1. QuestionNoodle
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    QuestionNoodle New Member

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    Starting with a flashback?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by QuestionNoodle, Jun 8, 2014.

    I've had a young adult novel idea in my head for a long time, but I've had a pretty hard time finding out how to start it (i.e. I have the body and the end plotted out way more than the beginning).

    The story is about a girl whose best friend goes missing. The thing is, the story really begins three years after his disappearance, when she finds him in another world. I want their reunion to be meaningful to the reader-- but I can't do this if we don't have any background to their friendship or who her friend is. I was thinking of starting the story with a flashback to the day he disappeared, but I've been told that it's a bad idea to start immediately with a flashback.

    Any advice on how I could make it work? Or should I avoid the flashback entirely and try to come up with another way?
     
  2. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Flashbacks can be hard to handle in words, especially right at the start. You could try a discussion with a friend about the anniversary of the event, or finding an old newspaper in the attic, or even a news item on the TV.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    First, starting with a flashback is successful in many good stories. Most rules are not absolute. Yours sounds like a prologue rather than a flashback, but people will tell you not to do that either. I don't agree.

    Have you started writing or are you still in the planning stage? I suggest you write the scene, but decide later if you want to use it. It helps the story gel in your mind to write backstory, even if you don't use it.

    It's not always apparent until a lot of the story is down on paper (or on the screen) how you should start the story. I was more than halfway through mine before I decided how I was going to organize it. I heard all those admonitions about flashbacks. But there was too much backstory I wanted to tell to just work it in. My character's childhood was a major part of my story, but the story is YA about the infamous 17 yr old character.

    I've settled on flashbacks, two parallel stories that merge together at a major plot point. I started the story with a very short scene of my protagonist at age ten. Then the real story starts with a bang in the next chapter, seven years later.

    Also, don't be afraid to throw out whole chapters that don't work. I put several flashback scenes in a separate file, one step away from the trash. They were fun little scenes but the purpose of the scene was redundant. By purpose I mean, why is the scene there? Is is moving the story forward or not?

    Also I needed the flashbacks to have some tie in to the current story. That's been a little trickier because the chronology doesn't match up. For example the protag climbs a cliff as a child. But the scene involves loneliness, rejection, and demonstrating the skill of being the best cliff climber in the village. There's a scene where as that 17 yr old, she scales a brick wall at a prison, but there are earlier scenes where she feels painfully alone, and an outcast. So it didn't work out to try to match the flashbacks to the current events.

    I went instead with chronological sequence for the flashbacks.
     
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  4. CH878
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    CH878 Active Member

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    Even with a flashback, it might be hard to make the reunion that meaningful - as meaningful, say, as if there had been a whole book leading up to it.

    Flashbacks can be very effective, it really depends on how you write it, but sometimes there can also be a tendency to try and make them too dramatic, too exciting, especially at the beginning of a story. It should fit the overall tone, and not be too much of an assault on the reader (unless, of course, that is the effect you are going for).

    In general, I would say don't get too hung upon how the story should begin, not if you know the overall storyline. There is no requirement to start writing from the beginning; start writing where you can. There is a good chance you will end up rewriting much of your first draft anyway, I am currently rewriting the whole beginning to my current project. Also, once you get a good feeling for the overall style, how to start the story might become clearer.

    But starting with a flashback is in no way a bad thing, so if that's what you think would work best, go for it! :) You can always change it later.
     
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  5. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @GingerCoffee is right, in my book (no pun intended). Sounds like you have something that would fit nicely in a prologue. The only trouble is that many people don't know what prologues really are and decide to kip them, and many people skip them simply because they are boring. With how may successful stories start with dreams and flashbacks, it wouldn't ruin your story to start with a flashback.

    The best advice I can give you is to just start writing. No really! When you don't know where your story starts, just start writing. The story will reveal itself as it develops. Then you will know where the story needs to start, and you'll likely come up with alternative ways to convey the information. One option, if you don't want to start with a flashback, is to go into a flashback in the chapter immediately after she finds him. Or you could explain some of it in dialogue and have readers grow to care about them based on their new interactions. This way you can reveal more about their past as it applies to circumstances in the present.

    Just an fyi, if you choose a prologue, it doesn't have to be in a flashback.
     
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  6. QuestionNoodle
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    QuestionNoodle New Member

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    Very helpful advice, thanks! I do think I've gotten too caught up with beginning the story instead of just writing and going back later. Writing alternate versions and going with the best one sounds like a good plan. I liked the newspaper/discussion with a friend idea, and maybe I'll try doing a prologue to see how that works out. I worry I'm just trying to jump into the main plot too soon by trying to go quickly to their reunion, but since that's where the story really starts, I also feel like that's the best way to get to the point.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that you're very likely better off doing it another way. Even if you had the background scene, it's going to be hard to communicate everything that that friendship means to her with one scene, or even a few scenes. Her grief for the friendship and the friend, and her feelings for them, are likely to be clearer, both to her and the reader, after the friend has been lost.

    For example, A Wrinkle in Time is substantially about Meg's missing her father, but we get that pain and grief mostly in Meg's head--we do get a few memories of conversations, but nothing that I'd call a full-fledged flashback. She thinks about him, she talks to her mother, she gets into fistfights with kids who say bad things about her father. But that's all in the story's present, not flashback.

    Which does address the question of how soon you want to have that reunion. Meg's reunion with her father is toward the end of the book, not the beginning. But then again, it's much of what the book is about. If this reunion is very important to the book, you probably do need some setup, but I'd put that setup in the story's present, not in a flashback. And in spite of my using the word, I wouldn't let it feel like "setup", but instead like story.
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    technically, if the story starts out with that scene, it can't be a 'flashback' because there's nothing before it to 'flash back' from...

    and many excellent novels begin with a scene taking place in an earlier time frame than the one in which the body of the book is set... so, it's not a bad idea per se... but it does have to be written well and segue smoothly into the first chapter...
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My thinking, exactly. In my current project, the first chapter takes place in 1993, the second starts in 1510. That's a flashback. :D

    @GingerCoffee mentioned that people will tell you not to do a prologue, either. The kinds of prologues that are best to avoid are indodumps that describe the world in which your story takes place. This doesn't sound like that. In fact, it sounds like Chapter One takes place in Year X and Chapter Two takes place in Year X+3. I think you might want to flesh out the story a bit, possibly with an intervening chapter or two about how the girl whose friend is missing has tried to cope with the loss.

    But before you can decide any of that, you need to decide what is the essence of your story? Is the reunion the joyful climax? Or is it just the beginning of a shared adventure between the two friends? Or are they joyfully reunited, only to be separated again? These are the questions you have to answer (not here, but in your own head) before you can decide on structure.

    Good luck.
     
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  10. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    "I was thinking of starting the story with a flashback to the day he disappeared, but I've been told that it's a bad idea to start immediately with a flashback."

    ...actually that's called a Prologue.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!
     

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