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Thread: Flashback in 1st Chapter?

  1. #1
    Cleaning is overrated neener's Avatar
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    Flashback in 1st Chapter?

    I am revising my young adult novel, and am struggling with the 1st chapter. It used to have lots of explanation that I needed to cut--so I did. It used to start with telling--no longer. It starts in-scene, the MC gets her "problem" immediately...but I have a flashback. Is a flashback OK for the 1st chapter, or am I just giving an"info dump"? And, if I do include a flashback, is it fine early in the chapter, or should it be at the end? It does relay important information, and is in-scene the whole time. I'm just not sure about it.

  2. #2
    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    My instinct is to say that it's hard to accomplish a first chapter's goals while using a flashback. Not impossible, mind you, but hard, because a flashback doesn't move the story forward. It stops the scene you've used as the story's start and goes elsewhere. Have you considered trying to weave the flashback information into the inciting incident in chapter 1?
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  3. #3
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    What's really missing - from the point of view of a reader following the unfolding story - if you leave the flashback out of the first chapter?

    It's first person, I gather. So it's not a flashback as such - eh? A brief memory?
    Last edited by Bufty; 10-02-2008 at 11:55 PM.
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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW MagicMan's Avatar
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    Chapter one has several objectives.

    1) First line should hook the reader.
    2) First paragraph should introduce your MC
    3) First chapter should set the local and global stage.
    4) First chapter should hint at the conflict to come
    5) First chapter should capture the reader, carry that reader forward
    6) First chapter should close strong, entice the reader to move to chapter two immediately

    Flashback effects point 5 and 6. It no longer moves the story forward, and diminishes the strength of the close.

    If the facts of the flashback are inserted in dialog during a fast forward progression scene, it can work. Otherwise, move it to chapter two, a chapter where you want to slow the pace and give the reader a mental rest.

    Example:

    Chapter one The trip to town

    "Move it Jim, I can't run with this heavy parcel. Don't let the bus go."
    "No problem, I can jog and still catch it."
    "Remember last year, when we missed that bus it took three hours...
    Jim's gracefull jog turned into an awkward flailing of limbs, as the young lad drove his bike into Jim's path. The roar of the bus pulling away sealed their fate.
    "Oh man, it's gonna be night soon, and there's a full moon."

    Chapter Two Long walk home
    Last edited by MagicMan; 10-03-2008 at 12:21 AM.

  5. #5
    Mackinac Island Fanatic tehuti88's Avatar
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    I'm a fan of flashbacks, but to use one in the very first chapter seems kind of offputting. Is there any way to incorporate it into Chapter 2 maybe, or at the least use a flashback prologue? (Yes, many people seem to frown on prologues, but if it's an actual action part of the story and not just an infodump, it seems fine to me. I use flashback prologues often. When an important incident behind the plot takes place like twenty years before the current storyline there's no real way to include it as flashbacks in the main story itself without really bogging it down.)

    That's just me though.
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  6. #6
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    Depends on how you do it. If you stop the story to explain something, then it probably won't work. But if the flashback is interesting in itself and moves the story forward, then you're probably fine.

    You can also do flashbacks without "doing flashbacks." My protag has a lot of memories thoughout the story, and the history is a major element in the novel, but I never go into any flashback scenes. She just thinks about stuff in her past as it pertains to the story and problem at hand. I get the information in, but I don't stop the story. It's typically the info that's important, not seeing the scene play out in real time.

  7. #7
    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    I can't stop myself from saying that my favorite flashback is the scene in Paris smack in the middle of "Casablanca." Until then, we don't know what happened between Rick and Ilsa to drive them apart and we increasingly want that information, so when it comes, we're eager. It's such a good example of delaying backstory until the reader wants it.
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  8. #8
    Cleaning is overrated neener's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone! I will revisit my flashback--it seems essential information, but then, doesn't everything? I am pretty sure it won't fit in chapter 2, but it might find a home elsewhere. More revisions to come. Thanks!

  9. #9
    Nasty Woman AW Moderator regdog's Avatar
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    Any way to put some of the info in a prologue?
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  10. #10
    Sheriff Bullwinkle the Poet says: RJK's Avatar
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    What Dawinsor said is very important. You cannot insert a flashback until you care about the character(s). I don't see how you can build that much charisma in your character in the first chapter.
    Dawinsor said that by the time we saw the Paris scene, we were dying to find out what caused the rift between Rick and Ilsa. This is the time for a flashback, not before.

