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Thread: Flashback? Prologue? Sprinkles of background?

  1. #1
    empty calories StephenP's Avatar
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    Flashback? Prologue? Sprinkles of background?

    In my WIP, most of the plot revolves around a key character from my MC's past. This guy and my MC broke up a year before this story begins, when he's suddenly contacting her and trying be part of her life again.

    I'm trying to get across the fact that he was a verbally abusive, reckless, rebellious teenager when they were dating. Where my story begins, he's back and appears to have changed drastically -- polite, caring, apologetic, etc.

    I've sprinkled in background here and there. The MC's own thoughts about the kind of person her ex used to be, her friend telling her not to trust him because of how he treated her in the past, her parents freaking out that they're talking again, and so on. But I'm wondering if that's enough. I feel like, even though it's all background, I need to show it more or else the readers won't be able to relate to the mixed emotions the MC feels when this guy comes back in her life.

    Would a flashback be too cliche if it was the only flashback in the story? What about a dream, earlier in the story, that the MC could have the night her ex contacts her? Maybe about the breakup or a particularly horrible memory of their relationship. There is another dream sequence I had planned, of her and the ex back together. Maybe these two scenes could work in opposition of each other. But then I worry that the first dream would be transparently a device for a flashback.

    And I considered a prologue of the breakup scene, but writers seem to frown on those, too.

    Thoughts on:

    1. Prologue?
    2. Flashback?
    3. Flashback in the form of a dream?
    4. Just stick with sprinkling background via dialogue and internal monologue?
    NaNoWriMo WIP: The Hover-Car Accident
    Genre: YA Science Fiction
    Synopsis: Robots and virtual reality abound, a workaholic teen struggles with free will and the nature of consciousness.



    Status: First draft completed at 57,261 words (12/5/09)

  2. #2
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    1- Prologue...maybe. If the break-up was long enough ago and painful enough.
    2- Flashback...possibly. But only when it brings the reader into the present-i.e. something reminds the MC about her bad relationship with her ex. You could thread it into the main plot- so we learn the whole story about their relationship. This might give him more of a motive and show more reason for their present actions.
    3- Flashback in the form of a dream- No! You could say 'she'd been dreaming about X' as a sort of omen or foreshadowing but not keen on the dream.
    4- I think spread out is the best way. If she's been hit by him, give her some scars; she might be afraid of something which reminds her of him.

    Read 'Rebecca' for practice. We never see Rebecca in the novel which makes her an even scarier character. There are no flashbacks, just people telling their stories.

  3. #3
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenP View Post
    1. Prologue?
    2. Flashback?
    3. Flashback in the form of a dream?
    4. Just stick with sprinkling background via dialogue and internal monologue?
    1. Prologue: Do the readers need to know BEFORE the main story? Is it relevant that they KNOW before the main story start? Would it be more suspenseful if the readers don't know what happened before and then later find out? What if your readers skip the prologue? Would it matter to your story? If it doesn't, then why bother?

    2. What's wrong with flashback? As long as it's relevant to the current plot: insert the flashback at the right place at the right time. Basically, you need to ask the question above: When do the readers need to know. Just because you (the writer) and the characters know doesn't mean the readers need to know now.

    3. Dream? No. It's tacky and cliched. Why not just use a straight flashback.

    4. Certainly it's a good way to reveal information about the past. Lots of writers do that. It's called "playing to close to your vest" or "not spill the beans all at once." Very effective way of revealing information when it's relevant and needed.
    Last edited by maestrowork; 11-13-2009 at 10:21 PM.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
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    The Pacific Between • A Bunch of Stories
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  4. #4
    Spec Fic Writer Sevvy's Avatar
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    Do the flashback rather than the dream, but I would say option four is your best bet. It'll come out in the way her friends and family talk to her about this stuff, and the way she reacts to how he acts. If he does act differently now, show her noticing those differences. The reader will catch on.
    I was making fun of ____________ before it was cool to do so.

