1. Zorg
    Offline

    Zorg Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2016
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    Sonora, CA

    Working with Flashbacks

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Zorg, Aug 14, 2016.

    Does anyone have an issue with flashbacks? If so, what is it? I've had two writers group meetings and several postings on other forums and the response to my work is somewhat puzzling. I don't think it's the flashback scene in general that is confusing and it is written in a manner where it's obvious it's past tense. Are people just hung up on linear storytelling or (apologies for the following) is the transition from past tense to present tense too much work for the mind to absorb?
     
    cydney likes this.
  2. Spencer1990
    Offline

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2016
    Messages:
    927
    Likes Received:
    1,054
    What I've noticed in writers groups is that people tend to parrot information they've heard from other places. The problem is that often, those people don't exactly know why they are parroting that information. I've seen this A LOT in creative writing courses and workshop groups.

    If done well, I don't think there would be any issue from a flashback scene. As long as the information provided by the flashback is pertinent to the overall story. The problem is that you're the only one who knows whether or not that's the case.

    If the issue is just the transition between tenses, trust your gut. If you've read it, and it makes sense, then roll with it. Write the way you want. It can be crippling to a writer to have endless arbitrary rules thrown at you and the majority of those rules come in classes and workshop groups.

    Not that I'm an expert writer (far from), but I'd be more than happy to read over the transition and tell you what I think about it. Feel free to PM me if you'd like.
     
    Oscar Leigh and Zorg like this.
  3. Zorg
    Offline

    Zorg Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2016
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    Sonora, CA
    Thanks Spencer. Jesus, it was making me crazy. I wish I could accurately describe the looks on faces when I explained "this is part of why the character made this decision." You do have a point about parroting information, particularly "not knowing why" aspect of it, which I experienced this morning. They mean well (I assume) but I think they're firmly ensconced in a "this is how it's supposed to be" approach. Anyways, thanks and I'll try to get a PM to you shortly.
     
    Spencer1990 likes this.
  4. Spencer1990
    Offline

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2016
    Messages:
    927
    Likes Received:
    1,054
    They definitely do mean well. What I've noticed in crit groups is that there is quite a lot of pressure to offer the person being critiqued relevant feedback. They want to give the writer something to ponder (a very good thing). It just so happens that sometimes someone sees a flashback scene and is immediately reminded of something they'd heard about how flashback scenes are bad form (or whatever the case may be). Then, in an attempt to offer good feedback for you, they jump on that piece of information without critically evaluating your particular case.

    It's rarely out of malice, but as writers, we have to be able to evaluate the constant flow of feedback coming into our brains. I've been overwhelmed and ultimately crippled by "show don't tell" rule. When I just started out, I was convinced I'd never write anything good because I was convinced I had to show EVERYTHING. Once I got over that little hurdle, I was able to produce again.
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  5. sahlmi
    Offline

    sahlmi Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2016
    Messages:
    161
    Likes Received:
    64
    They're perfectly fine and all over classic and modern fiction pages. Just like prologs, they got a bad rep after being done so badly so many times: irrelevance for flashbacks and an excuse for boring settings and setups for prologs. Avoid the "expected badness" and you're okay. People read too many "don't/never" articles, take them too literally, then jump on the "in the know" bandwagon.
    I don't feel either should be any more "well done" than any other part of your fiction (meaning everything should be well done or the best one can make it).
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2016
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  6. Lifeline
    Online

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,399
    Likes Received:
    1,551
    Location:
    UK - the place betwixt and between
    Ask yourself: Is the information presented critical to the story? Is it critical to present it NOW - at this point in the story? Is the presentation clear and sharp, is the reader able to distinguish that it is a flashback?

    If yes, good. If no, decide what to do. I'd add, that I am not fond of flashbacks that last for more than a few sentences. My personal memory doesn't work that way either - When I am getting a 'flashback' it really is that - a FLASH, gone quickly. A particular moment in time, or a sentence, my brain doesn't wax on for two pages when such a thing happens. So I keep it short in my writing.

