Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Thank You and Flashbacks

First off, I want to thank all of you that downloaded my books last week from Smashwords. This was a once a year event where all five of my thrillers and novels were free. Over 100 were downloaded and I appreciate it very much. I hope you enjoy Sharon’s adventures and spending a summer in 1956 with Howie Smith. All I ask is that you take a minute or two and write a review and post it on Smashwords. It’s simple; go to the specific page for the book and scroll down a bit. Under Review click the “Write a Review” and there you are. Simple and thanks for your support.

A Serious Flashback
In one of my LinkedIn groups we have been discussing flashbacks, when to do them, how to do them, and other bits such as length, tense, and even format. Almost every novel, of length, requires context and an inevitable flashback or two sneaks in. Something has always gone on before and impacts the story’s present context. There was a murder, now find the murderer. There was a famine, but the story is really about the effects of starvation. Context.

A successful flashback does a number of things. Provides backstory, provides pertinent information, and possibly introduces characters (living and even dead). The dead can’t speak for themselves, except in a flashback.

“Once Upon a Time” is the grand-daddy of flashbacks, but often the story/fable stays there, so it’s not really a true flashback. A true flashback is a jump backward in time during the course of the story; things are said, deeds done, mysteries started – then jumps back to the present time of the story. It is information. What is critical is that you do not bore the reader.When it's not pertinent - it's boring and often trite.

In Michael Connelly’s new work, The Black Box, he starts in L.A. during the riots of 1992, he tells a complete scene, with dialog and action. It is titled, Snow White, 1992, and is presented as a prologue (hated amongst many editors and agents, why I’m not sure), so when is a prologue not a flashback, well, when it’s not. Someday I’ll deal with prologues – limited time today.

The key to a successful flashback (that doesn’t mess too much with the reader), is to properly identify the flashback as what it is, such as “Baghdad, June, 2005”, or some date/time prior to the current story. By their nature they occurred in the past and are relevant to the story in the present. Be careful when they drone on and on in a narrative form, it is too easy to sound like a lecturer. And set it up so that it doesn’t come across as "I have a secret", i.e. “And Bob wanted to make sure that Mary didn’t know about his past with Jean . . . . (seven pages) . . . and his three children they lost in the fire.” It can be distracting, that is unless Bob started the fire.

In my stories I have Sharon O’Mara moving back and forth in time (the present, then Iraq, then present, and so on), not through “I remember,” but in specific chapters that are five years earlier, and through the course of the book I have the reader jump back and forth from past to present and then back – all tied together at the end, in the present. I think it works. I tell two parallel and reflective stories and show relevance and context. And it’s fun. But I also date these passages and when I come back to the present I make sure they are properly titled as well.

Time travel, backward and forward, is as old as storytelling. Science fiction is often about flash-forwards, historical novels rely on flashbacks for context, and romance uses flashbacks to setup everything from true love found to revenge. Just remember to treat your reader kindly, try not to confuse them or bore them. The past is prologue, ... ouch.

More Later . . . . . .

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