Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back Story and Flashbacks


What's the difference? That's a good question. One all writers need to understand. My writing buddy Claire defined the difference in the following way:
  • A flashback puts you in the head of the POV character at the time of the memory they're recalling; back story exposition keeps you in the head of the POV character now, as they look back and remember. Or as I like to think of it: flashbacks are active, they show an event from the past. Back story tells about the past.
She's on to something that others agree with. Tabitha Olson defines them in her post on Flashback vs. Back story:
  • Back story: a summary of an incident that has happened in the character’s past.
    Flashback: taking the reader to the past incident and showing it to him through action and dialog.
 Lately, I've been trying to start my WIP at a different place, using my first scene as a flashback. I thought about starting in scene three and using scene one as a flashback there. Then I read Randy Ingermanson's post (linked below) and he said the following:
  • Back story is a necessary part of any story. Strong back story makes a strong story. But in writing fiction, practice the fine art of withholding information. That creates mystery. It creates suspense. It keeps your reader reading.

    Can you hold off on showing any flashbacks until at least 25% of the way into your story? If not, then maybe the real story isn’t your story. Maybe your real story is the back story and you should have started sooner.

    Can you hold off on showing any flashbacks until you’re 75% of the way into your story? If so, you might have a real killer of a story. Remember, as long as you’ve got a secret, your reader wants to know it. Once you’ve told the secret, your reader no longer wants to know it.
That settled the question for me. The first scene, the one I've always seen as the beginning of the story, needs to be mentioned long before 25% in. Whew! That's a to-do I can scratch off the list. ;-)

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Here are some links you might find useful on this topic:
 If your interested in a writing exercise on Flashbacks, check out this one at the Book and Writers Forum 
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Happy Writing! May your flashbacks and back story work out smoothly. ;-)  

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Pssst! It's here! Guess what I'm doing? ;-)

6 comments:

  1. This is a test of the comment system. ;-)

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  2. Interesting percentages... I think of Rosa right away, since hers is the most significant flashback that comes near the start of the story - I don't think my other stories even have flashbacks. And hers is there for length purposes - otherwise I'd have to add about 50k to the story and the romance element would come much later! Which I'd love to do, but, you know :-)

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    1. I don't envy your having to decide what to do. I didn't *want* to change my beginning, so it was easy for me to decide. ;-)

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  3. Nice definition between flashback and backstory. It's nice to see those percentages and get an idea of how it works best. I'll have to save that somewhere. I don't think I have any flashbacks in this story. I do have some backstory though.

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    1. I think the percentages were eye opening for me. I was considering a new opening, but it required a flashback in the first chapter. I don't think I'm good enough to break rules and get away with it yet. ;-)

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