  5. #5
    empty calories StephenP's Avatar
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    Thanks for the responses. My instinct was to use background dropped in at relevant moment, but I was afraid I might need more than that. There is also a scene in the book where she tells her current boyfriend about the ex. I could use that to convey more information, but I hate infodump dialogue. The uninformed character trick comes in handy, though. "Hello class, let me tell you all about the current society we live in, constrasted with the past, a.k.a. the present as readers know it" a la Brave New World.
    NaNoWriMo WIP: The Hover-Car Accident
    Genre: YA Science Fiction
    Synopsis: Robots and virtual reality abound, a workaholic teen struggles with free will and the nature of consciousness.



    Status: First draft completed at 57,261 words (12/5/09)

  6. #6
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenP View Post
    Thanks for the responses. My instinct was to use background dropped in at relevant moment, but I was afraid I might need more than that. There is also a scene in the book where she tells her current boyfriend about the ex. I could use that to convey more information, but I hate infodump dialogue. The uninformed character trick comes in handy, though. "Hello class, let me tell you all about the current society we live in, constrasted with the past, a.k.a. the present as readers know it" a la Brave New World.
    It depends on your skills as a writer, then. Do you have what it takes to reveal these information at the right time without it sounding like info dumps? Great info dumps masquerading as plot is one of the best skills a writer can acquire!

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





    The Pacific Between • A Bunch of Stories
    (2006 IPPY Award)

    WIP: Beyond the Banyan Tree - draft 9, 125,000 words

    Home Page | Blog | Reviews

  7. #7
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenP View Post
    Thanks for the responses. My instinct was to use background dropped in at relevant moment, but I was afraid I might need more than that. There is also a scene in the book where she tells her current boyfriend about the ex. I could use that to convey more information, but I hate infodump dialogue. The uninformed character trick comes in handy, though. "Hello class, let me tell you all about the current society we live in, constrasted with the past, a.k.a. the present as readers know it" a la Brave New World.
    Try and do it in a clever way. Perhaps the boyfriend does something minor that the ex used to do and the MC reacts badly?
    Make sure you mention how it effects the character and not just an information dump. The way you tell it is key:

    'Barry came home one night. Drunk, again. And he hit me'
    'I was worried. Barry'd been out such a long time. He came back drunk and staggering. I asked him where he'd been and he just lashed out'

  8. #8
    empty calories StephenP's Avatar
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    Here's a snippet of what I wrote today, incorporating some background. Let me know if I'm on the right track. Try to ignore the quality of writing; this is NaNoWriMo unedited stuff.

    Context: Karly is the MC. Adam is the Ex. Adam's father is speaking to Karly and her mother.

    ---------------
    “You’re a good person, Karly, to have put up with someone like my son for that long. I think you were the stability he needed. If you’d stuck around longer—”

    “Stop right there,” Mom said. She got to her feet. “I once had to pick my daughter up in the middle of nowhere, eleven o’clock at night, a hundred and twenty-odd miles from home. Because your son just left her there. Karly stuck around too fucking long if you ask me.”

    That was the worst memory of my life. Not because of the fight we had in the car, or the name he called me before he pulled over and pushed me out. Not even because of how afraid and lonely I felt out there. A shivering, crying fifteen-year-old girl feeling her way along a highway bridge’s railing in the dark. No, it was my worst memory, the lowest point of my life and the death of my self-worth, because I stayed with him for another three months after that night.
    ---------------
    NaNoWriMo WIP: The Hover-Car Accident
    Genre: YA Science Fiction
    Synopsis: Robots and virtual reality abound, a workaholic teen struggles with free will and the nature of consciousness.



    Status: First draft completed at 57,261 words (12/5/09)

  9. #9
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    That's good, yes. You don't need any more information than that.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW
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    Character's talking about the past is esentially a flashback.

  11. #11
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    With first person narrative that's a great way to insert flashbacks and summaries without stopping the current momentum. A little goes a long way.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





    The Pacific Between • A Bunch of Stories
    (2006 IPPY Award)

    WIP: Beyond the Banyan Tree - draft 9, 125,000 words

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  12. #12
    Worst song played on ugliest guitar Libbie's Avatar
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    Sprinkles. Don't assume your readers are dumb.

