Novelists are often advised not to write flashbacks. Or at least, if we do, we are told we’d better be a seasoned genius, not a wet-behind-the-ears first time novelist.

Like all other advice of this kind, I take it with a pinch (and occasionally a sack) of salt. Flashbacks are like any other narrative device. They can be done well or badly. I have not used them before unless you count a framing device in Children of the Folded Valley, in which case, the bulk of the novel is a flashback, technically speaking.

However, in a novel I wrote last year entitled The Irresistible Summons, I finally took the plunge and included flashbacks when I could think of no better alternative. The three chapters in question are staggered throughout the first half of the novel, and gradually reveal vital backstory that could only otherwise be told by one character to another in a lengthy explanation of something that took place in her childhood. This would have been less dramatic, and it would also have robbed the story of the emotional power I wanted it to contain.

There then comes the thorny question of where to place the flashbacks amid the main narrative so it feels seamless and not an intrusion. This proved fiendishly tricky, but with a bit of rewriting and other jiggery-pokery, I think I got away with it. The three individuals who have read early drafts all agreed that the flashbacks were both integral and well-placed. Cue huge sigh of relief from yours truly.

So yes, whilst flashbacks are a difficult trick to pull off, they are sometimes worth including in my view.

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One Response to Flashbacks

  1. marcusbines says:

    The first part of my novel contains many flash-forwards – but momentary ones, so perhaps not with the same problems inherent in including them.

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