1. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27

    Starting stories with flashbacks?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Thunder_Bard, Mar 1, 2015.

    So I'm thinking of starting my story with a flashback of the last time the MC saw his father before he was killed.

    Are flashbacks a good way of starting a story? What sort of things should you keep in mind whilst writing them?

    Any help would be much appreciated.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Sounds more like a prologue than a flashback.

    I would write it, and when you get more of the story written, go back and decide if it works.

    A lot of people say don't use prologues and a whole lot of very successful books have them.

    I started my book with an event from years earlier. But the story I wrote was actually two parallel stories that I intertwined rather than flashbacks per se. In the critique group, starting with the past made people think it was a prologue and that wasn't what I wanted. So I took that chapter out and started with current events, working in the parallel chapters from the past throughout the story.

    But if that is your only flashback, just write it, then write the rest and reevaluate the prologue later.
     
  3. Catrin Lewis
    Offline

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2014
    Messages:
    1,675
    Likes Received:
    1,072
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2015
    Thunder_Bard and Megalith like this.
  4. FrankieWuh
    Offline

    FrankieWuh Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2014
    Messages:
    191
    Likes Received:
    107
    Location:
    Deepest Darkest UK
    When you start a story with a flashback, or prologue, it doesn't 'feel' or read like a flashback. It's a starting point, on which everything flows from. From this opening chapter the rest of the story goes on several months or years ahead, but it doesn't mess with the chronology of the tale, the way flashbacks can do if done badly when placed in the middle of a story.

    If you intend to have flashbacks throughout the story, then there needs to be some rhyme or reason behind them; perhaps flashbacks that are provoked by something that happens to the MC or reminds them of the past. If that's the case then starting the first foray into the past could be provoked by a smell: eg "My father always wore Old Spice ..." or a song, "Whenever Roy Orbison crackled over his old Packard Bell, he'd stop whatever he was doing, close his eyes and dance with his imaginary girl ..."
    Or something along those lines. Just play with it, and see where it goes. The good thing about prologues and flashbacks, is you can cut them free later if they're dragging the story down.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    In my case, the parallel stories are about the protagonist at two different ages in two different settings. They both move the same story forward. The two timelines coalesce about 2/3 way into the story. What didn't work was telling the story in chronological order or leaving the earlier years out.

    It's not always about actions in chronological order that makes a story.
     
    Thunder_Bard and FrankieWuh like this.
  6. cutecat22
    Offline

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2014
    Messages:
    2,434
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    Location:
    England
    I use prologues and flashbacks. I use a prologue to set the scene. It gives a valuable window into the life of my main character and her brothers as children and shows an incident which secretly gives an indication as to the personality of these three characters, more of which we then see during the course of the story.

    I use flashbacks for a number of reasons. Sometimes, there will be parts of the story that I want to write but for some reason they don't fit in the place where they happen, so I will put them in later as a memory flashback.

    With anything like this, write it out and see if it fits, if it doesn't, then you haven't lost anything but if you don't try it, you'll never know!
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2015
  7. FrankieWuh
    Offline

    FrankieWuh Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2014
    Messages:
    191
    Likes Received:
    107
    Location:
    Deepest Darkest UK
    You're right - following a strict chronology doesn't work with some stories. For me, the Night Circus reads better jumping all over the place, and there are other books which have converging time streams that being apart for much of the story is essential.

    I wouldn't call those as having flashbacks as such, like prologues, unless its the MC who is divided between those time streams, as you've done, as that can get really complicated without some decent narrative tools.
    I'd be really interested to hear how you made it work.
     
    Thunder_Bard likes this.
  8. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I agree, I don't think of my story as flashbacks. In my perception it is parallel stories. I'm still debating about having the two stories try in, one scene to the other. Some things match up such as the protagonist climbing a cliff for fun as a 12 yr old and at 17 she tries to escape a prison by scaling a brick wall. But the stories don't match on a scene by scene basis. I may try to find different threads in the scenes that match but more than likely they will be parallel stories that come together. I know it will be challenging given a lot of people suggest not doing it. But I've read parallel stories before and the author managed it just fine.
     
    Thunder_Bard likes this.
  9. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,241
    Likes Received:
    1,000
    I agree it's more of a prologue - which happens often. My story opens with a prologue set 19 years before the main action (and before most of my planned flashbacks), with the future villain as the POV character. Actually this is a pretty standard trope so I'd day label it a prologue and call it good.

