Old 10-29-2017, 02:29 PM   #1
LukasGrey
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Help with flashbacks

So, little help maybe?

I'm currently writing a novel (my sixth) that has two main characters that meet. My idea is to have their past and what brought them to the point of their meeting told through flashbacks but I'm struggling a bit with weaving in the flashbacks and worried about confusing the reader.

My main issue is that the story is in third person limited perspective. It is fairly easy to show the reader when the focus character is going into a flashback. Much harder when it's another character that is not in the narration focus...

Right now, the best ideas I have are to either:

1- Write from one character's perspective with a triggered flashback, then do the other character's flashback, kind of tacked on and when the perspective returns to the present tell from character 2's POV.

2- Write from character 1, do flashback, come back to present and write the next part of the scene from character 2's perspective, then flashback.

3- Write straight from the beginning of both of their stories and essentially write non-intersecting plotlines which eventually collide in the meeting...

With 1, I feel like this will work once the reader goes through it a couple of times and sees the formula of present, flashback, flashback, present. This is the way I've started writing it and when I first started it seemed to really be confusing as I started with the non-POV character. Switching it around helps a bit, but is still wonky.

I like 2 more, but my worry is that by having to constantly jump back to present to tell the story I feel like the tone will get really stilted. One advantage to this is the present plot is pretty positive while the flashback scenes will most likely be pretty dark. Increasing the breaks might make the tone a little more light, but I don't really think that's what I'm going for.

3 would be the way I would normally write, starting at the beginning, but there are wildly different timeframes on the character flashbacks with one only going back a couple of years while the other goes back more than twice as long. Though, I could simplify and just have both take place concurrently...

Okay so maybe I just talked myself into a solution, but I'd still be interested to see how other's would handle it.
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Old 10-29-2017, 06:17 PM   #2
Voboy
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I’m not sure I can help you; all of your proposed solutions sound gimmicky. I’m a big fan of first person and a big fan of flashbacks, but I’ve never tried it with two characters and I doubt I ever would, precisely because it would strike me as gimmicky.

Do they meet in the past, during some of the events to which you’re flashing back? I wrote a story like that once, and it worked; you’re welcome to read it if you want to. It’s called “Chats in the Stairwell.” But as for including two different FP POVs in one story... well, I wouldn’t. That would get crowded.

Good luck. I see what you’re trying to do, and I’m sure it could work, but I’m not sure how.
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Old 10-29-2017, 06:59 PM   #3
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To answer this question, I think we need to understand exactly what you mean by third person limited perspective. Do you mean limited omniscient, where you get into the head of one character, or a very limited number of characters, but not others? Without knowing exactly what your perspective is, it's hard to answer.

Limited omniscient doesn't mean you can't tell what's happening to multiple characters. It means you can't get inside all their heads.

The past doesn't have to be relayed through "flashbacks", necessarily, if by flashback you mean an episode from the past that one of your characters is recounting. You can just go back in time and tell what happened in the past, regardless whether a character in the present is remembering that past or not. If it's third person, you can relate what you want.

Many stories will have flashbacks in the loose sense to past events without setting them up as memories of characters.
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Old 10-29-2017, 07:06 PM   #4
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I can't remember what kind of formatting is available here, but consider using a different font, italics or maybe indent those sections.
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Old 10-29-2017, 08:43 PM   #5
NotWise
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LukasGrey View Post
So, little help maybe?

I'm currently writing a novel (my sixth) that has two main characters that meet. My idea is to have their past and what brought them to the point of their meeting told through flashbacks but I'm struggling a bit with weaving in the flashbacks and worried about confusing the reader.
I noticed that your previous five didn't all go to Lit. Are you talking about something you're publishing on Lit, or somewhere else?

From my limited experience I'd say keep it as clear and simple as you can. Don't do short flashback sequences, make it very clear that you are flashing back, and only have one character flashing back. If they have to, then the other character can explain their experience in present dialog. In fact, explaining past experiences in dialog between the characters might be an option that doesn't require flashbacks.

Flashbacks are probably a problem mostly for readers who are trying to skim for the juicy parts--which is a lot of readers on Lit.
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Old 10-29-2017, 11:35 PM   #6
LukasGrey
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Originally Posted by NotWise View Post
I noticed that your previous five didn't all go to Lit. Are you talking about something you're publishing on Lit, or somewhere else?
I have three of them published here. A fourth in the can pending publication while it goes through the clearance process here. Another that is off at editor right now, and this one.

There are flashbacks in all three of my Falling series, which were a cinch as they're written in first person.

