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Jul 21, 2010

Flashbacks



Right around chapter three, I succumbed to the uncontrollable urge to insert flashbacks into my wip. Four of 'em. About 300 words each, italicized.

I decided to make my hero, if not actually an anti-hero, at least conflicted. To wit, he's working as a snitch for the tyrants, and then agrees to their scheme to pretend to be the predestined liberator of the slaves, so as to expose and deliver any potential rebels to their oppressors. Since this is less than laudable, I wanted to show the reader how he came to do this, and how he justifies it.

It's possible I didn't need to use flashbacks. I think they work. I actually prefer to have a scene that shows us the past as if it is unfolding now rather than read dreary paragraphs of "he had thought" "he had said," etc. If it were a tv show, it would be the piece where suddenly the film turns a slightly different hue. I love those scenes. If integrated right, they add a richness to the storyline.

In a sense, they aren't flashbacks so much as an independent chronology. This is a much stronger feature of my Dindi books, which each has several different interwoven chronologies. For this WIP, I don't plan to employ multiple chronologies much -- they will probably only appear in this chapter.

6 comments:

Davin Malasarn said...

I worked very hard to avoid flashbacks in my writing, totally buying into the idea that they broke the flow of the fiction. Then, one day, a friend said to me that she loved flashbacks in books. Since then, I've been much more welcoming to them. In my novel Rooster, I let flashbacks in, and they became half the book, forming that second timeline, like you describe in your work.

Tara Maya said...

There are two kinds of flashbacks which give all flashbacks a bad name.

One - the novel opens with some dull scene, waking up or on a plane, and immediately uses past perfect to convey backstory.

Two - in the middle of the story, a chapter ends with a cliffhanger, then, inexplicably jumps to the character already safe and sound. The escape from the cliffhanger is then related in the past perfect tense.

Basically, I don't think it's flashbacks people hate, it's the past perfect tense!

Not all stories are best told chronologically.

Ban said...

I'm all for flashbacks - I love getting as much information about a character as possible and yeah, I love it when the screen turns a different hue ;)

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I really agree with you on the past-perfect tense. I have a few of those paragraphs in Cinders, but they're just part of the normal flow of the story as the character remembers a brief moment in the past. I think they work. But as far as flashbacks go, I've got several in Cinders, and they are long. I've done them how you are doing them - in italics in the same tense as the rest of the book. It works for this one.

For Monarch, it has been a pain. I've finally gone with no italics and just transitioning into the memory of the character, using the same tense as the rest of the story.

Either way, I've had to be very careful, and it has taken a lot of work to get things to flow right. For Monarch, I ended up taking out the flashbacks (you remember the jungle scenes?) out altogether, and then I put them back in several drafts later. That book has been such a pain. Amazing what some drafts teach us, huh?

Good luck with yours! I liked your excerpt from your other post. Really interesting, and great descriptions!

Tara Maya said...

Past-perfect is fine in small doses. It shouldn't go on for more than a paragraph or so at a time. Usually one line or two is plenty. If one had to write more than a page in past perfect, I'd definitely suggest using a different technique.

I don't think italics should be used for scenes longer than a page. These flashbacks were no more than 300 words each, so I decided it would be more distracting to break for a new scene each time than just use italics. Depends on the work.

I loved the jungle flashbacks in Monarch, so I hope you leave them in, ultimately. I was thinking of Monarch, actually, when I wrote this post. I think that is definitely an instance where you are weaving together two story lines that are not chronological.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

See, that's what everyone said! They all loved the jungle flashbacks! But I took them out because I was convinced flashbacks in any form just suck. I've since changed my mind. :)

Yeah, the flashbacks in italics for Cinders are pretty short. The longest one is probably only 150 - 200 words. I'd have to check.