Having recently posted an Evaira story that is almost entirely a flashback, it got me thinking about flashbacks in fiction. It is a very useful mechanic.
However, at the same time, I’ve seen more than my share of stories where flashbacks are either overused, or not marked clearly enough. In such cases, it’s difficult to tell what’s in the present and what’s in the past. In general though, I like flashbacks, when they’re done right, and I’ve used them many times throughout Cromm, and Swogprille and my earlier stories too. Sometimes, chronological order is not the best order to tell the story.
Flashbacks are good for revealing character backstory. For one thing, it’s dull starting the book with backstory – that’s not a good opener. Backstory should be revealed throughout the story, if and when it becomes relevant. Then, there’s the element of mystery. By not revealing too much about a character at first, it makes the reader wonder who they are, what motivates them, and more.
Flashbacks are also good for twists. Concealing certain details from the reader, and revealing them later in a flashback can make for a nice twist or surprise. The TV show Leverage was quite good at this. Of course, I don’t want to make these details seem to come out of nowhere. I have to build up to it (careful planning, I’ve posted about this before).
But then the question becomes when to include the flashback. They should probably be near relevant parts of the story in the present. Maybe what happens in the past is similar to the present, or influences the decision the character makes. Also, I always like to include a specific mention of a character thinking or talking about the past, making it clear when the flashback begins or ends – like I said above, I’ve seen too many times when it gets confusing.
In the case of Evaira, I had planned from the very start to have the all-flashback story “The Editor Phenomenon”. I wanted to establish who the Evaira character was before I worked on establishing what made her that way.
Besides, the story of The Editor Phenomenon is not a typical Evaira story. I wanted to start with something a bit more typical of what the series was about, and dive right in quicker. I decided to introduce the characters quickly, and establish their past through flashbacks and explanations throughout the stories. The Shapeshifter Phenomenon introduces so much more of what makes the series what it is.
Well, I think that’s enough on the subject for now. White Rakogis is signing off!