Sunday, March 7, 2010

Flashbacks in Fiction

I'm having a really hard time incorporating valuable backstory into a plot. Going on a fourth revision, I did a informal poll of my online writing friends.

The vote was unanimously, "Do flashbacks!" followed by a chorus of "But do it well, or else you're writing a mess of Hungarian goulash."

My issues against flashbacks:
1)Fear of reader whiplash
2)Getting displaced too far out of the plot that you need a map to get back to the story
3)Not having a wiggly clue as to how to do them, and do them well.

The pros:
1) No need for a prologue
2) No need to bore the reader into a stupor waiting for the real present story to start.
3) If done well, who cares that it's a flashback?
4) I can drop a lot of the 80 pages or so I originally wrote, and just distill the back history down to a few key scenes

I found some helpful articles about flashbacks:

Writing the Flashback in Fiction
On Flashbacks by James Frey
Writing Techniques: Using Flashbacks to Enhance your Fiction by Plotcafe

A YA example of flashbacks done seamlessly is Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Thanks ElanaJ for the suggestion!). I'm 1/4 the way through, and so far, so good.

I'll give it a try. Can't hurt right? What's another revision, after all?


Dara said...

Flashbacks are difficult! I know I have one or two in my one WiP and my other WiP has a bit more than that...

Thanks for posting the links--I'll have to check those out.

Robyn Campbell said...

Checkin' out those links. I have a couple in my MG novel, but the next one will have more. YIKES!! Thanks for the info.

I'm over from Laura's place. Great blog. =)

Kat Harris said...

It's such a delicate balance. Isn't it?

Writing is only part of a writers job. Revision is the rest of it.

Elana Johnson said...

Awesome linkage! I'm going to pass this post on to a friend who was just talking about flashbacking! Good luck with yours, BTW.

Lydia Kang said...

Thanks guys, and I'm glad you find it helpful. Elana, I put in a shout out for pointing me to Hunger Games!

Anonymous said...

Flashback is definitely difficult to do well, and though I don't plan to add any in my current WiP, these links will definitely help later. Thank you!

And good luck on your novel! *cheers you on*

Anonymous said...

Flashbacks are a great tool. What do you think of setting them apart with italics or something?

Lydia Kang said...

Right now I'm putting flashbacks at the beginning of chapters, so I'm setting them apart and italicizing them.
But some people put whole scenes embedded in the meat of the chapter and make it more seamless, with no italics. And I've seen them in the middle of chapters italicized too so...I guess there are no rules!

Stephanie McGee said...

The biggest thing about flashbacks for me is that there needs to be some sort of instigating moment. A bird call sparks the memory and transitions to the flashback. Or a dream of the past. As long as there's some sort of logical connection between past and present for the memory of the past to be triggered right then I think flashbacks can work.