Flashbacks and narrative voice shifts

.matthew.

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So, I'm nearly done with the first edit pass on a novella I've been working on, mostly just toning down the flowery language that left my beta reader a bit miffed.

Being a short story I chose to have the background details of how they ended up at this point in short flashback scenes between chapters. This way I could show how the friendships were built, throw in a little magic system stuff that the characters would already know by the time of the main thread, and show the event that motivates their present behaviour. Technically the story works without them, and I'm not a fan of the flashback in general but I want to keep them in if possible.

The main piece is told in first person and I did the same for the flashbacks, but used them to explore other POVs (rather than the sole protagonist in the story). Reading through them in the editing feels there's something not quite right with some of them (not all, there's one I really like). I'm not sure whether to change the flashbacks to third person to make it more clear and to separate them from the present story.

Anyone with experience of flashbacks that'd care to share?
 

ckatt

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Can't say I have credible expirance with flashbacks but I've wrestled with them a lot. I think it's best to separate them more. if the POV character is different you will probably have readers who don't clue in. Not everyone reads with a 100% focus, so a change in time and character could throw something if it's in the same 1st person pov . 3rd person would be a clear and constant reminder that the character is different. That said I haven't read what you wrote so it may work fine if there is something else that makes this constantly clear. Like a voice so distinct that no one even notices that the POV is the same.
Also I'm sorry to hear that the flowery language is getting that axe. Some people see it as a crutch for weak ideas but I see it as the opposite. That you need to have ideas strong enough to support flowery language. But I'm biased. I have a poetry license
 

tinkerdan

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One of the biggest problems with flashbacks is being sure the reader recognizes them for what they are while not being too overt.
Usually you see the tense change momentarily to past perfect at the beginning of a new paragraph for one sentence or possibly two and then switch back to past simple tense you are using for the story; unless you are doing present tense, in which case for the flashback you'd just go into the momentary past perfect and then simple past tense.
Then when you leave the flashback you again have a momentary past perfect and back into the story with the story's tense or simple past.

In a short story, you might want to make these excursions as short as possible, because you don't want to sidetrack the reader too much.
 
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ctg

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Flashbacks can be a problem, but it shouldn't be, if you are doing it through character narrative. The story is yours, but the way I do flashes is to tie them thightly into the story. In the First Interview I used short flash stories to deepen the whole narrative. Jane tells these to stories to Henrik, but they are all tied together in longer narrative. Essentially you are flashing back and forward. To History and then back to Present.

In the long chain, you have created a long narrative, and you have a draft that you can work with by doing rewrites. So, essentially what I did in the First Interview is a ballgame, where other other catch the story or overtakes, but at the background, in the present moment a big event dominates the whole thing. If you read enough, and practice with your stories, you'll essentially becomes writers and the struggle with the flashes disappears. You will create cohesive stories that makes sense, but if you might still struggle with the rewrites.

The thing with them is that you figure out better ways, and your muse will lead to another developments. Sometimes if you let your muse to dominate, you end up with 200k stories that are just too long. It's like you're rambling. I know from experience that we write better stories more we practice our art. And part of that art, or you being an author is to develop your style.

So, with the flashes you have to decide which voice you are going to use, the narrator or the character. If you write close third POV, you are better with the narrator than with the character, but if you are writing first, the character should be dominating and the narrator stays at the background to develop the events. With the third you have additional option by shifting between omniscient and close third. Sometimes that border is very illusive and the chances are you end up pov-shifting.

I try my best to not let that lose, because you end up writing very fast flashes, where you shift the pov in every sentence or in every paragraph. I know that it looks good, but the reader will get confused... if they don't have your imagination. So, when you write flashes, let the muse lead you and let the narrator to develop the story where the characters are on the dominating position. Let those flashes be a part of cohesive story that flows nicely and doesn't tackle on the way.
 
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.matthew.

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Thanks for the replies so far.

3rd person would be a clear and constant reminder that the character is different
Yea, that's what I'm leaning towards at the moment. I think the POVs are clear(ish) in that the voices of the characters are different, but I'm thinking that along with a certain confusion I'm not doing the internal voice of the female character justice and could do better with third person.

Also I'm sorry to hear that the flowery language is getting that axe. Some people see it as a crutch for weak ideas but I see it as the opposite. That you need to have ideas strong enough to support flowery language. But I'm biased. I have a poetry license
Me too. I couldn't argue with the points made though. The main POV was essentially raised from the peasant classes when his abilities began to manifest and while he could read and write, my beta reader felt that the language used better suited his aristocratic partner. That and it being told in first person meant that my narrative voice was overwhelming his 'natural' personality.

In a short story, you might want to make these excursions as short as possible, because you don't want to sidetrack the reader too much.

That's what I've tried to do. So far all but one hit around the five hundred word mark, and they are separated from the story as individual chapters between each of the main ones. They follow their own chronology so the first deals with their early days, while the last the events that began the main story before the main conclusion.
 

.matthew.

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So, with the flashes you have to decide which voice you are going to use, the narrator or the character. If you write close third POV, you are better with the narrator than with the character, but if you are writing first, the character should be dominating and the narrator stays at the background to develop the events. With the third you have additional option by shifting between omniscient and close third. Sometimes that border is very illusive and the chances are you end up pov-shifting.

Yup, that's my issue at the moment. The main is more or less done but the flashbacks only about half so. The final one before the main conclusion works well, giving a first person view of the character death that started the whole journey. The others just don't have the same impact. They tell the story of that character (from several POVs) and helps explain the relationships between him and the main protagonist and his partner, how he was the one who brought them together despite each others prejudices etc, but the others just seem to not mesh all that well. I suppose I could scrap the rest and do them all from his POV, either in first person or third. That might allow me to throw in a little more worldbuilding into the plot background, but it then loses the secondary character's backstory and development.

I feel I have too much to add, enough to add an entire first half to the story. That isn't happening though, I wanted to write a novella that focused on getting straight to business - and actually get a project finished for once :)
 
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