Monday, March 06, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Rules for Flashbacks
What you shouldn’t do is start with a very first scene that’s designated as a flashback. A novelist might do this by heading the first scene with “2 Years Ago”, but that’s the equivalent of sweeping our feet out from under us just as we try to set them down. You’re saying, “Care about this, but don’t care too much, because it’s not really part of our story.”
Wherever you go, there you are. Where you start us out is where you’re starting us out. Whatever hero we start out with, that’s our hero. If we only get a few pages with that hero before we leap ahead a few years, so be it. Make us care enough about the hero, at whatever age, that we’ll maintain our interest as time jumps forward.
Another rule: Let’s say that, to avoid this, you begin in the present, but you intersperse the opening scene with a series of flashbacks to lay the groundwork you need. This can work, but you need to remember that each of these flashbacks is a lot to ask. Each one will be disorienting and frustrating to your reader at a time when we really just want to hop in the car and hit the gas. One manuscript I read did a big no-no: First we jumped back five years, then seven years, then two years. At least do us the favor of putting the flashbacks in chronological order.