    And for what it's worth my new thing is to use flashbacks as "commercial breaks" to cover odd time gaps in the main narrative. Instead of "Main character invited to cover a big upcoming story > Flash forward to airport scene leaving for said assignment" it's now "Invite > Flashback to revealing scene from character's past > Flash forward to start of assignment." Flows MUCH better than it used to.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2015
    Thunder_Bard likes this.
  10. ArnaudB
    Offline

    ArnaudB Member

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2012
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    10
    Rather than flashback I would recommend interludes from others characters already hinted/show in the story parallel to the main story. Admittedly it works best when you've multiple sides who believes they're in the right, or organizations with different loyalties.

    For prologues? Might be better to avoid world-building even if it's important. If it can't fit into the backcover then an infodump is hardly the best way to pull readers in. Propaganda pieces presented as such can be pretty nice though, if mostly in series where you know the sides.
    A recent thing I noted with In the After however was how useful a flashforward is for post-apocalyptic stories. It allows to show the reader the world after, thus what will be in the book, then go back at the changing point.

    Flashback... not usually good prologues for a stand-alone or first book. It can be pulled off well, but I wouldn't recommend doing it for the first novel of an author.
     
    Thunder_Bard and GingerCoffee like this.
  11. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I agree with this. Originally I had the earlier-years story begin my book. Even though it was a very short chapter, it came off like a prologue and was misleading because of it. So I dropped it and began the story with the current timeline. It's much better now.
     
    ArnaudB and Thunder_Bard like this.
  12. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,241
    Likes Received:
    1,000
    Well I won't thread-jack because this isn't about my work, I just cited a technique I use as an example, but for me what I'm doing works, and while I'm relatively new, my main objective right now is "do what works". If I followed all of the simplifications that people advise for "first novels" I wouldn't have a story anymore - at least not one I want to tell. I figure I'll finish the darn book first and then go back and see what needs massaged or removed. In my case the whole book has to do with history echoing into the present, so I have to go back into the past to ask important questions and build tension for the present. But whatever. I agree that your first crack at anything shouldn't have too many bells and whistles but at the end of the day either simplification or complexity has to serve the story rather than existing for it's own sake.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,605
    Likes Received:
    5,879
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    You always have to take the advice to 'never do X' with a grain of salt.
     
    ArnaudB, Thunder_Bard and cutecat22 like this.
  14. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,241
    Likes Received:
    1,000
    Yup - after a year of critique group I think I've finally gotten the hang of the whole grain of salt thing. For a while I was flying back and forth between "no salt" (the critic is always right and you have an obligation to give them what they want) and "dumping the whole shaker of salt in your own face by being overly defensive". Both of those places suck. I think the key is to find people who actually like your basic premise, like the story you're trying to tell, and trust them to help you tell it.
     
    Thunder_Bard and GingerCoffee like this.
  15. cutecat22
    Offline

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2014
    Messages:
    2,434
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    Location:
    England
    If the critic was always right, they would have written the book themselves.

    I do think critics play an important roll (before you all jump on me) but at the end of the day, no one knows your story like you do, you the author.

    I don't think it matters one jot if you are on your first novel or your twenty first. If you have a story to tell, tell it. If it's a good one, people will read it.

    My first fiction has a prologue which takes place 14 years before the main story begins. It serves a purpose and is about two pages long - in realtime, it would be less than five minutes of action/dialogue but the information it gives the reader is extremely important. But, knowing that a lot of people (including me) often skip prologues, the information in it does come up again later in the story but in a much simpler form.

    Yes, I use flashbacks and I think, I do them well. I've not had any complaints yet!

    Best advice? Just write. As you write, your story will make you ask yourself questions and as you work out the answers, your story will improve. There will be sections you re-write and sections you delete but don't not write them just in case.
     
  16. Commandante Lemming
    Offline

    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,241
    Likes Received:
    1,000
    I think the other thing with critics is to make sure your critics like the story and want it to succeed. I had a big struggle early on because two pretty vocal members of my critique group had fundamental objections to my entire premise and thought that major aspects of the book and the world were fundamentally broken - I'm not going to please those people and I take their input with more salt than others, not because they're bad critics but because they have such strong objections to the basics.

