1. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    The flashback: How much is too much?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nicholas C., Feb 18, 2012.

    I have a novel in progress where there is currently about three chapters of flashback material. Now, one of those chapters could very well be moved to the opening chapter, as I feel it's strong enough. However, the other two I'm pretty much stuck with. This isn't much in terms of volume - maybe 6,000 words or so - but I'm concerned about the reader getting thrown off the horse so to speak, as the main story is much more engaging and fast-paced.

    Also, how soon is too soon to insert a flashback of this length, in your opinion?
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have to make all these decisions because you know the material, but from what I've learned, the reader is interested in the here and now, the present action. Past is static, unchangeable, and in that sense will keep the story still, snap the reader out of the "zone". That's why, I try to have my flashbacks either as entire subplots, or to dose them very carefully, a paragraph or two at a time and only after we already know and care about the characters.
     
  3. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Yes. Flash backs need not be of the 'wavy line' variety. You know what I mean. Make flash backs into retrospective prose in the mind of the character. Have them relate to the here and now of the story. Lace conversations and descriptive passages with clues. The reader doesn't need to know most of the stuff a full flash back would reveal. Hollywood's pandering has really had a serious toll on story telling. I feel it in my own work as well, such that I must force myself off that path even as I am drawn onto it.

    In one of the latter books of the 'Watch' series, perhaps even 'Final Watch', there's a lengthy flashback about an ancient battle. Now, it was very exciting but I had to fight the urge to skim through it until the 'italics ended', ie, when the story returned to the present. It was enough to me to know that a huge battle had occurred that everybody (if I remember correctly, because I did in fact skim most of it) was now trapped as huge stones, weathered by time. And besides, the character speaking recalled the event with a clarity that seemed impossible.
     
  4. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think flashbacks can be good. Make it interesting and you can make it work. The "have a character refer to the past" technique works in some cases, and in other cases feels tenuous to get through. Some stuff can be told, other stuff needs to be shown via flashback. You'll have to decide for yourself which your story requires.
     
  5. 1000screams
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    1000screams Member

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    If you're saying your "stuck with them" then you should probably remove them and see if it works without them. If I'm feeling negative about a scene or a section then I usually know that's cause it sucks and should either be reworked or removed.

    There is no too soon or too late to put in flashbacks. Either it works or it doesn't. Either it gives us information we need to continue the story moving forward, or it's telling us stuff we don't really need to know.

    However, I'd say leave them in until after you're done then figure out what to do with them during editing.
     

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