    EDIT: There is a distinction between flashbacks, and flashback-scenes. I am talking about the former.
     
  7. Oscar Leigh
    Offline

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2016
    Messages:
    4,425
    Likes Received:
    1,982
    Location:
    Australia
    Most flashbacks I think are at least partially not-literal. Many are not experienced by anyone and some that are are more elaborate than the realization contained actually is. They're for the audience, to get a more in-depth and exciting look at background information rather than boring long expository monologues. Which is where we come to the OP. Can you put this information out in a series of comment or storyline hints? Or do you need it all in one place? Because a large amount of information in one point is the purpose of flashbacks, but if you can break it out then you probably should. Unless there's a in-story or stylistic reason of course (e.g. it's about two time periods or there's a memory theme) And the spread and length of flashbacks can vary too.
     
  8. Lifeline
    Online

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,399
    Likes Received:
    1,551
    Location:
    UK - the place betwixt and between
    Disclaimer: the following is my own opinion and needn't be anyone else's.

    I write flashbacks (i.e. short bursts) as I would experience them.

    You are talking about 'Flashback-scenes' Oscar, which is something I'd never do, not even in a dream-sequence. But then I have never needed to provide large chunks of backstory information at one time, so I don't know how I would deal with that. And yes, I have a real complicated backstory in my WIP which is vitally pertinent to the storyline, so it certainly is possible to include this backlog of information without interrupting storyflow. And before you ask, I don't write long expository monologues either. ;)

    The reason I don't include flashback-scenes: They jerk the reader out of the narrative in a major way. When I read a book I tend to skip over such stuff which goes on for more than a page, because I want to read the story NOW. And if I don't want to stay in the NOW, the author isn't writing good. I admit, that is a cynical outlook.
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  9. Spencer1990
    Offline

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2016
    Messages:
    927
    Likes Received:
    1,054
    @Lifeline I recently put down David Duchovny's Bucky F*cking Dent for this exact reason. There was two multiple-page-long dream/flashback scenes that totally took me out of the story. Not only that but they were ENTIRELY in italics (just irritating). I gave the book a chance through the first one, but the second one is where I ended my attempt at reading the book. Obviously Duchovny isn't a canonized writer, but the book came on high recommendation from a close friend. I tried to like it, really tried, but that too-long flashback scene just completely killed the book for me.
     
    jannert and Lifeline like this.
  10. Lifeline
    Online

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,399
    Likes Received:
    1,551
    Location:
    UK - the place betwixt and between
    It really is something of the same problem changing POV causes. If not done well a POV change also jerks the reader out, but changing POVs sometimes cannot be avoided. Flashback-scenes can.

    In my very personal opinion, a flashback-scene can be either one of two things:

    a) If done well, it can provide a second storyline-arc in the past, much like having another POV. This surmises that flashback-scenes get inserted regularly, again, much like just another POV. But this degree of skill of the author is rare, in fact I can't remember reading such a book - though I surely have, else I couldn't talk about it ;)

    b) This one flashback-scene just sits there and interrupts what I want to read now. I skip over it. If the information in there is not important I CAN skip it, and missing truly vital information is rare. Most information I can find on my own, without reading these scene, from bits and dribbles in the rest of the story. So the flashback-scene really was not necessary, yes? Again, a good reason to skip.
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  11. Oscar Leigh
    Offline

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2016
    Messages:
    4,425
    Likes Received:
    1,982
    Location:
    Australia
    I guess. But me personally I don't really care if it's one flashback scene. I just care if it's good content and well-written. I don't really mind about essential because I'm there to enjoy the content not get some minimum information analysis.
     
    sahlmi, Lifeline and Spencer1990 like this.
  12. Lifeline
    Online

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    1,399
    Likes Received:
    1,551
    Location:
    UK - the place betwixt and between
    You called me on it! Man, am I warped by my WIP! :D

    Thanks for the hint, Oscar .. should I hug you or place you on my hit-list? You are much too smart for your own good! :twisted:
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  13. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    This confuses me a little, because I wouldn't normally expect a flashback to change tense.
     
