1. Kinzvlle
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    Kinzvlle Active Member

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    Storytelling through flashbacks.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Kinzvlle, Mar 14, 2016.

    So I've been planning a short story recently from the perspective of an Imperil Army officer,* and I was thinking of beginning, it with the officer being interrogated in a way and tell the bulk of it in a flashback sort of format. I was wondering if this would be a good way to format it. As a reader would anyone be turned off to a short story, beging in one point of time and then moving back? Is this a bad way to format a plot or could it be made to work?

    *Fantasy setting, empire similar to that of the Roman empire with some parallels to British imperialism.
     
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  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There are stories that do this, and do it well. My initial feeling is negative when an author uses a flashback or a dream sequence and moves out of the flow of the main story to some prior time (or into some dream). But it's not a deal-breaker. I'll read it, and if it is engaging then I'll go with it. My main problem with them is how often authors move out of an interesting primary narrative into a much less interesting flashback or dream.
     
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  3. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think this could be really great if you do it right. I agree with @Steerpike, you need to make the flashbacks matter. But seeing as you said the "bulk" of your story, I'm sure there's lots of interesting stuff going on. The mian thing is to make the two things fit together well. I'd say look at Call of Duty Black Ops I, which had this exact setup. The character is interrogated and we see flashbacks on what happened in full detail which we play. The way the two tenses fit together is very effective with drama, and that game is considered to have the best Call of Duty storyline for a reason. Or you could look at The Usual Suspects, or the book or movie version of Big Fish. Or Citizen Kane.
    Also, is it weird when I read your description, the first thing I thought was that the officer was protecting his gay lover? I feel like if I were you that would inevitably be it. Lol.
     
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  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Also, check out Name of the Wind, a popular fantasy book that does this.
     
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  5. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    I don't know about books, but I can think of three different video games that do this: Spider and Web, Alpha Protocol, and Dragon Age II. All three get some great mileage out of the interrogator's desire for the full truth vs. the captor's desire to conceal vital information. (For instance, the protagonist of Spider and Web gives a believable account in which he never went into the interrogation room prior to being captured. Then he uses something he hid in the interrogation room to defeat his captor and escape. Alpha Protocol uses a more omniscient viewpoint in which the player sees things the MC doesn't tell the interrogator, but it's possible for the MC to hide the existence of a specific character and then escape using that character's assistance.)
     
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  6. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wrote a full book with basically this exact format. And... it kind of failed.

    It isn't that it can't work. It just, it is hard to work well. It has a lot of pitfalls.

    - Like since they are captured, it reveals they get captured, which can kill a lot of suspense.
    - The jumpy cut can kill the flow. Since a person might be invested in one aspect, the flash back or the current time, and when it jumps it is really off putting.

    The real issue is the reason. There needs to be a reason that the story needs to be done in this way. The trap is that usually it is just used as an excuse information dump. or artificially inflate tension.

    Info dump because you can tell a lot of information very quickly this way. So, it adds a layer of naturalness to bad exposition, but the issue there, is it is still bad exposition or might be. Or more importantly, why isn't a beginning in the beginning captured being a middle plot point an acceptable formula? I am not really saying it needs to be. Rather, if you figure out why you need this method, then you may realize how to use it right. Because it can be used right.(god I wish I had a good example off hand.)

    False tention because you can start on a epic moment and hope that propells the reader to want to reach learn why, when they might not have been hooked otherwise.

    If you are using either of these above method, a gimmick to add false tension or slip in a information dump. I would avoid it.

    Side note. I still have that failed book project. Which writing wise, is cleaned up, not many if any typos. If you want to glance at it, to see how I failed as maybe a clue into how to not fail. I would be happy to show you. :)
     
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  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I agree.

    It's hard to get it right.

    I read a book by a very well known author. It was written to tell the story of two different people, at two different times, that time difference was something like 10-odd years (I hope I'm remembering that right). The story kept swapping between times and people as lives intertwined between then and now, and although the story itself was good, I found it really difficult to get into because each time it changed, I had to go back and remind myself what had happened with that character previously.

    That being said, I do use flashbacks myself, although I don't use them that often, and when I do use them, it's to tell of something which happened during the story, but at the time it happened, it wouldn't fit into the book, almost like a memory.
     
  8. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I agree with others that there's a risk the present scenes tell you too much of what happens in the past, so I'd suggest you'd don't say much actual information in those scenes, maybe make them a bit referency, hinting at stuff. And make the capture bit either obvious or very sneaky. Mildly surprising will just become obvious. Also, you do you. Do flashbacks if you want to. It can be done.
     
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  9. Kinzvlle
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    Kinzvlle Active Member

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    It won`t be a gay lover considering this one happens to have a loving wife and child, but I recall reading a webcomic using this type of format of someone doing that though, it was pretty good actully.

    DA 2 had examples of that as well with Cassandra calling Varric out for his embellishments a few times, plus a certain revelation in DAI which I won`t mention for spoilers. I like the advice, but he will be mostly telling the truth...though not everyone in the room will be.

    Thank you for the very detailed advice. I wouldn`t mind looking at book project sometime thank you. I can see where I did fall into the info dump trap in ways, such as using it to describe his background, but there is a plotish reason I wanted to do it this way. As hinted at above, the integrator has his own angle, becuse I so love corrupted governments. The integrators has a impact on hte way the story ends and I felt like setting it up as a integration would work better then springing it on at the end.

    Thank you the advice everyone, it`s been very good.
     
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  10. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, if you ever want to, just ask. :) Funny enough, my framing opens up with a person in a prison cell too. lol.

    So, you are saying, that you want to open with the bad, as a way to express the bad to the reader before the bad actually happens? As an insight into the world. That, might be an interesting framing for this.
     
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  11. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    I dislike flashbacks in novels. As soon as I see the sections of italics my eyesight gets blurry.

    Never read one that I cared for. I have read novels where I have skimmed every flashback and still enjoyed the story. Obviously didn't need it because the Author was able to make the character compelling and interesting in the present.

    One of my favourite romances of all time had flashbacks.

    Vague memory was....

    Flashback: Oh right, he was kidnapped, he was tortured by his mistress...yeah yeah, I get the point...
    Back to the present.
    Flashback: Oh, still getting tortured...blah blah...
    Back to the present
    and so it went on.

    If the rest of the content wasn't so good I would have just thrown it at the wall in disgust.

    Maybe that book was thicker than it needed to be?

    Anyway, just my reader preferences.
     
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  12. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Maybe the flashback wasn't meaningful enough? Or maybe you missed the meaning? There was obviously an intended purpose.
     
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  13. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my case. My character was dead and in the after life. Which was the framing them reflecting on the bad person they were as they tried to come to terms with the sentence to hell they were expecting any day.

    And... It still failed. A reader mentioned they would rather have a 100k story that dives into all of that so you don't need flash backs when she is dead over random cuts between the timelines. Sound about right to you?
     
  14. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    @Oscar Leigh just because the author intended something didn't mean she succeeded better by using a flashback - that was my point. I won't go into specifics but this particular Author has some pretty thick books as she goes along in the series, and I remember quite a bit of criticism about her going all over the place. It's rare I give up on an Author I enjoyed, but she is one of them.

    I'm thinking it's no different from when you have a conversation with someone and they keep dragging up ancient history. Depending on the topic, it's tedious for some and I expect that would be me. Just tell me what's happening with you today and give me enough to understand your current situation. Pages of flashback are tiresome.

    And no, I did not miss something. She wanted us to understand his back ground, his abuse and how that makes him who he is today. The usual sob story. Lot's of authors do all this without pages of flashbacks. I'm guessing she needed to write it like that because it made her understand him and she felt us readers will empathize. Obviously I am not very empathetic and more impatient to just move forward with the story. For myself, I didn't need the overboard of flashbacks to enjoy the core romance. A few lines or sections dropped here and there would have been enough.

    Also, it depends what type of stories they're used in. I read primarily romances and I don't enjoy them there at all. That's why I've never read one I care for.

    I don't mind them in film/TV. One that comes to mind is my love of the old Highlander tv series, I loved all those flashbacks, but we're dealing with immortals who are trying to lop each others head off and living interesting lives through different ages. Their flashbacks would be more interesting to me and relevant since past acquaintances show up in the present.

    Readers will respond to a story differently and what I wrote above is a response.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  15. GuardianWynn
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    Yep I agree and I have few points to add. That is the real problem to. Flashbacks pause a story. And that is just not really fun. That isn't to say that there aren't times where it is valid or can be used well. But it is an uphill climb and that isn't just for romance. Often time, the best way is to dive into the past is by making the present have a situation that makes the past relievant and then dive into that past moment through them. Even then, a flashback isn't needed for that. A perfect example from my writing.

    A girl was feeling nostalgic and flipped through a photo album with her sister and they sort of had a giggle fit and cracked jokes and similar just sleep over ish type stuff. At one point they look at the older sisters prom photo which is my avatar. Yet that girl is very much a tom-boy in the book. So this is a subtle nod that she wasn't always a tom-boy.

    It would have been horrible to pause the story and flashback to her prom, you don't need that. The fact the girl wasn't ashamed of the picture(she kept it obviously) and the picture clshes with her current self. That is all you need and it is really just two paragraphs.

    Obviously the OP situation is more difficult, but the key issue is the same. Flashbacks as a style is a up hill battle.
     
  16. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I wrote a novel where there are two parallel stories, one told in visions (flashbacks) that are experienced by the protagonist. The difference between the two stories was 80 years. One story takes place in England, the other in the Sahara.

    One method I used to differentiate the two stories, is that I used 3rd person POV for the modern story, and 1st person for the flashbacks.
     
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  17. wrc
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    wrc New Member

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    I'm a newbe. I read about your problem yesterday and it still bugs me today. So I'd like to ask you a couple of questions.

    What are you getting by telling a story in flashbacks? Use a little empathy and be a reader. Your reading along, happy with the story and suddenly there's an interruption to an earlier time in the story. It's jarring. Too many of these and theyll throw the book at the wall.

    Now, the big question. Why don't you tell your story in the order it happened? It's what readers expect and its standard in storytelling. And even if there are long periods between events, you just need to clue in the readers "Fifteen years later I felt different..."

    As a joke I've thought of writing a flashback story. And each flashback triggered another flashback which triggered yet, another. And so on. It's the old two mirror trick going to infinity. It'd be like writing the story backwards. I wondered how long I could do that before the readers threw the story at the wall.

    If your clever you can usually find a way to get info and experiences in the present without stopping the story for asides.

    Just something to ponder.
     
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  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I once wrote a whole blog post about my dislike of books like this. For me, if a story starts at point X, then jumps backward to point A, B, C, etc, I will be waiting, impatiently, all that while, to get to point X, at which point, in my mind, the story will "start".

    I don't know why I react this way, but I do.
     
  19. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Interesting.
     
  20. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    If the story is compelling in the flashbacks, then you are getting two books in one.
     
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  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there has to be something added by having the story in two different times. If you're just doing it to do it, I think the annoyance will override the benefits and it's probably a bad idea, but if, for example, you're using the present-day narrative as a way to add significant context, character insight, character doubt, etc., then it could be good.

    I'm thinking of, for example, The Usual Suspects, (movie) where the framing story is just as fascinating as the story being told through flashbacks and the two work together really well, each adding depth to the other, each contributing to the manipulation of the audience's sympathies... and then of course the final kicker in the framing story. That movie wouldn't have worked nearly as well without the frame.

    But I've also read things where the modern-day story just felt tacked on and pointless.
     
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  22. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    Certainly, the flashbacks need to be relevant to the main story. They need to add details that are relevant for the later story, otherwise what point?
     
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  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure if this is meant as a response to my post or not...

    If it is, then, yes, we agree. But possibly you're suggesting that authors never make the mistake of having the two parts not compliment each other?

    I think authors DO sometimes make that mistake. Especially, I would say, when the flashback is the main story, and the framing portion is just a frame. I've read stories with the old sitting-around-the-campfire-let-me-tell-you-about-the-old-days introduction, and then enjoyed the main story about the old days, and then been pointlessly brought back to the campfire at the end, with no real reason for the let-me-tell-you-a-story part at all.

    So we agree that if there's no point, there's no point.

    Possibly you weren't even responding to my post.
     
  24. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I think I was....:)
     
  25. loonypapa
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    One of my favorite novels of all time is The Source. 1104 pages of awesome. From cavemen to crusaders, goat herders to gods, the story is told through the eyes of an archaeologist, with multiple flashbacks to the folks that deposited the artifacts that were found in his dig. Incredible literary device. Michener had his game on when he wrote that one. Every decade or so I'll pick it up again and re-read the whole thing.
     

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