Tags:
  1. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States

    Problem With "Flashbacks"

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by jaebird, Nov 5, 2015.

    The current novel I’m working on is almost like two stories woven into one. Things that happened in the MC’s past, and what’s going on with him in the present. My plan was to have the past scenes occur in chronological order, breaking up the action in the present at various intervals depending on what was going on and where I needed certain information revealed.

    The problem I’m getting now that I’m going back and looking over all the chapters I’ve written, is that the flashback portion seems very jagged and disconnected from itself. There are huge time gaps in between most of the flashback scenes, since they span over several years, while the present follows a more day to day pace. The result is that I feel like the past scenes are incomplete, or sort of haphazardly thrown in there. Like those scenes are missing something that I don’t have the space to include.

    I feel like the only choice I have is to cut the past scenes down to simple “flashbacks” instead of what I had planned for them originally, or even get rid of them entirely but there’s a lot of information that comes from them and things that I need from them. I'm not sure what I need to do at this point, any suggestions?
     
  2. GuardianWynn
    Offline

    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2014
    Messages:
    2,085
    Likes Received:
    671
    @jannert

    Not sure what to say myself In this case. But I trust the use I tagged. :)
     
    jaebird likes this.
  3. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,778
    Likes Received:
    7,290
    Location:
    Scotland
    I saw the tag ...and thought I'd give my 2 cents' worth.

    What you're trying to do is tricky, but it's not all that uncommon. In fact, I've got a book sitting next to me here that uses this technique. It's called The Lewis Man by Peter May. I know I've read many others as well, although I can't lay my hands on them just now. Didn't Presumed Innocent unfold this way? I can't remember for sure.

    I think this technique is really common in thrillers and mysteries. I'm thinking Scots author Lesley Glaister uses this technique on occasion as well—specifically in Nina Todd Has Gone.

    There are many more.

    Obviously you will need to sort out scenes in your own head, so that they make sense to you and are 'needed' for your story to develop. If you're choosing random flashbacks, maybe sit down and take a hard look at them and discard any that don't move your total story forward.

    Another thing you MIGHT try is to write each story separately, in chronological order. (Or at least a detailed outline of both stories separately.) Then when you're all done with both of them, you could try interspersing them. That, at least, would keep things moving forward in both stories, but that will only work if it's the 'ending' of the first story that has the most impact on your present-day story. If it's just a general remembering of separate, unconnected past incidents, then the chronological setup isn't quite so important.

    If the flashback story is one that your present day POV character is fully aware of, that adds another layer of trickiness. Why? Because your POV character will be deliberately hiding stuff from the reader. If this is badly handled, the reader can end up feeling cheated. (If it's well handled, it can produce quite a 'wow,' as in the Lesley Glaister novel above.)

    However, if the flashback stuff does NOT contain stuff the POV character knows, it can be easier to handle. The reader then 'knows' what the POV character does not. This can ramp up tension for the reader, because they kind of know what's been and what's coming, and they can see that the POV character is blissfully (or otherwise) unaware of danger ...or potential bliss, depending on the story and what the flashback is about.

    Will there be some element of mystery to your story? Where the ending comes as a surprise?
     
    jaebird, Inks and GuardianWynn like this.
  4. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,875
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    If it makes sense, do it. If it needs tweaking, fix it.

    I have a limited experience to draw on, but this is what I did.

    I felt that my character's earlier years were part of the story, not backstory but I didn't want to start with a ten year old character. So I have her earlier years interwoven with the current story. Both are chronological in parallel time frames. The earlier-years chapters jump a year or so at a time until they reach the current story and then they end about halfway through the book. The current story progresses without time jumps.

    I started with a short earlier-life chapter with my character at the age of ten. But after critique feedback it seemed better to start in the present. Not sure if I'll go back to that opening or toss the chapter. Since I wrote a three paragraph prologue I'll probably leave that protag-at-10 chapter out and begin the past flashbacks when the character is eleven. But I don't look at them as flashbacks. I look at them as a parallel story.

    The point, take a look at your story and figure out what it needs.
     
    jaebird likes this.
  5. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States
    Thank you, this helps a lot. And thanks for the examples of books that follow this pattern. It would be good to see how other authors have handled it.