  13. #13
    Custom User Title Slushie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenP View Post
    “You’re a good person, Karly, to have put up with someone like my son for that long. I think you were the stability he needed. If you’d stuck around longer—”

    “Stop right there,” Mom said. She got to her feet. “I once had to pick my daughter up in the middle of nowhere, eleven o’clock at night, a hundred and twenty-odd miles from home. Because your son just left her there. Karly stuck around too fucking long if you ask me.”

    That was the worst memory of my life. Not because of the fight we had in the car, or the name he called me before he pulled over and pushed me out. Not even because of how afraid and lonely I felt out there. A shivering, crying fifteen-year-old girl feeling her way along a highway bridge’s railing in the dark. No, it was my worst memory, the lowest point of my life and the death of my self-worth, because I stayed with him for another three months after that night.
    Nice. Great pace and imagery. Not too little info, not too much. If this is how you "sprinkle" the story then go with this method. It seems like you know what you're doing.

    X-nay the dreams. Flashbacks are fine, like above. It's your job as the writer to determine how long these flashbacks are; they don't all have to be the same length. Do what the story demands at that certain point.

  14. #14
    empty calories StephenP's Avatar
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    When I think of flashbacks, I think of longer scenes rather than background summary like the above.

    For example, the above scene in what I believed to be flashback mode:

    ---
    You’re a good person, Karly, to have put up with someone like my son for that long. I think you were the stability he needed. If you’d stuck around longer—”

    “Stop right there,” Mom said. She got to her feet. “I once had to pick my daughter up in the middle of nowhere, eleven o’clock at night, a hundred and twenty-odd miles from home. Because your son just left her there. Karly stuck around too fucking long if you ask me.”

    That was the worst memory of my life. A dry winter night in Sunnyvale, and Adam was driving me home from Tristan's sweet sixteen party.

    "You're going too fast," I said, shivering. He'd cracked the window for some fresh air.

    He titled his head back and smiled. "I'm what?"

    "Speeding. We're in a sixty zone." His speedometer was approaching eighty-five.

    Adam mumbled something I couldn't understand.

    .... and so on.

    A flashback like that could drag on for a while, but maybe it's not necessary to be that detailed about it.
    NaNoWriMo WIP: The Hover-Car Accident
    Genre: YA Science Fiction
    Synopsis: Robots and virtual reality abound, a workaholic teen struggles with free will and the nature of consciousness.



    Status: First draft completed at 57,261 words (12/5/09)

  15. #15
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    Both are flashbacks -- one is in summary form, as in "telling"; and the other as an actual scene to "show." But both are flashbacks.

    You can more easily sprinkle flashbacks by summary. With actual scenes, it is more delicate and it should be very clear that the scene happened in the past, and it shouldn't stop the current plot -- basically, don't jar your readers with an extra scene if it's not relevant to the current plot.

    Also, I find it better to "slip in" flashback materials during a "lull" moment in the current plot, without stopping anything. For example, when a character is reading something, or when they have a moment of silence, or something. It's a really good place to insert relevant backstories/information during a lull in the plot -- good fillers.

    In your excerpt, it's not entirely clear to me if it's the right place for that information, because those characters are having a conversation and then suddenly, the narrator slips into some flashbacks. So you have to ask yourself: Are you stopping the current plot in its track to reveal information? What comes next? More conversations from the same setting? That would feel really odd because there's no logical break in the current scene.

    Also, it's a bit unclear because your tenses are not correct. It's hard to tell that you've just slinked into flashback. Instead, try using past perfect tense to set up the chronology:




    "You’re a good person, Karly, to have put up with someone like my son for that long. I think you were the stability he needed. If you’d stuck around longer—”

    “Stop right there,” Mom said. She got to her feet. “I once had to pick my daughter up in the middle of nowhere, eleven o’clock at night, a hundred and twenty-odd miles from home. Because your son just left her there. Karly stuck around too fucking long if you ask me.”

    They stared at each other for a while and nobody said anything. The sudden silence reminded me of how helpless I had felt that night.

    That was the worst memory of my life. A dry winter night in Sunnyvale, and Adam had been driving me home from Tristan's sweet sixteen party.

    He cracked the window for some fresh air. "You're going too fast," I said, shivering.

