1. HollyWriter
    Offline

    HollyWriter New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ

    Using Flashbacks for Plot Development???

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by HollyWriter, Feb 20, 2012.

    I know that flashbacks are mostly taboo in fiction. They should be used sparingly and only if they drive the plot, not as an information dump or because the writer is too lazy or doesn't know how to build the backstory into the main plot. I've written 9 books and I can count on one hand the number of times I have used a flashback. By the way, I used to write genre fiction, mostly women's fiction and romance. When I started my new manuscript, which is more literary than genre, I decided to chuck the traditional publishing "rules" and go indie. The thing is, I realize that while many of the genre rules are arbitrary, a lot of them are necessary and created by people who know what they are talking about. Is the flashback taboo one of those "necessary" rules?

    When I started my new manuscript I realized that my character's backstory is part of the actual story. Showing the reader the aspects of her past, rather than just alluding to it, is essential to the development of the plot. But since her backstory starts when she is 19, I did not want to start the story there and go through the next 15 years of her life. And so, the story picks up when she is on a vacation in a foreign country. We don't know why she is there, just that she is desperate and searching. Then the rest of the story ping-pongs back and forth between the current, present day scenario where she is trying to find respite in this foreign country, and the past, where a series of events leads her to a nervous breakdown. The breakdown will never be expressed in the story, but the past and the present both pivot around this event. There are essentially two story arcs, and the things we learn about her past answer questions we have about her present journey and the reason she does the things she does. As the story goes on, the two arcs will get closer and closer together and it will become apparent that she takes the same journey twice, but with different results. So I'm not sure if these really count as flashbacks, since it isn't the character thinking back to it. We are actually there with her in the past.

    The book is also arranged so that each chapter is split into two sections: present and past. Each section has the same central theme, representing her parallel journeys. The chapters are also named according to that theme.

    So, what do you guys think? Am I dooming this book to failure before it even gets off the ground? Or could this actually work?
     
  2. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    If she is a pov character, I think it would be really difficult to justify "hiding" any relevant info from the reader. People think about their past all the time, especially important events which might drive what we are doing at the moment.
    It is really hard to answer your question not having read the story, but really, flashbacks have only one rule - they have to be well written and well placed. Pretty much like anything else. There's no other flashback "taboo" imo.
     
  3. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    There's nothing wrong with flashbacks, even if you use a lot of them, but the key is to write them just as well as you would write something in current time. All the basic rules, like "show not tell," giving information naturally rather than in huge diatribes, etc. still applies when you're in a flashback. I've edited some stuff where people think it's okay to go into infodump mode just because it's a flashback, which isn't the best way to do it. Make the scene just as vivid and well-written as though it were "real."
     
  4. HollyWriter
    Offline

    HollyWriter New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    Thank you for the responses. I think I sometimes get so caught up in the "rules" that it impedes the creative process. A good friend once told me to just write the story that wants to be written and worry about the details later. Then again, when half my story is told through flashbacks, that is a HUGE detail to go back and fix.

    I think I have done a pretty good job keeping a strong voice in the flashback sequences. I put the reader right there in the story. The format helps me do that, since I'm not flashing back in the middle of a scene. And she doesn't think directly about the past, but she has inner monologues about the pain of the past and "all that happened." Part of her character arc is learning to acknowledge the things that happened to her. The flashbacks aren't the result of her thinking about her past. I'm actually pulling the reader out of the story to take them into the past and see for themselves what happened to her (but it all is mainly from her POV). At the same time the reader is learning more and more about the character's past, the character is learning to accept it and acknowledge it in the present.

    For example, she was date raped at 19. When we are in the past, she is faced with the opportunity to confront it and to say outloud what happened to her, but she chooses not to and this sends her further into a downward spiral. In that same chapter, when we are in the present, she admits for the first time that she was raped and her healing begins.

    I just worry that flipping back and forth between the past and the present messes up the flow and momentum of the story. I've read books that have used this technique, and I found myself having to go back and reread to refresh my memory on where we last left off in this part of the storyline. On the positive side, this technique leaves a ton of cliffhangers that kept me wanting to read more. I guess it's one of those things that has to be done very very well to pull it off...ugh :p

    Thanks again for the responses...you've given me some good advice to ponder as I move forward :)
     
  5. TH3T4
    Offline

    TH3T4 New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2011
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    I generally dont think of writing as having rules, even in another forum post i read the title, it said "How correct do my facts have to be in a period set story" and all i could think was 'why do they have to be correct at all'
     
  6. Gonissa
    Offline

    Gonissa Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2012
    Messages:
    264
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Ghost Tower
    There are rules to writing, but generally they are rules of taste rather than iron clad rules. They have to be correct enough to entertain your audience and not be a glaring distraction. Basically, if your readers like it or don't really notice it, you can get away with it.
     
  7. riggbren
    Offline

    riggbren Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2012
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    0
    I agree with what others have said. They are possible, but must be well written.
     

Share This Page