Monday, January 28, 2013

Flashbacks Can Be Hard On A Story

Well, the book I was going to review today wasn't one I liked.  It had a great story idea, and I did like the main character, but I had a hard time with how the author chose to tell the story.

It started out with a bang, an event that affected everyone and was quite chilling, actually.  But then the second chapter skipped ahead several years and we didn't get to see the immediate aftermath, we saw very different people that hadn't coped with the event well.  We did see some of the immediate aftermath through flashbacks, a lot of flashbacks, but it really started to drag the story down.  It was like, we would finally be pulled into the story, and then there would be another flashback to pull us out and we would have to start all over again getting into the story.

Which brings me to my point today.  Flashbacks are very hard to do well.  It can take a reader out of the story, it can get overly long, it can be overdone.  I think in this case the author would have been better served to show the immediate aftermath in the succeeding chapters instead of skipping ahead and then doing it in flashbacks.  Don't get lazy in your writing and resort to just telling the story through flashbacks.  Really show the story and draw your readers in.

Flashbacks are generally easy to do, but hard to do well.  Carefully consider why you're using them and if they really serve your story before you put them in.


Jennie Bennett said...

I seriously read a book that was like this the other day and it really made me mad. The story would have been much better if 3/4 of the flashbacks were taken out!

Unknown said...

I am so linear that flashbacks scramble my brain--whether reading or writing them. I have a tendency to front-load, which is pretty amateurish, but hey, we all have our challenges.

Debra Erfert said...

I dislike flashbacks. When I needed to have a character "relive" a past event, I had her tell another character about it, so the scene stayed in the present yet the reader found out about a very important piece of a puzzle.

Tell me, did you finish the book?

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

J.A. you and I are *likethis*

Holly, you are so right. But I think I might rather have a front load problem than a flashback one. Hmm...maybe we should have a blog post about that someday!

Debra, I did finish the book but it was hard. I don't know why I feel compelled to finish books I start, even when they're not my cup of tea. Maybe it's a sickness. :)

Jon Spell said...

Were the flashbacks told as though they were some kind of dark memories? (hint hint)

My reading time is a luxury, so I can't keep reading a novel I don't like. I just move on to the next.

I'm about 1/3 of the way into the Notebook (it's for Research!) and I just started a non-fiction ... somehow, non-fiction doesn't seem an appropriate tag for it. Well, it's about writing a NaNoWriMo book. I wasn't aware of that from the reviews, but I'm hoping that it will get me past the stumbling blocks. (current block: I switched out which airport the party flies out from and now they don't pass over the area I need them to. Hmm, just had an idea. Thanks, Julie!)

Say, Julie, I have a Canadian character in my WIP. I should have you read my dialogue. I'm not planning to do dialect, like "sorey."

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Sadly, no, the flashbacks were just of how the people reacted to the event in the first chapter. Very odd.

My reading time is a luxury as well, but I have some sort of weird finishing thing in me. I know, it's strange, but I can't help it!

You're reading the Notebook? *snicker* Suuuuure, it's for research.

I would definitely read your dialogue, if only to help you get it right. I once read a book that had the Canadians saying "eh" after every single sentence and had the policemen show up in full Mountie uniform like that was an everyday thing. *sigh* Please don't ever do that. I beg you. (And I resemble that comment about SORRY!) :)

Tracy Krauss said...

They definitely need to be done skillfully, and like most of the commenters here, I don't normally like them. EXCEPT ... Margaret Atwood's ORYX AND CRAKE (one of my all time favorite novels) is pretty much all flashbacks. It jumps here, there and everywhere and it isn;t until the very end that it all makes sense. However, this is one of the delicious aspects of the books - all the 'aha!' moments that happen when the bits and pieces come together...

Jon Spell said...

I may have to put that one on my list, Tracy. Reading your description made me think of the Time Traveler's Wife, which I did like, but I was so confused at the end that I had to go back and try to figure everything out.

Julie: Dang, a missed opportunity! Not one of my Canadian characters uses eh. Will definitely have to fix that! I do have a Mountie but he's just wearing a suit, or remnants of a suit, eventually.

Stephanie Black said...

Excellent points, Julie!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Tracy, I was trying to think of one that did it well, so thanks for mentioning that book. I'll have to check it out.

Jon, that sounds intriguing. I can't wait to read it.

Thanks, Stephanie!