    He tilted his head back and smiled. "I'm what?"

    "Speeding. We're in a sixty zone." His speedometer was approaching eighty-five.

    Adam mumbled something I couldn't understand.

    .... and so on.
    Last edited by maestrowork; 11-15-2009 at 04:36 AM.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





    The Pacific Between • A Bunch of Stories
    (2006 IPPY Award)

    WIP: Beyond the Banyan Tree - draft 9, 125,000 words

    Home Page | Blog | Reviews

  16. #16
    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    I just had a really goofy idea, and I have no idea if it would work for your scene at all, but your thing about her talking to her current boyfriend about it made me think about it (though it would bring up some issues of it's own lol). I was just thinking what if she used to have a journal, or maybe had a friend or someone she emailed about it and he's trying to find out about this guy and finds something like that? It would be a good setup for a discussion, and it kind of takes the pressure off just being "here let me tell you about..." because he'll already know a bit. You would also have the factor of invading her privacy or learning something she doesn't want him to know or something like that adding some layers to it.

    No idea if that would work, but it just struck me so I thought I'd suggest it.


  17. #17
    On the verge of greatness Nya RAyne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenP View Post
    Here's a snippet of what I wrote today, incorporating some background. Let me know if I'm on the right track. Try to ignore the quality of writing; this is NaNoWriMo unedited stuff.

    Context: Karly is the MC. Adam is the Ex. Adam's father is speaking to Karly and her mother.

    ---------------
    “You’re a good person, Karly, to have put up with someone like my son for that long. I think you were the stability he needed. If you’d stuck around longer—”

    “Stop right there,” Mom said. She got to her feet. “I once had to pick my daughter up in the middle of nowhere, eleven o’clock at night, a hundred and twenty-odd miles from home. Because your son just left her there. Karly stuck around too fucking long if you ask me.”

    That was the worst memory of my life. Not because of the fight we had in the car, or the name he called me before he pulled over and pushed me out. Not even because of how afraid and lonely I felt out there. A shivering, crying fifteen-year-old girl feeling her way along a highway bridge’s railing in the dark. No, it was my worst memory, the lowest point of my life and the death of my self-worth, because I stayed with him for another three months after that night.
    ---------------
    That's good stuff right there. I'd personally stay away from the dream and the flashback and try to show via the MC or the people around him. Trust me, my first novel was riddled with flashbacks, and dreams.

    All I got for my hardwork was a bunch of rejections. Of course, it's being reworked, but had I left them out to begin with, I'd probably be published right now.
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    Storm's Fury, para-romance, get it here.

    For His Love, futuristic romance, get it here.

    <==Unveil My Heart, a Wiccan Haus para-romance, get it here.

  18. #18
    DenturePunk writer bearilou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenP View Post
    ---------------
    “You’re a good person, Karly, to have put up with someone like my son for that long. I think you were the stability he needed. If you’d stuck around longer—”

    “Stop right there,” Mom said. She got to her feet. “I once had to pick my daughter up in the middle of nowhere, eleven o’clock at night, a hundred and twenty-odd miles from home. Because your son just left her there. Karly stuck around too fucking long if you ask me.”

    That was the worst memory of my life. Not because of the fight we had in the car, or the name he called me before he pulled over and pushed me out. Not even because of how afraid and lonely I felt out there. A shivering, crying fifteen-year-old girl feeling her way along a highway bridge’s railing in the dark. No, it was my worst memory, the lowest point of my life and the death of my self-worth, because I stayed with him for another three months after that night.
    ---------------

    Just as I was about to say that I never really liked flashbacks you had to go and write one that works for me, even if I don't know the whole story.

    So...I contribute to this thread by echoing what everyone else said. I think I like the sprinkle method.
    Quote Originally Posted by Phaeal View Post
    The first draft is a huge pile of clay that you've laboriously heaped on your table, patting it into a rough shape as you go along. From the second draft onward, you'll cut away chunks, add bits, pat and punch and pinch, until you finally have a gorgeous figure of, oh, Marcus Aurelius. Or a duck. But a damn fine duck.
    Quote Originally Posted by KTC View Post
    1) Write like your face is on fire.


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