Friday, February 24, 2017

into a flashback and out

Do you need to explain something in the past for your reader to understand your character’s present? Flashbacks come in handy at times like these. However, using flashbacks too soon or too often can screw up your book.
  • Is it necessary? 
  • Is this information absolutely necessary for the readers to know?
  • Will this give a better understanding of the plot? 
  • Should the reader know this detail about my character’s life? 
  • Why is it so important? 
If you are convinced you must have a flashback in this location (not at the beginning of the book) then, go ahead. 

Getting in and out of a flashback is not difficult. 

It requires several separate but simple shifts.

From my book, Mankiller:

“The rain beating mercilessly on the windshield [1. We are in the present] took him back, as it often did, to a tragic rainy night in 1979, the last time he had seen Margo Crane alive.” [2. We are now leaving the present] 
“Frank Tasker and Margo Crane had eaten dinner at T. Nelson Downs, a magic theme restaurant. It was the first time he'd seen her since their divorce five years earlier.” [We are firmly in the past which now becomes the present for the sake of the scene taking place. The flashback scene goes on for several pages until Margo is killed and Tasker talks to a nurse in the hospital.]
“The nurse pulled in a deep breath, looked out at the early morning darkness, split by the hazy street lamp, and said, ‘The police say she was dead at the scene.’ She turned back to him. ‘l’m sorry.’ [1. We are still in the past] “In a lightning-like instant on a rainy February night, Tasker had lost Margo Crane forever.” [2. We are leaving the past and returning to the present] “Tasker lifted his head and finally turned the key in the ignition, preparing to drive home through the dark, rainy Sarasota night.” [We're back in the immediate present, once again.]

Notice that I used something memorable to trigger the flashback went directly into the flashback, and then brought readers back out of the flashback through the same door that I had led them in. (The rain.)
The “something memorable” used to trigger the flashback can be an unusual word or combination of words, a visual image, an object, a place, an incident, an overheard snatch of conversation, a smell, an unusual color; it can be anything that logically recalls the past to the protagonist, and thus to our readers.

As I did in my book, Deadly Sacrifice, you can even use a memorable song:
“On her way to the Fourth Street Grill for lunch with Brian Burnham, Veronica turned on her car radio. U-92 began playing ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, a song which always reminded her of when she'd met Sam.” 
[I am signaling for a flashback. The door into the past is Veronica’s memory of the first time she heard that song. I skip a few spaces and start into the flashback.]
“Veronica had just graduated from high school in Arlington, Virginia the summer she met Sam.”
The flashback goes on for about three pages, covering how she met Sam and how they got engaged. It contains dialog and narrative, like any other part of the book. Then, I come back through the same door I used to get into it in the first place:
“Sam and Veronica were married in the backyard of his parents’ home in Mount Pocono and the band played a silly instrumental version of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ at their wedding. No wonder that song would forever be linked with the good times she shared with Sam.” [Back through the same door again.] 
“Now, here she was, nearly sixteen years later, throwing herself into her work to avoid thinking about being alone. Thankfully, before she became entirely maudlin, U-92 began playing the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ and Veronica started singing along as loudly as she could.”
Notice that all I used to signal that we're back was the word “now.”

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews