1. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Telling the Past

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nilfiry, Jul 21, 2011.

    I have been working on a certain scene recently where I must recall the past to develop and justify the actions of a certain character. I thought about turning it into a flashback chapter because there is enough for it, but it is unnecessary to open things up that far. Instead, I decided to let another character talk about it in dialogue as part of a larger chapter. That is where my wondering begins.

    As I began to write it, I realized that it would take up to 2000 words, mostly dialogue of one character. Also, I did not like the idea of interrupting the dialogue with exposition too much in this case, so I have kept that to a minimal.

    Should leave it as is, or should I condense it further? I have never liked long flashbacks, so I avoid it where possible. Not much experience on long recollection scenes to speak of as a result, so I need a bit of advice.

    Thank you for your time!~
     
  2. Holden
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    Holden Senior Member

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    I've read novels where the backstory is told just as if it was part of the large story. Jonathan Franzen, in particular, uses seamless changes from the past the present to give a complete narrative. I'm not sure if that's what you're going for, but The Corrections and Freedom are good examples of that.
     
  3. ena18
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    ena18 Member

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    Without knowing anything about your scene/story/history, it's hard to give solid advice. However, I will say that you should be careful about having a massive chunk of dialogue without anything to break it up. Not only will it bring the pacing of your story to a halt, but it might not suit the plot or the character that's doing all the talking (i.e. your characters may be in a hurry etc.). I would normally put exposition like this into it's own chapter or a prologue. Hope that helps!!
     
  4. florist fire
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    florist fire New Member

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    This may not be the answer to your problem, as every story will have its own style of dealing with events that happened in the past, but I feel that as a reader I am much more likely to be turned off by the author just spelling out everything that happened in the past, whether its a flashback or just an epic dialogue. I've always liked being given the pieces of a character's history here and there - spread out within the story - and to have to piece together those details myself, as would the character learning about the history.
     
  5. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    The story is currently at a slow point. Everyone has settled down for the moment to recover from a stressful encounter, so there is ample time for storytelling. The character that does the recollection is telling the past of a character to which she has a connection. There is severe strain between her and that character that causes her a bit of grief. She decided to tell the MC, who inquired about the connection, so the MC can decide what to do about said character.

    I suppose the my problem is finding the right balance of dialogue and exposition for the scene. There are only two characters talking, and I am having trouble finding place to put the exposition. What made me decide to put it in dialogue instead is that I actually wanted to concentrate on the bit of important character development and relationship building that occurs during and after the conversation, which is key to the story. The actual backstory is still necessary because the character it involves will play a larger role later.

    Part of this backstory has already been mentioned a few times before, but I have to put it to rest for now. Spreading it out more will not benefit the story in any way.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write story, not backstory.

    Sliip a (relevant!) dettail here and there within the story, but please don't give a history lesson aka an infodump.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    2,000 words is a heck of a lot of monologue. I was struggling with much the same issue in my current project. In my case, the history is a significant part of the story, it just occurred several years before the present time of the story at that point in the narrative. My original thought was the same as yours - have the character in question tell other characters what had happened to him. But I found it to be much too heavy with all those endless quotation marks. So instead, I set the scene - three people sitting around a kitchen table, the newcomer being asked a question, and then he leans forward...break in the text, starting a new section, like a scene change, and then narrative of what had happened in the past. I started it in past perfect tense, to give the reader a clue that we're talking about a different time and place, but I slip back into normal past tense to keep the narrative from being too stilted. I think it works.

    There are two other ways I see to go. One is to simply imbed the past in the narrative and use past tense. I'm currently re-reading Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears", and in the first 75 pages, he has done this a few times already. I sometimes have to stop and go back to make sure I'm catching what is in (his narration's) present and what is in it's past. My conclusion is that you need something to separate the two.

    The other is a method Michener used in "Tales of the South Pacific", which was a loosely connected group of short stories strung together to make a novel. In most of the chapters, Michener writes in the third person, but makes occasional references to himself in the first person as a peripheral character. But in one chapter, he introduces a pilot named Bus Adams, makes it clear that he's telling a story, and then proceeds to switch to first person in order to tell it. I thought about using this method, and still might when I finish my first draft and go back an edit.

    Good luck.
     
  8. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Heart of Darkness, anyone? :)
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I didn't say it was impossible, or had never been done. I just said it was a lot. :D
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't have to have your character telling as monologue. I know this is really corny, but just as a basic example:

    Ilyas leaned back in his chair. "There's something you need to know." She looked at him searchingly, but he avoided her eyes. "It was that last summer at Blasted Oak..."

    Then you put a line break--a blank line--and continue with the story. You don't even need it in first person, either, or to continue beyond the start in Past Perfect tense, e.g:

    Ilyas and his brothers had left the party early. The party mood still hung around them as they made their way along the deserted beach.

    "Lights on at the Giffords," said Mack.
    "Thought they left yesterday?"
    "Yeah, they did... Hey look, there's someone by the shed..."

    etc etc.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It's easy to do that when you only have one or two facts to disclose, but I think Nilfiry's problem is more complex than that, as mine was. In my case, I had to explain who my MC really was, how he knew the kinds of things he knew, and setting the stage for him to become a leader. The reader discovers these things at the same time and in the same way as the other characters do, and that was a conscious decision on my part.
     
  12. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^
    See in my book I have a 'leader' (read dictator), and my initial thinking was to describe what happened 30+ years ago, i.e. the coup and its aftermath.

    Now this seemed like a lot of history and in the end I opted to not do that, at all. I reveal bits and pieces as and when they are relevant, and mostly through the eyes of the main characters.

    Someone I know who read the doomed chapter-that-never-was, put it best in just a few words: "People know what a coup is." In other words, there was no need to explain my leader's rise to power.

    Of course there are other ways of doing it. I'd be interested to know what works for other writers. :)
     
  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that it's best anyway to avoid having complex situations 'explained' by one know-it-all character, particularly if it's not the MC. If it's as detailed a disclosure as all that, the drama should have been shown at the setting up of the story, or it should be a story in itself, not thrust into the action later. Otherwise, for a 'guilty secret that needs disclosing' kind of scenario, the method I've suggested is best IMHO.
     
  14. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    I have to say that all that dialogue does not sit well with me either. I am convinced I should not make it so long. Since I can easily break the backstory into two parts, I should be able to disperse the first part into the actual story and just mention the second part in brief at that scene. Then, the other character involved can fill in the rest at a later scene.
     
  15. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you considered inserting bits and pieces of the important info throughout the story prior to this point so that it makes sense without too much exposition on the part of your characters when you get to the critical scene?
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just a reflektion: to me it seems like this is a frequent problem for fantasy writers, because everyone I've heard on here that takes up this problem always seems to write fantasy. Is there a way of givinh the information without an infodump if there is so much crucial information you NEED to have before starting reading? or is it really not that crucial to know everything beforehand as one might think? I have never read fantasy, so I wouldn't know... this was just the thoughts that crossed my mind when reading this thread.
     

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