Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Flashback

Got a question/comment about the creative process of writing? Post it here!
User avatar
Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Location: North London
Contact:

Flashback

Postby Miss Moppet » Tue November 25th, 2014, 3:58 pm

Hello again everyone...long time no see! :) I've been very occupied with a new project and thus have been lurking here more than posting for goodness knows how long.

Anyway, I have a question. I've now started getting feedback for the early chapters of my wip. One of them is all flashback. It's set in the C19 with a 1st person narrator. And a couple of people have commented that they found the flashback section unconvincing because how could he remember all this, relate all this dialogue verbatim, etc etc.

And it just seems odd to me, because for 1st person don't you suspend your disbelief about how much the narrator remembers about events often far back in the past anyway? (This link might explain more what I'm trying to say). I haven't specified how old my MC is at the time of writing the main narrative. He could be looking back 20 years or 40 years, so why would a few more make a difference?

Not everyone is saying this, just a couple of people, but it does bother me as there is a whole section in flashback later in the book, and I don't want people feeling it's unconvincing simply because it's flashback. It seemed such a standard device to me that I never questioned the plausibility and I certainly don't when I encounter it in other novels, historical or contemporary.

So my question is: do you find flashback implausible just because it is flashback, or does it not bother you?

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue November 25th, 2014, 6:03 pm

Hi Miss Moppet, glad to see you back on the threads.
And now my answer to your question, which of course is just me and may be entirely wrong for you.
The first question to ask yourself is about where the commenter is coming from. Hopefully you have not given your HF ms to somebody who only reads techno-thrillers. If that is the case, go with your own gut feelings. You read HF and they don't, so you know more about pleasing HF readers, which may be entirely opposite to what pleases techno-thriller readers. (In the place of 'techno-thrillers' you may substitute any other non-HF genre.)

Assuming that is not the problem, then you have been given valuable information. But it isn't really about the flashback mechanism. This person may just have chosen that because they can't quite put their finger on exactly WHAT makes them unhappy. But as somebody presently in the process, I can tell you what my guess is: for some reason, this section has lost their interest.
So go back and read it with a critical eye. Pretend that you know nothing more than the reader does at this point in the story. (A common failing I have is to look at the early parts with the later parts in mind. The reader can't do that, and might not give you the benefit of the doubt. You have to keep their interest NOW.)
Did you put in Too Much Information? (TMI= whatever is not relevant to the story to date.)
Are you trying to evoke too many emotions in the reader at the same time? Think about how you want the reader to feel in this scene, and then cut away anything that pulls them in the opposite direction. If it is really necessary, put it elsewhere.
Or you can re-package the information/emotions with a different story-twist.
My best helper is currently making me fix all the horse-details in my current work. It's straight HF, but the plot involves the loss and recovery of a very valuable (and very intelligent) stallion trained in the Spanish Schooling style. I have TONS of inside horse-cognitive details which I think would be fun to include in the plot, not to mention I want to win some readers among the 8 million horse enthusiasts around. But my larger readership couldn't care less about bits of tack and training moves. Especially this particular Beta reader. I have to cut what is extraneous, and whet is essential must be re-packaged into incidents that make emotional points the reader CARES about. In one case, she suggested that the horse details could be merely the excuse for two rivals (who were the center of that particular scene) to try and one-up each other. I took her advice, and loved the result.

So the age or the flashback is not the problem. The problem is you lost the reader's interest. Figure that out and fix it.

User avatar
Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Location: North London
Contact:

Postby Miss Moppet » Tue November 25th, 2014, 6:45 pm

Hello MLE, many thanks for your thoughtful reply. :)

"MLE (Emily Cotton)" wrote:Hi Miss Moppet, glad to see you back on the threads.
And now my answer to your question, which of course is just me and may be entirely wrong for you.
The first question to ask yourself is about where the commenter is coming from. Hopefully you have not given your HF ms to somebody who only reads techno-thrillers.