  11. #11
    Interprets for aliens Juliette Wade's Avatar
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    I think the success of a memory depends on two things: how you treat it, and how relevant it is to the immediate action. If it doesn't propel the story forward, and you break it off as an entire scene, it's likely to disrupt the flow of the narrative. If it illuminates the reasons why the protagonist will obsessively follow his current course of action (for example) and is folded in through internalization, it can be terrific. It's hard to know without seeing the text to examine the relationship between the flashback material and the ongoing story action.
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  12. #12
    Decker Cybernaught's Avatar
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    I've read that editors and agents often reject manuscripts because they start with a flashback. I've only read this though, so can't necessarily verify that it's true.
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW MagicMan's Avatar
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    I have read the same, flashback and dream sequences are frowned upon. But, I just picked up a Dell book. The first three pages are a dream sequence. Go figure.
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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW Enzo's Avatar
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    I would make sure I grab the reader in chapter one, and make her/him want to continue with the story. I'd keep a flashback for chapter two or three.
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  15. #15
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Show me the chapter, and I'll be able to tell you if it works.

    #

    If you feel that you NEED to move chronologically through your prose (which is what I typically suggest) then perhaps the entire first chapter could be your flashback. Chapter two just starts with a header in such a situation; "Four weeks later," or some such.

  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin MelissaBlue's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by neener View Post
    I Is a flashback OK for the 1st chapter, or am I just giving an"info dump"? And, if I do include a flashback, is it fine early in the chapter, or should it be at the end?
    In my first published book I have a flashback in the first chapter, but I wrote it in real time. It has dialogue the whole nine. Of course, I think it works, because you see both the heroine and hero at odds. The flashback has conflict and it moves the story forward. I could have easily summed up the purpose with :"The heroine lost a bet and had to go on a date with hero." I think you can write just about anything as long as it has a purpose and it's not infodump. It's really all in the execution.

  17. #17
    banned as an incurable tosspot
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    What if the flashback gives the reader insight into the character's behaviour? Should we use the flashback or let the reader ponder why she's behaving as she is?

  18. #18
    It's green they say FennelGiraffe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carmy View Post
    What if the flashback gives the reader insight into the character's behaviour?
    If it's a long first chapter and the flashback comes after several other scenes,

    and if the main theme of your story is how past experiences have shaped your character into the person she is now,

    yes.

    Otherwise, no.
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    In a literary novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand it to be a metaphor for the protagonist's mental state.
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  19. #19
    banned as an incurable tosspot
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    Thanks, FennelGiraffe. I guess it's a yes in this instance.

  20. #20
    Cleaning is overrated neener's Avatar
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    Decisions

    Thanks to all--lots of good advice. I think that the flashback I've got is super important info, but I've moved it to the 2nd chapter, and I feel like it fits well there. It helps you understand the character, is in real time, and sets up the world for you, but it wasn't exactly right in the first chapter.

  21. #21
    Moral Marjorie
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    I can't really comment without seeing your writing.
    But a lot of agents/publishers do seem to frown on flashbacks full stop, and especially when front loaded.

    There is nearly always a better way to weave that information in than stopping the flow of your present narrative to introduce a new set of characters in a different setting.

    Writing short stories might be helpful, because you need to establish your details right away, as part of the main narrative. Under that pressure, you may realise that you can just sketch a situation and some characters very economically; you don't have to explain how they got there. Then there is no need for flashbacks.

  22. #22
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Morrigan's Avatar
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    Don't worry too much about the first chapter now . . .

    I know that you seem to have gotten the answer you wanted, but I think your answer was in your last post when you said that you moved on to your second chapter. Don't get too bogged down by a single chapter . . . my advice is to keep moving forward and to edit later. Get that rough draft hammered out and then you see SO MANY missed opportunities, or things that can easily be moved to other places, or stuff you simply don't need. But that's the point of rough drafts . . . they're rough. So write what you think will work, knowing that there's a good chance it won't BUT that you can change whatever you need to!

  23. #23
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    flashback?

    I'm reminded of the movie "Catch 22." I've never read the Joseph Heller novel, so I don't know if it follows the movie (maybe someone can tell you). Right away, the main character (Yosarrrian ) is stabbed. Then ensues a very long flashback (the body of the movie) until its conclusion. So, a very early flaskback can be done, but I think it would be rather difficult, especially if you want it to make sense. What I would ask is, do you have the confidince to pull it off? If you do, I'd say go for it.

    The same could probably work for short stories too, which I write.

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