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Flashbacks

MatterSack

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How do you guys feel about narratives that have flashbacks interspersed throughout?

My protagonist gets embroiled in a number of events that are important to both her character and the beginning of the plot, but telling them in chronological sequence is difficult; they're far too spaced out and episodic to flow well, and trying to bridge the gaps just seem forced. I decided that the best way to include them might be as standalone flashback sequences, which would have the added benefit of allowing the narrative to start off more in medias res.

I know that flashbacks are highly discouraged for first-time novelists though. What do the members of this forum think?
 

Brian G Turner

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I'm sure I've read novels with flashbacks in - so the problem wouldn't be using them as much as how they are used. If they end up acting like long infodumps then someone might reasonably ask whether they're an integral part of the story after all.

2c.
 

MatterSack

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Basically, flashing back to a major period of change in the protagonist's life that precedes later plot points and gives invaluable insight into her psyche and history. That's why I initially wanted to start the novel with it, but because the events that take place are spaced out over time, I'm finding it extremely difficult to make it flow in chronological order.
 

The Judge

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As ever with these things, it isn't the concept which makes or breaks a story, but the way it's carried out.

I'm perfectly happy with the idea of flashbacks, but how you set them into the present day story might be a problem. Having your character continually falling into reverie or having dreams/nightmares about the past is going to get a little boring, as well as unrealistic.

I read a fantasy novel last year where every present day chapter alternated with one from the main character's past, leading up chronologically to the time when the novel started. To me it didn't work, but simply because it went on too long and had too much backstory which wasn't important enough to justify its place. I think if it had been tighter and used only for information which was needed to understand the present it would have been fine -- which sounds more or less what you were planning.

One problem with that, though, is making it clear the incidents are in the past -- so using dates/years as chapter sub-titles might be an idea. One technique I've tried in a fantasy was having short (only a few hundred words) flashbacks written in first person which made them stand out from the third person present day chapters.
 

Martin Gill

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flashing back to a major period of change in the protagonist's life that precedes later plot points and gives invaluable insight into her psyche and history
That's how Lies of Locke Lamora plays out isn't it? Its a while since I read it but I'm sure that intersperses Locke and Jean's childhood and training with current events.

One option would be to tell 2 parallel stories. Rather than individual point in time, unlinked flashbacks, if you were telling the story of the past and the current in lock step that could be interesting. You would need to plan out the ah-ha moments well, but I like the concept that you as a reader find out about something that happened in the past as it is influencing the current story, as it were. Ah, that's why he's only got one eye, or some such...
 

allmywires

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Like TJ said - it all depends on how you carry it out.

My first novel interweaved past and present with date subheaders to make it clear what was happening when. Not everyone is a fan of the style - you'd probably find it a hard sell to agents if its particularly complex - but done well I really think it adds to the pace and drama of a novel.
 

Phyrebrat

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I'd just write it with the flashbacks not as flashbacks but part of the structural integrity. By that I mean slice up the past stories and have them running concurrently.

As long as it's clear they're different periods - which I think is easy to achieve - there shouldn't be a problem.

pH
 
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