    The chronological setup I had of the past scenes was there to lead up to the big reveal at the end, the big surprise that changes the entire view of the MC. I think writing out those past scenes separately would help a lot in keeping me focused on it as part of the main story and not just flashback scenes, thanks for that idea. But it's all told from the MC's POV, so everything in the past is something he knows. I'm not sure how to go about withholding information without making the reader feel cheated, though.


    Your story sounds like it's following the exact same pattern as mine. I don't want to call them flashbacks, because they seem more like part of the main story to me, but I think the more of them I wrote the more "flashback" they became. I think it's partly because I'm having trouble weaving them into the present scenes without jarring the reader, or having them wonder how the previous flashback scene connected with the next one, since they each jump so much time. How are you handling the weaving of the two stories together so they fit smoothly?
     
  6. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,875
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Date the chapters:

    2068
    2059
    2068
    2060


    Like that
     
    GuardianWynn likes this.
  7. Kallisto
    Offline

    Kallisto Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2015
    Messages:
    183
    Likes Received:
    87
    I used multiple flashbacks in one story and I had the same problem. The people who read it liked it well enough, but I had an advantage: Mine was fanfiction. So the readers already knew the characters and they were okay with being jerked between past and present. With original works, I could definitely see where trying to get the audiences to care enough to invest in the flashbacks is difficult.

    Here's my suggestion:

    Take every single flashback scene and ask yourself the following questions: What does this scene tell the reader? Are there any flashback scenes that simply repeat information? Take them out. Are there any scenes that could be potentially combined with other scenes? Could any of the information be reworked into other scenes?

    I did this with my own story. Most scenes might have had a lot of character and were really enjoyable to read, they also didn't present any new information and so were cut.
     
    xanadu likes this.
  8. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States
    That would be an easy fix to let the reader know how much time has passed from one scene to the other. Only problem is that the scenes aren't their own separate chapters. There can be a chapter that is half present and half past. Would it be strange to have a date at the beginning of a scene break instead of a chapter?

    Very good advise, thank you. I do need to spend a lot of time asking those questions about the past scenes. I already know there are several that need to be cut, even though I love them! "Kill your darlings" as they say...
     
  9. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,875
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    If your flashbacks mid-chapter work, go with it. But you might also consider writing the past in separate chapters. It really depends on how you are putting the story together.

    If you have a "scene divide" why is that not a chapter divide?
     
    GuardianWynn likes this.
  10. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States
    I had it done without putting those scenes in chapters because they're mostly smaller scenes, there's quite a few of them, and they all jump so much time in between each one. I could try and shove some of them together to make whole chapters. Or, I could try just leaving them as they are, and have them just be much smaller chapters than the present action chapters and see how that works. Thanks :)
     
  11. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,875
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Readers can deal with short chapters. What you want to look at is how are the timeline and scenes related. Are you writing two parallel timelines or are these memories your character is having or something else?
     
  12. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States
    The flashback "story" is more than just a series of memories, but it probably wouldn't stand on its own very well. I wanted it to complement what was going on in the present, but not just be a bunch of memories triggered by some event. I feel like what I have is a list of stuff that happened to the MC in the past and it doesn't fit very well with the present action. Like, instead of weaving it all together to where it moves smoothly, I'm sort of just shoving it all together and hoping it sticks. And it's not.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,875
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    You need to take a step back and ask yourself if the flashbacks are just darlings you don't want to kill or whether they matter to the story.

    How do the memories complement the present? Is it backstory? Do you really need it?

    In my case the earlier years of my protagonist are part of the story. But the story is not about a ten yr old girl growing up. It's a story about a 17 yr old girl who does what she thinks is right despite social pressure not to. If I didn't have the younger years the social pressure would just be a footnote.

    So I tell parallel stories starting in the present.

    If you can't explain to yourself what those flashbacks are for you might want to kill them. On the other hand, if you can explain what they are for, it will help you weave the story together.
     
