Flashbacks in children's fiction

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MiniGoblin

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Hey everyone,

I was hoping to get some opinions on the use of flashbacks (FB) in children's novels. Whilst I appreciate that FBs serve to move the story forward in some capacity (else, why have them, right?), in the context of a children's novel are they considered too complicated, or is it best to keep it simple and have the story unfold in chronological order? Are there any notable examples you can think of that demonstrates FBs being used to good effect?

As my current project takes place at the end of October I want to reveal some backstory that occurred during the Summer months as part of a flashback. Essentially, my protagonist explains the events that occurred to another character. It's important to the story, but having recently completed my outline I can't help but feel that the story needs to begin in the winter months... but I need a way to deliver the summer segment.

I hope this makes sense? :) Thanks all!
 

Pat Waldron

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Ok. There's an author who put together a book on writing fiction in the 1960's that could help you. Dwight Swain. You need a theory of fiction. Without it, you'll be lost. 'Show don't tell' won't make any sense to you. The relationship of character to plot will seem sketchy. You even may believe that people read for different reasons.

Flashbacks belong after the scene. Flashbacks can happen in picture books. Is there one in Harry the Dirty Dog?

Where flashbacks don't belong is in the middle of the scene.
 

Bufty

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Your protagonist 'explaining events that happened to another character'? Hmmm. To me, a flashback is usually the recollection of the experiencing of an event by the character who experienced that event.

I can't help wondering how what happened to another character is important to the protagonist, unless the protagonist was involved somehow. If so, and the event affected the protagonist, why not open with that event?

Re your other question, there's nothing that says a children's - or any other kind - of novel has to be in chronological order but it's always preferable to 'keep it simple' if it aids clarity and flow.

I agree with Pat in post#2. Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer is worth reading for its substantial coverage of many topics in addition to flashbacks.

A flashback is history, and relating history in the middle of a current scene or chapter causes the unfolding story to stop dead. Try ending a scene with mention of the event, then start a fresh scene or chapter with what happened in that event in real time.

Just for info and it may or may not help, but here's how I handled the transition to one flashback. This flashback chapter was the only Chapter that had a caption by the way. Just do whatever you feel necessary to get flow and clarity.

Good luck :Hug2:

[QUOTE End of Chapter Five....

Michelle nibbled her lip. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened. And do what you did. If you brought him a drink, bring it to me and see if that triggers anything that will help me to sort this out and find Aurondium.”

“I’ll give it a try.” Ledro glanced at the small-paned window. “Ten years is a long time.” He gazed into the darkness. Then he spoke, softly. “I remember it was a terrible night. Neither man nor beast welcomes nights like that…”

CHAPTER SIX

…Neither man nor beast welcomed such a night. - (LEDRO’S TALE)

Ledro Bottle flipped the grubby dishcloth over his shoulder and glumly surveyed the empty bar. Fat chance of any customers tonight.

The door of the Inn swung open, slamming against the wall. Through a veil of swirling rain and sawdust, a grey-cloaked figure materialised in the doorway.

Ledro frantically waved the dishcloth. “Whoa! Close the door, stranger… oh, it’s you, Rondie.”

]
 
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MiniGoblin

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Hey all,

Many thanks for your opinions, I'm going to try having the protagonist reminisce the events (that took place in the summer months) in the present day as they re-visit the same location. Hopefully that makes sense.
 

Dianee

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Hi, my understanding is that it's best to avoid flash blacks altogether or to use them sparingly, and only with very good reason. They pull a reader out of the story. I have read flash backs that drag on for too long causing me to lose interest in a book. I'm actually struggling with whether to use flash forwards in a piece of nonfiction right now. It can be hard to know when to use these tools. Good luck! Diane
 

Bufty

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Hi, my understanding is that it's best to avoid flash blacks altogether or to use them sparingly, and only with very good reason. They pull a reader out of the story. I have read flash backs that drag on for too long causing me to lose interest in a book. I'm actually struggling with whether to use flash forwards in a piece of nonfiction right now. It can be hard to know when to use these tools. Good luck! Diane

To say flashbacks 'pull a reader out of the story' is a very blanket and erroneous statement to make. Anything badly executed will do that.

The flashback has to have a purpose and contribute to the unfolding tale. If it doesn't have these properties, don't use it.

A well executed flashback - which is a here and now re-enactment of what took place - can be far more interesting and gripping than simply reminiscing, where the danger lies in dwelling on the static reminiscing longer than necessary.
 
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Debbie V

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Does the reader need to know the info presented in the flashback? Does the reader need it at that moment to understand the action? If you say yes to both, than use the flashback. However, keep it tight. (If you say no to the second, figure out where you really need it.)

Corollary questions: Does the character who didn't experience the events in the flashback need to know? Does that character need to know at that moment of the story? This will help you decide how to include the flashback. Maybe the character can think about it without explaining it or only explain pieces.
 

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