Friday, January 30, 2009

Flashbacks

Five books into the series and it's finally time for a Hal Spacejock novel with flashback scenes.

I wrote a sequence of flashback scenes for this novel during NanoWrimo 2007, but until five minutes ago I didn't think I'd be using them. Now I've changed my mind. (Until I decide not to use them again.)

At the very least I'll get a blog post out of them.

I'm a very linear writer, and I like cause and effect. This minor thing happens, which causes that other slightly more alarming issue. A character overreacts and creates a much bigger problem which then leads to ... you get the idea.

Hal 5 is a mystery steeped in earlier events, and I have to choose between having characters in the present gradually uncovering what happened, or writing scenes set in the past, so the reader experiences the events as they happen.

Let me tell you that reading scenes where characters recap past events can be pretty dull. You can lose immediacy (and readers) very quickly.

On the other hand, if you jump straight in and throw flashbacks at the reader you run the risk of alienating them with a sudden change of location and a new batch of characters they've never met before. Overwhelm your readers and they'll feel like they're starting a whole new novel every time there's a flashback, and that can get tiring too.

What's the answer? Stuffed if I know. I'm not going to leap around all over the place, just flash back to one set of characters at a fixed point in time, based in the same location each time. I'm hoping I can cue the reader in to the flashback pretty quickly, and not by using strange dates or times in the chapter headings. (Those are useless unless you remember what date & time the previous chapter was set in. I'd rather authors just came out and said "Twelve years earlier ..." than put Jan 1958 instead of April 1970.)

I think it'll work, but I won't know until the first draft is done. It should be interesting to try it out, though.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

1 comment:

Mary Paddock said...

This is a bit like the "no prologue" rule and the "never open a book with a character you're going to kill in the first chapter" or the supposedly cardinal "never change POVs or introduce a new one late in the book." I've seen all done multiple times (often in commercial fiction) and done very well.

In my limited experience with this whole novel thing, it seems to me that the only real questions that every writer must ask themselves about plot devices must be "Does it serve to advance the story?" and and if it does, then it works. Period.

As a reader, I've never had a flashback upset me so much that I put a book down--unless it was seriously bad writing or overwhelmingly disturbing (not a problem where your books are concerned). I'll be curious to see what you wind up doing.