SimonDoom, you asked that I be a little more clear on the perspective, which I apologize for, you are right, I wasn't clear enough on that. Third person limited omniscient. The narrator has the ability to see into the mind of exactly one character, which I will admit, I'm struggling with as it's the first time I've tried to tackle writing from this perspective. A better writer than me would be able to pull the story off in third person omniscient which would solve the problem entirely, but I'm not good enough for that...

I put down about another 5k words today and like the direction of the story. I've kept going on my original plan, figuring worst case scenario it turns out as crap and I have to rework it...
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Old 10-30-2017, 01:57 AM   #7
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I would suggest that you do whatever you want to do. You are the author. It's your story. But I also agree with Not Wise: keep it as simple as you can. Being 'tricky' might impress a few readers, but it will turn off many more. Good luck.
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Old 10-30-2017, 05:31 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by SamScribble View Post
I would suggest that you do whatever you want to do. You are the author. It's your story. But I also agree with Not Wise: keep it as simple as you can. Being 'tricky' might impress a few readers, but it will turn off many more. Good luck.
Good advice. I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel and though I expect a few Pulitzer prizes occasionally for my smut writing...

Oh, that's right, I'm not going to ever be winning any awards!

Really, I was just trying not to throw the reader. Keeping on it, it seems to flow well and my editor says it only really threw him a bit on the first one. After that, he figured it out, so maybe it's just me being insecure!
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Old 10-31-2017, 08:58 AM   #9
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I'm not a huge fan of flashbacks, as I would rather have whatever exposition you hope to reveal emerge from the interplay of the characters, but I would suggest a look at Wambaugh's 'The Onion Field'. Part of the story is told in flashbacks. The author very effectively used italicized sections to show the reader they were looking at something out of time.
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Old 10-31-2017, 03:56 PM   #10
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I have a flashback scene where the past memory is in a highly contrasting environment compared to the main character’s present location. Another present tense character interrupts it at various points with her own verbage. It could be incredibly confusing but I confess that I love the scene. At the end, the interrupting character finally succeedes in calling the main character back to the present time. I use some italics to help show the shift in perspectives too.
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Old 10-31-2017, 04:50 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by latecomer91364 View Post
... The author very effectively used italicized sections to show the reader they were looking at something out of time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Charmolypi View Post
... I use some italics to help show the shift in perspectives too.
Italics can be useful, but large sections written in Italics may become annoying. I followed the advice from other authors, and used <blockquote> for my April Fool's day story. I liked it and think it worked well enough.
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Old 11-01-2017, 11:55 AM   #12
LiamHDunn
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Just My Opinion

I would suggest, and this is just my opinion, that you maintain continuity throughout the POV. If charater 1 is to have the flashback, then in the scene before and after the readers should be viewing the story from character 1's POV.
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Old 11-01-2017, 11:00 PM   #13
LukasGrey
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I would suggest, and this is just my opinion, that you maintain continuity throughout the POV. If charater 1 is to have the flashback, then in the scene before and after the readers should be viewing the story from character 1's POV.
Yep! This!

This has seemed to work pretty well for me. It seems to make sense and works for me so far or at least I've convinced myself it is working!
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Old 11-28-2017, 02:15 AM   #14
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In one of my stories, there is a sequence lasting two chapters that is told in flashback by two different characters. The main gimmick is that the protagonist hears about the events from both of them separately, but for the reader it is presented in chronological order, with the first-person narration switching off between the two in order to present the full story.

In my original word processor version, I indented the paragraphs from the left or the right depending on who was currently telling the story. For sites like Literotica where formatting options are much more limited, I had to devise special section break markers and hope that people would still follow along reasonably well.
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Old 11-28-2017, 01:49 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by PervOtaku View Post
In one of my stories, there is a sequence lasting two chapters that is told in flashback by two different characters. The main gimmick is that the protagonist hears about the events from both of them separately, but for the reader it is presented in chronological order, with the first-person narration switching off between the two in order to present the full story.

In my original word processor version, I indented the paragraphs from the left or the right depending on who was currently telling the story. For sites like Literotica where formatting options are much more limited, I had to devise special section break markers and hope that people would still follow along reasonably well.
Sounds like the first season of True Detective with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Outstanding storytelling. The two play detectives who are being interviewed about a crime that happened 15 years before. They are interviewed separately recounting in chronological order the events. They alternate, but never appear together until the very end. Very effective.

Looking forward to seeing how you handled it.

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Old 11-28-2017, 01:52 PM   #16
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In one of my stories...
Jesus! 13 chapters, 15 chapters...would appreciate a clue. Which series and which specific chapters are you referring to?

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