1. JackTate
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    JackTate New Member

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    New to writing - I need help with a single flashback narrative

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JackTate, Mar 9, 2012.

    Hi Everyone,

    I'm new to writing, I'm only one chapter in and I'm already stuck :p

    My story starts out in the present, my main character is reflecting on the death of his parents (2 years in the past).
    My first chapter introduces the main character, briefly introduces his parents (in way of their death) to the story. It also introduces a tragedy which lead to the parents death.

    I'm writing in first person, present tense.

    My main character has spent the last two years planning retribution and researching the tragedy. I would like to my second chapter to fill in that two year period, to show the growth of my main character, to show what happened in the days following the death of his parents, and the places he's been since. I would then like to switch back to the present time and continue my story without the need for any further flash backs.

    Anyone have any ideas on the best way to do this ?

    Let me know if you need any more info.

    Thanks in advance,

    Jack
     
  2. JackTate
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    JackTate New Member

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    actually, I would like to start my flashbacks whilst the main character's parents were still alive. The day of their deaths. Then go into the details of the 2 year period.

    Cheers
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sure some people will say that starting off with a character looking back at the past is not ideal, and I'm not sure. As with everything I guess it's about how it's written. Maybe you could alternate flashbacks with present time? The reader doesn't need to know everything right from the start, some things are better revealed as the story goes along, and the reader will feel more for the character when he/she has had the time to get to know and care for him.
    As for your second flashback question I think you could summarize pretty much here, a few sentences would be enough to make the reader know this without pages of flashbacks, because they tend to slow down the pace too much and in the beginning you don't want that.
     
  4. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I don't quite know what you're stuck on - is it just the transition you're worried about, or whether it's 'ok' to do this in a novel?

    If you're starting your story 2 years after the inciting incident, I would suggest you start it at a point where the resulting action actually happens, i.e. if he's planning to kill someone in vengeance for his parents' deaths, start chapter one with him about to commit the murder. Show who the victim is, your MC's feelings about them, what he's planning to do to them, but don't give away the why. Then open chapter 2 with a segue into the past, and fill in the why part by explaining this person's involvement in the parents death. Then chapter 3 resumes with the MC about to murder him, and the actual murder (or deciding not to, depending on where your plot is headed)

    But by following the above structure you're ensuring the story has suspense, because you leave the present timeline at a point where we want to know what happens next, use the next chapter to supply important information that gives new meaning and significance to the present events, then resumes at the point where the action takes place.

    That's what I'd do, but of course you have to adapt it to fit your story.
     
  5. JackTate
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    JackTate New Member

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    Thanks for your feedback guys, I'm more worried about the transition.

    In chapter one I outline everything the main character intends to do to revenge his parent's death.
    So far in chapter two I have my main character talking with his father (who was killed). I don't want to confuse people and I also don't want to mention anything like "I remember the last time I saw my parents" or "Two years ago I was talking with my father". I really just wanted to continue writing in first person, and fill in the two year period, how the parents were killed, the people involved, the reason the parents were killed, and finish the chapter with the night I found out my parents were killed.
    Then Chapter 3 I get back into the main plot of the story and continue with the main characters revenge.

    Is it ok to keep writing in first person ? I guess my main concern is I don't want to confuse the reader, but I also don't want to treat them like they're too dumb to understand that I'm flashing back two years prior.

    I really don't know how to make the transition from something along the lines of "tomorrow I begin my retribution for my parents death" to "my father walked in to the office, it was business as usual". I'm comfortable with the transition back to the main story, just this one chapter that I think my story needs to give a bit of background before I get on with the rest of it.

    Any ideas? Or is there a certain technique I should be looking at ?

    Thanks again for your help.
     
  6. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Jack,

    It sounds like the second chapter is in past tense, from your example at least. I'd be wary of jumping from one 'present' to another, without any explanation, as that might get confusing.

    Is there some link you can forge? Something specific you could mention in chapter 1 that your character remembers about that day, that is then expanded on further in the second chapter? It might provide some continuity and will make it clear for the reader where they're at, without hitting them over the head with it.

    Some books simply go with the old 'Two years earlier' heading, and then carry on.

    Experiment and see what works for you.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It strikes me that your discomfort is with the change in tense rather than the change in time. I, personally, dislike present tense narrative as it always strikes me as sort of forced: "As I'm walking down the street, I notice a dead cat lying in the gutter; it's been run over many times..." etc etc, the kind of observation the writer may feel compelled to share to give the reader the sense of "being there" but which really is just an irritating distraction. If you are using present tense as a way to distiguish between the current narrative and the flashbacks, I can assure you it isn't necessary.

    William Landay's current novel, "Defending Jacob" is told entirely in the past tense, but it switches back and forth regularly between a later time (when the narrator is testifying before a grand jury) and an earlier time (when the events actually took place). Landay makes it very clear which is which because the grand jury proceedings are presented in a different font to replicate a transcript, and the narrator's comments refer directly to the exchanges. But there are many techniques you can use to transition to the flashback - I would strongly recommend at least a separate section of the chapter, and possibly (if the flashback is to be lengthy) a separate chapter.

    Uh oh. Sounds like backstory. Make sure it's information the reader really needs to know to understand what's going on, and even then I would wait until the point in the story the reader needs it before introducing it. That's the great thing about using flashbacks - you don't have to tell your story in a linear fashion. Just use 'em when you need 'em.

    Good luck.
     

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