Nope, she reads/writes HF. I'm on a critique site so have had quite a bit of feedback by now and completely agree that comments by non-fans of the genre are of much more limited use.

So go back and read it with a critical eye. Pretend that you know nothing more than the reader does at this point in the story. (A common failing I have is to look at the early parts with the later parts in mind. The reader can't do that, and might not give you the benefit of the doubt. You have to keep their interest NOW.)

Did you put in Too Much Information? (TMI= whatever is not relevant to the story to date.)


Could well be. I'm finding it a bit hard to judge because I'm so close to it. I'm hoping that I'll find some beta readers to read the book as a whole, and will be able to tell me if I have some stuff there that can be cut. At present, some people think there is TMI in this chapter, and others want more and are complaining the scenes are not long enough. Only I don't want to give them more because it means spoilers! So I'm trying to find a happy medium. Will look at it again with a critical eye as you suggest. :)

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue November 25th, 2014, 9:30 pm

I have a couple of fans of my other (currently unavailable) novels who are always clamoring for me to put in more information. They swell my writerly ego, but I have learned that it is best to lean in the other direction. Ditch the 'happy medium' theory for 'most impatient reader'. You won't lose the first group, and you'll gain the (much larger) second group.

An addendum on Beta readers: if you want somebody who is not a friend or relative to slog through your ms beyond the point that interests them, you should expect to pay. Or you can barter, but keep in mind that this sometimes contaminates the process, particularly if you are bartering critique for critique. Among writers, there is too much sympathy for how much work you have put in and fear that if they are honest you will either get hostile or slam what they write. I'd sooner have an accountant or sales clerk who happens to like HF give me feedback.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Tue November 25th, 2014, 9:37 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Location: North London
Contact:

Postby Miss Moppet » Tue November 25th, 2014, 10:28 pm

"MLE (Emily Cotton)" wrote:I have a couple of fans of my other (currently unavailable) novels who are always clamoring for me to put in more information. They swell my writerly ego, but I have learned that it is best to lean in the other direction. Ditch the 'happy medium' theory for 'most impatient reader'. You won't lose the first group, and you'll gain the (much larger) second group.


I didn't think of it like that. Good point. :)

User avatar
Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Location: North London
Contact:

Postby Miss Moppet » Wed November 26th, 2014, 10:57 pm

Well, after getting a couple more comments I've had a breakthrough, which is partly due to what you said about genre.

The people who are saying they don't like flashback and would rather have the story told chronologically are fans of a different kind of HF to what I'm writing: ie, longer books based on historical events/persons and covering multiple decades (like Wolf Hall or The Other Boleyn Girl). Whereas what I am trying to write (this time) is a shorter book with fictional characters, with most of the action concentrated in one year of story time (like The Little Stranger or The Sealed Letter). So I don't want to start with the earliest event in the story, it would make the narrative too bitty and rambling, whereas for their favourite type of book it wouldn't.

In other words, not only genre but sub-genre is important when seeking critiques, because people are biased towards how stories are told in their particular sub-genre. I never realised that before. Thank you MLE for helping me with this. :)

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Thu November 27th, 2014, 12:29 am

*waves*

It is good to see you back here. I'm thinking MLE has given you excellent advice.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Location: North London
Contact:

Postby Miss Moppet » Thu November 27th, 2014, 1:34 am

"Misfit" wrote:*waves*

It is good to see you back here. I'm thinking MLE has given you excellent advice.


Hey there Misfit! I have been lurking about. Need to delurk some more. :) :)

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Thu November 27th, 2014, 2:08 am

"Miss Moppet" wrote:Hey there Misfit! I have been lurking about. Need to delurk some more. :) :)


You hAve been missed.
At home with a good book and the cat...

...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Miss Moppet
Bibliophile
Location: North London
Contact:

Postby Miss Moppet » Thu November 27th, 2014, 11:52 am

"Misfit" wrote:You hAve been missed.


Thank you! I plan to decloak like a Klingon warship in the middle of a thread...when everyone least expects it. :p


Return to “The Craft of Writing”