tale about a goat.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2013
  14. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'll try to clarify further, because I still think I'm failing a bit. I guess my point is explanations in dialogue seems ok to me if we've set it up so that the listening character (and hopefully the reader) want to know.
    Regardless of how good or bad my example was, looking through various books in my fiction collection - I can find far far more examples of explanations in dialogue than I can find flashbacks.
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2013
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say most of this is extremely good advice. However, I would diverge on the necessity of dumping the chapter. You can if you want to, of course, but there is more than one way to solve a problem.

    It's difficult to make a decision when I haven't actually read the whole story (or any of it) but perhaps the problem with this flashback lies in the way you've presented it. Maybe having a character 'tell' what happened isn't the right way to go—although even this can work, if the person she is telling it TO is reacting strongly to the information, maybe arguing, or deciding to do or not to do something drastic, etc.

    Or you could write the scene AS it happened, let us see and feel what's going on. It might add to our understanding of the story. There isn't anything wrong with a flashback as such, especially if it answers story questions the reader is already wondering about.

    I think the trick is to put the flashback in the right place, AND make it as lively and immediate as any other scene. Like the man said, above.
     
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  16. Yotam
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    Yotam Member

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    If you refer to me with your advice, than I might have massed up what I was trying to say.
    The chapter beings when the female character sitting in a table with her guests, about to explain How, Where and When she obtained a very rare object.
    The character gives a description of the place and how it used to be, and when she finish the flashback start and end with me, the writer, telling it to the reader as jump to that time in the character life.
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, no it wasn't you! It was JayG. When I started to write, he was just above me in the postings ...by the time I finished, there were several others too! I'm too slow... o_O
     
  18. bpress54
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    bpress54 New Member

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    Punctuation goes inside quotation marks. "The story could work without", is incorrect.
     

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