1. Marya

    Marya New Member

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    Flashbacks and Memories

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Marya, Aug 14, 2017.

    In my new novel my main character is loving the life she has worked very hard to create for herself. She's a survivor of childhood emotional and sexual abuse. I need to use flashbacks and memories to tell the story of how she got to where she is from there. Basically she's seeing how far she's come and how she got there, while also showing how she's making every dream she ever dreamed as child come true.

    So how would I use flashbacks and memories to accomplish that?

    I'm beginning the story in her present, where she is whole and healed and loving her life.
     
  2. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I think the most important thing is that the reader knows whether they are reading present day or flashback. So you could just put the year at the top of each chapter. If you don’t want to specify a year, you could use “present day” and “x years earlier”.

    Doing a flashback during a scene is a bit of a cliché, so you might want to avoid daydreams, dream sequences and the like. I would just separate the past from the present by chapters.
     
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  3. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

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    There must be a plot in the present. Each flashback pertains to a conflict happening in the present and offers a solution based on the past experience. I don't know if you were around when the TV show Kung Fu starring David Carradine was being aired. But that was a classic example of how the MC in the present used advice from his youth while being raised by Shaolin monks. The flashback happened when the MC had a dilemma to solve.
     
  4. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    I agree with Mashers, but think that if she's completely 'whole and healed and loving her life' there isn't going to be much of a story or arc. From the sounds of things, you'd be better off to start with the horrorifying stuff, while she's in it, and then end on 'whole and healed'.
     
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  5. U.S.E.R.

    U.S.E.R. New Member

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    Yeah, I agree with mashers. I would suggest a separate chapter where you could separate all the flashbacks you want. You can use the year technique or you can just refer to the characters in a different way throughout the chapter such as "younger X". I think the coolest, but the most difficult way of doing this is to actually include things or events that the average reader would know about; giving them clues to emerge them in the setting of the past.
     
  6. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Alarm bells are ringing for me. She's "loving live" in the present, and all the conflict is in the past. That means the past isn't backstory, it is the story. Why not show events in chronological order and end it with her loving life?

    Edit: Posted at the same time as them. ^ Great minds. :D
     
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  7. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I somehow glossed over the parts that said life was rosy now. I agree with others that this would be unsatisfying to read, as there needs to be present day conflict which harks back to the past events in the flashbacks. The point of the novel is to see how she resolves those current issues.

    Also, you’re gong to have to work hard to show how she has got to the point where she is in order to avoid appearing flippant over a very serious issue. In other words, I think readers would resent you showing that a victim of child abuse is whole and healed and loving life unless you clearly show what it has taken to get to that point.
     
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  8. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I don't even think that would be satisfying.

    The problem with flashbacks - and why they're so often advised against - is that while we're hopping back into the past, the plot isn't moving forward. The plot should always be moving forward.

    Showing events chronologically is going to be the best idea for 99% of writers. It takes something special to pull off a novel full of flashbacks, and most of us aren't special.
     
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  9. Trish

    Trish Damned if I do and damned if I don't Contributor

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    A million yeses.
     
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  10. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Good point. I hadn't considered the delay that flashbacks would cause in the progression of the present day plot. What would be your opinion of separate flashback chapters which were incredibly short? They would almost function as a prologue to each chapter to provide context. Not sure how that would work though.
     
  11. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    Separate short chapters or a triggering action that spawns a paragraph or two of the struggle internally & what they went through to get past it. Exaple:
    I see how he leers at her. There is no reason a 32 year old man should have that look in his eyes when looking at a girl of that age.
    (break)
    Then a short write up of an incident and getting past (or not) that type of issue.

    Remember that a broken character that is not stitched up correctly is more impactful than a healed character. In my example, that is something you never really get over, you just learn to control it & compartmentalize it in different ways in different situations.
     
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  12. Marya

    Marya New Member

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    Thanks for the advice. And now that I've heard voices outside of my own head, it makes sense to tell her story in chronical order....maybe dividing it into 3 parts.....childhood, adolescence and adulthood where she actually had to deal with the issues that the abuse was causing in her adult life.
     
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  13. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    One prologue is bad enough, but a prologue for each chapter?! :D
     
  14. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I quite like a prologue :p

    Actually this kind of thing isn't unprecedented. I'm reading Foundation at the moment and quite a few of the chapters are prefaced with an excerpt from the Encyclopaedia Galactica to provide context for the upcoming chapter. David Brin did it in Existence too, with extracts from Pandora's Cornucopia (a fictitious book detailing ways in which life on Earth might come to an end). I think in these examples it works quite well, but then I'm a fan of slow burn and don't mind deviating to side plots, epi-books and such.
     
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  15. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    It's certainly been done before. I think nearly all flashbacks and dream sequences should be killed with fire, and I'm not alone.
     
  16. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Edit - just realised this might have sounded insensitive
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2017
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  17. GuardianWynn

    GuardianWynn Contributor Contributor

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    My first book tried using this style. Let's say that it is tricky lol.

    Dividing it into a three part story might not be a good idea either.

    The trick is if the story is about her overcoming what she did in the past and succeeds that is an end. If the next part has its own challenge that makes these more like seperate book ideas.

    Yet it sounded like you think the information from the first story(childhood) is needed for the story you really want to tell? Is this true?

    From the context it sounds more you like you just have a lot of ideas and you want to show them all. Thus flashbacks are info dumps. Which if that is the case probably isn't a good way to show it.

    This is a great example but TV doesn't quite translate well to books. In a TV series this technique is fine and dandy but in books it is a hair line wire that is tough to walk on.

    I actually disagree here. Granted the post doesn't state what the books conflict is. But having made it to the happy ever after and trying to hold on to it as the memories of her shockingly sucky past flood her mind. That sounds super interesting to me.

    Though back the opening topic.

    The real question to ask is if flashbacks are currently needed in your idea or if they are rather a short cut to allow you to add the detail you want to add. If it is the latter it is a bad idea. But I am all for any idea that makes sense and is interesting.

    The real trick to flashbacks is that yeah, they make the story feel like they are on pause most of the time. Which is a really hard problem to avoid. It is essentially like telling two stories at the same time that connect and hoping your reader likes both and isn't mad when you switch as many times as you switch. Tough job for sure.

    I certainly failed. Hence me thinking about re-writing it from chronological order. But that is no good too. It isn't a biography in my case and showing all the parts just don't work either. Which makes me think the flashback style is good for my story. But boy am I not good enough yet to pull it off. One day, one day.

    Best of luck :D
     
  18. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    I like flashbacks and multiple timelines, but they're tricky. Each timeline needs a plot arc, AND they have to work together to provide a cohesive sense of momentum. If chronological works best, then do that. If you want to tell a braided narrative in multiple timelines, I would HIGHLY recommend reading Nicola Griffith's Slow River as example of how to do that well (It's light sci-fi - but it's primarily about surviving abuse). Anyway, that one is told in three timelines - Childhood, Young Adulthood, Adulthood. It works because the three timelines all have plots and building tension, and because they are lined up such that they build on and inform eachother - basically each one is both a plot in itself AND the backstory of the others.
     
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