ACT FIRST, EXPLAIN LATER - Part Two
ACT FIRST, EXPLAIN LATER: Part 2
In part 1, the focus was on the inciting incident that kicks off a novel or movie and how not to clutter it with a prologue or some other “telling.” In part 2, we look at another potentially dangerous form of telling: the Flashback.
I know some agents and editors who are death on flashbacks. But I think their reason is that flashbacks are generally handled poorly. Used sparingly, a flashback can be an effective tool for illuminating a character’s motivation, weakness, strength, etc.
But how to do that? Unless it’s a very small piece of information, avoid having one character “telling” about something that happened off-stage. The simplest way is to start a new chapter and stay in immediate scene. Show the information as it happens, make your plot point, then jet back to the present.
Always ask if the information in the flashback is SO important that it can’t be avoided, or presented some other way.
Movies tend to be a bit more flashbacky than books, largely because, as a visual medium, all parts of a movie involve “showing.”
A good example of a flashback is in the movie Gladiator. The Russell Crowe character, Maximus, thinks back to memories of his family, now dead. We get the sense that he’s done all he can in his life and wants to join them. In this case, the short visual clips of an idyllic time offer the audience a sense of the loss he has suffered, while also explaining his state of mind near the end of the film.
So, make a flashback relevant, keep it short, and keep it in immediate scene and you can avoid running afoul of antsy readers and even antsier agents.
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