  14. Oscar Leigh
    Offline

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2016
    Messages:
    4,425
    Likes Received:
    1,982
    Location:
    Australia
    I've seen it both ways.
     
  15. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,793
    Likes Received:
    7,313
    Location:
    Scotland
    I do wish designers would come up with an alternative font trick that's easier to read than italics but serves the same purpose. Italics are great for indicating changes, but you're right. They are damn hard to read for more than a paragraph or so.

    The only way around this is to present a long flashback in the same font as the rest of your story, but indicate in some unmistakeable way that it's a flashback. That's not easy. And as you pointed out, if it yanks you out of the story, that's not good either.

    I'd say a good long flashback should come at a time when the reader is curious about what's happening. Why is he acting so strange? Or: What on earth are they talking about? They obviously both know something the rest of us don't. Taking that approach to a long flashback should enhance the story for the reader, not yank him out of it.
     
    Oscar Leigh and Spencer1990 like this.
  16. Spencer1990
    Offline

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2016
    Messages:
    927
    Likes Received:
    1,054
    I think it double sucked in Duchnovy's book because he seems to have a talent for reiterating himself. The whole scene was a highlight to the strained relationship between protagonist and protag's father. A fact by which I was already gratuitously beaten over the head. In this particular book, the flashback was nothing more than a self-indulgent tissy composed mostly of fragmented sentences.

    I was disappointed because, like others participating in this conversation, sometimes I enjoy a brief meander through certain parts of a book. But this one was icing on the bad writing cake. I should have known given Duchnovy's lackluster performances in the shows in which he's acted (Californication: exempt).

    And now this has turned into a rant regarding my strenuous relationship with Mr. Duchovny. (I blame you for getting me started @Lifeline o_O)

    To get back to the point, you're right @jannert, there should be a good place for the stopping point. Right in the middle of a/n (somewhat, in this case) interesting scene, is just bad form. I think it was supposed to build a bit of tension in a limp plot, but it just made me put the book down in favor of another.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2016
    Oscar Leigh, jannert and Lifeline like this.
  17. Nightstar99
    Offline

    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2013
    Messages:
    259
    Likes Received:
    136
    My only contribution to this is that flashback scenes can sometimes be a bit dull because you feel like you are reading something that isn't immediately pertinent to the story.
     
  18. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,231
    Likes Received:
    1,511
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    Flashbacks do a job: they shed light on current story events.

    Why is the POV character reacting the way s/he is to what's going on? Flashback. There we go; now we understand.

    How is the POV character likely to solve the current problem? Flashback. Now we know how s/he thinks in terms of solutions.

    The trick is, once you've shed that light, get back to the 'present' ASAP.
     
    sahlmi and Oscar Leigh like this.
  19. JLT
    Offline

    JLT Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2016
    Messages:
    248
    Likes Received:
    212
    A friend of mine wrote a novel that used either flashbacks or some sort of parallel universe thing (I can't remember offhand), and her solution was to use a different typeface for the flashback sequences. Problem solved? No, because her publisher used two typefaces that resembled each other enough to cause massive confusion to the reader. She didn't know about it until the novel came out. Just a cautionary tale here.
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  20. deadrats
    Offline

    deadrats Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    634
    Likes Received:
    292
    I have had issues with flashbacks. It's something I have to continue to work on and remind myself to be aware of. My main problem is that I can stay in a flashback too long. It took awhile for me to figure it out. It actually wasn't until I wrote something that didn't do that that I realized I had a problem. Sure, I had received feedback maybe similar to what you're getting. No one flat out told me my flashbacks were too long, but something was off and it was being picked up on.

    However, I often wonder about and work on stories that don't stick to the present narrative. Of course, it can be done, but it is really tricky.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2016
    Oscar Leigh likes this.

Share This Page