    Funny enough, those same two people are the most vocal ADVOCATES for my secondary side project and absolutely love the premise there - so for that project they're the first two people I seek out. If someone trusts your story enough to invest their own emotion in it, you can trust them to offer help - if not, it's not going to work. As long as it's a two way street, you don't get overly defensive, and they don't get overly hung up on something you choose not to "fix" after reflection.
     
    Catrin Lewis and Thunder_Bard like this.
  17. cutecat22
    Offline

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2014
    Messages:
    2,434
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    Location:
    England
    That's the important bit about critics/editors/proofers/beta readers. You can listen to their arguments about your story and why you should change it, until the cows come home but at the end of the day, you still have all the control because it's your story. You make the decision, to amend or not to amend ...
     
    Thunder_Bard likes this.
  18. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27

    Okay :). That is not actually a bad idea, dropping subtle hints througout the story if done well could keep the reader wanting to know more and needing to read on to find out more. Thanks for the great answser, all you guy's answers are brilliant!
     
  19. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27

    Okay :). I see how that might confuse readers yeah. How about I have it as a dream at some stage, maybe a reoccurring dream where each time the reader learns a little bit more of what had happened in the past from the bias view of the main character?
     
  20. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27
    Righto :). Thanks for the link, I will check it out :p.
     
  21. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27
    This is wisdom indeed :). That was my reason for having it at the beginning of the story because it would clear up why the MC behaves and chbooses to do what he does. It would also not confuse anyone as their names are fairly similar. Thanks for the help :D
     
    FrankieWuh likes this.
  22. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27

    True true :). With the flashback I want to convey the emotion that my MC had for his father at a very young age; the flashback scene being the last time he saw him before he was killed. Are there any good ways of showing that a section is a flashback, like certain words or structure to use? Thanks for the advice btw :D
     
  23. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27
    That is a very clever idea. I never thought of using flashback/forward as a way to lighten tension or cover awkward sections of the story.
     
    Commandante Lemming likes this.
  24. Thunder_Bard
    Offline

    Thunder_Bard Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2015
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    27
    "We're gonna need more salt"~Jaws.
     
  25. Crick
    Offline

    Crick Member

    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2015
    Messages:
    19
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    The Twilight Zone

    I hate flashbacks. I especially hate it when a story starts off with one. It's like a bad practical joke where the author says, "And here our story begins. Nope! Just kidding. It actually starts ten years from now." I just feel like all flashbacks do are take me out of the immediacy of the story. It sort of goes in hand with the old rule of showing instead of telling. Every time I read a flashback scene, I cannot help but feel like the author is going to great lengths to tell me something about the character rather than using whatever it was that may have triggered this flashback to show me. I have never read a book in which the story benefits from being interrupted by an entirely new scene that doesn't even take place at the same time. So unless you're writing a book that deals in time travel, I suggest you leave the flashback scenes in the movies where they belong.

    I've noticed a few people bringing up prologues so I'll reply to that. I always suggest to people that if they are going to use a prologue that they write it under the assumption that nobody is going to read it. What that means is that you should not put any information in your prologue that is necessary to the rest of the story unless that information also shows up after the prologue. And by the time you should already be asking yourself: Do I even need a prologue? Is the prologue accomplishing anything for the story that Chapter 1 can't do? Chapter 1 can handle the pressure, I assure you. It does not need the support or set-up of a prologue.

    It has been my experience that, more often than not, the prologue is just an information dump that looks more like an extra long log line that is trying to sell the story to the reader. I always read the first chapter of a book before deciding to buy it. If your story cannot convince someone to buy your book by the end of chapter 1, then stuffing a prologue in front of it is not going to help any. Even during those rare times where a prologue is actually productive, I feel like it is just in the way. It's like being at a really great party but there is that one annoying person there whom can't be kicked out because they're the host.

    If I'm not mistaken, even agents and publishers have similar feelings concerning prologues. I think they can work well enough when the novel is epic in length but I never feel like they are ever necessary.

    And there you have it. Obviously, neither a prologue nor a flashback is enough to ruin a good story. If your characters are engaging and your plot is interesting, even someone like me would ignore these nuances and still manage to enjoy the experience. However, I do strongly suggest that you at least not start the story with a flashback. I always feel like I've been cheated when an author does that and I can say that a lot of other people feel the same way. Critics and non-critics alike. But then everybody's a critic, right?

    Good luck
     
    ArnaudB and Thunder_Bard like this.

Share This Page