Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The merit of flashback

Three years ago, putting the summer break to much better use than this year, I wrote some character backstory pieces. At the time, my intent was to reacquaint myself with my main character -- I felt I didn't know her well enough. So I wrote some pieces about significant events from her childhood. It also came after a period of relative inactivity, so it was also an attempt to get back into the swing of the habit of writing.

To my surprise and pleasure, these pieces actually turned out rather well. Precisely because I placed no pressure on myself, the words flowed and the voice flourished, plus as the scenes unfolded I created characters and situations that have stamped their authority on the draft I subsequently wrote. I believe this exercise has greatly enriched both the story and character.

In fact, I was so happy with one of the pieces in particular, I have been trying to find a way of using it, either as short story or as a section of the novel, ever since.

The most effective use would be in the novel, but the only way I could use it would be as a prologue or flashback. I am really against using it as a prologue for two reasons: 1) I'm not a fan of prologues in general, 2) I don't feel the event, although pivotal to my character's life, is pivotal enough to the overall story to plonk it front and centre.

So that leaves a flashback. Again, this is not ideal, because flashbacks drag readers out of the main story and are often considered redundant. After all, why can't you reveal the key information subtly during exposition or reflection or dialogue? Well, you can, and I have in fact done this, since I reached the decision a while ago not to include this scene as a flashback.

However, I think I have changed my mind. This is a good example of how you sometimes can't predict where writing a scene is going to take you. Somehow I have managed to end a chapter with a leading statement that implies one is going to get the flashback. To the point that if I don't put it in, readers may feel cheated. Of course, I could rewrite the chapter ending, but right at the moment I am rather inclined to try using the flashback (which is of course already written -- although in need of serious editing) to see how it could work.

Right at this moment, I think it could work extremely well. For one thing, it introduces a very significant character that appears later on in the novel. For another, it sets up a vow my character makes that impacts how she views relationships in adulthood. Moreover, I can make it provide a tiny clue to a mystery my character sets out to solve during this novel and its sequel.

Another advantage of using this scene is that it's pure action and therefore is a good vehicle to show other aspects of society and culture and character that might otherwise be 'reflected upon'.

Bottom line is that I am currently convinced this is a good way to go. Even better, it's a far easier way of writing the 10 pages outstanding for my submission, due in two weeks. Far far far easier.

Life is good.

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