    Lifeline, jaebird and jannert like this.
  14. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States
    The younger years of my protagonist are important to the story, it's where he begins to discover that everything he's been taught and told is a lie and he changes his view about what is right and wrong. But what I have written of them so far is more like memories and backstory that doesn't contribute what it needs to to the main plot. Which is probably why I'm having trouble weaving them together. Looking at it like that, I think I do need to kill a lot of it, but rewrite it so that it serves the original purpose I had for it. That does help a lot, thank you.
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  15. JenHLewis
    Offline

    JenHLewis Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2015
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    13
    write a short synopsis of each chapter in a list. What you are trying to achieve and what needs to be told. It will give you a map of your story and hopefully make it clearer how best to break up the chapters which in turn will allow you to tighten up the flow.
     
    Lifeline, jaebird and GingerCoffee like this.
  16. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States
    Thanks, that helps a lot. I sometimes have a problem with actually looking at where I want to go instead of just letting the story run away with me.
     
    JenHLewis likes this.
  17. JenHLewis
    Offline

    JenHLewis Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2015
    Messages:
    33
    Likes Received:
    13
    We all fall into that trap, becausing letting the story run away with us can be so exciting. Embrace that, complete the story and then map it out ready to edit.
    Good Luck
     
    jaebird likes this.
  18. Tea@3
    Offline

    Tea@3 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2015
    Messages:
    322
    Likes Received:
    200
    Location:
    USA
    I haven't read any of the replies here, but in a story of mine I have worked on in recent years I was dealing with flashback issues and here is what I ended up doing:

    The present day plot involves two friends, each with his own story line (let's call them A & B). Then there is a back story of these two people together, about stuff happening 20 years ago. I got tired of shuffling back and forth trying to keep up with it all, so I broke this larger story into three individual plots and write each one separately. Kind of like three tiny books inside one larger book:

    CHARACTER A story (done as a standalone)
    CHARACTER B story (done as a standalone)
    A&B TOGETHER story (done as a standalone)

    I did A's story start to finish, then I did B's story start to finish, then I worked on JUST the A&B back story start to finish, then I plan to slice them up and weave them together where they fit best, paying attention to pace etc.


    There may be a far better way to handle it, but this is what I came up with out of frustration so I could see each segment more clearly, in the formation stage. :superyesh:
     
    jaebird likes this.
  19. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,875
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    As I intertwine my past and present story, I started with an every other chapter merge. Right away it didn't feel right. I have concluded with my own story, the present day plot needs to dominate, with the past events being subordinate to the present.

    Just thought I'd share that experience. :)
     
  20. jaebird
    Offline

    jaebird Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2014
    Messages:
    102
    Likes Received:
    43
    Location:
    United States
    I've been working on this is sort of the same way you've gone about doing yours. So far, it seems to be working out for me to stay in one plot at a time, and I just recently finished rewriting the past scenes. Now, I'm working on the present and finding that I have to do a lot of rewriting of it as well, since I'd already tried to piece everything together before any of it was finished.

    It does help to be able to view each part separately, instead of trying to see all of it in front of you at the same time. I'm not trying to write the present scenes with the past muddling my thoughts, and vice versa.

    I didn't want to do an every other chapter layout for mine, but I think it may work out for the best, if I get the timing of everything to line up. At the very least, I like the past scenes having their own chapters a lot better than trying to work those scenes into the same chapter as the present ones like I was doing before.

    I think that my story has the same idea of the present dominating instead of the past, and part of my worry was that I wasn't giving the past the right amount of importance. I wanted it to feel just as real as the present, without overshadowing it. For some reason, it's hard to balance that for me.
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  21. Tea@3
    Offline

    Tea@3 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2015
    Messages:
    322
    Likes Received:
    200
    Location:
    USA
    Exactly my thinking. :superagree:
     
  22. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,875
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    My flashbacks are whole chapters with 5 time frames, one event per time frame but told over a couple chapters. The timeframes are my protagonist at 10 (2 scenes), 11 (two scenes), 12 (one scene), 13 (three scenes around one event), and 14 (three scenes around one event). It ends at 14 (she's 17 in the current story). The flashback story shows the character as she reaches and passes puberty so the last scene is her first kiss. :)

    The current story starts with my character away from her village and leads into an adventure. The past is woven in so you get a glimpse of the life she came from. When she gets back from the life changing adventure, the story isn't over, but that's the place I chose to end the flashbacks.

    So far, I'm very happy with how the plot is shaping up.
     
    jaebird likes this.

Share This Page