Should I use Flashbacks and Flashforwards?

clock-1527693_1920Very early on in writing my novel I knew I wanted flashbacks but, with a recent consideration of adding a lone flash-forward, I began questioning the necessity of my chronological flash dance.

You may want to use these time switcheroos to enhance your storytelling but I think it’s healthy and necessary to question why you’re choosing to use them.

Are you using them to add excitement during a long stretch of “boring?”

Do they help tell the story more effectively?

What if you didn’t use them at all? Would your story suffer for it?

I asked myself these questions, feeling like there may come a time when I would need to defend their use to someone other than myself. Even if that moment never arrives I want to know that I’m telling this story the best way I can.

My novel in progress, Father’s Creed, takes place just before the War of 1812. We come to a father and daughter in Pennsylvania and peek into their lives as German Baptist farmers. We soon learn that the mother is absent, the pair discussing their feelings about her leaving many months prior. My flashbacks are several moments in the past where the mother is with the family.

These moments are years apart from each other. I could have stacked them in order and would have just as much jumping around as I have now, but I have several reasons why I chose the scenes as flashbacks.

  1. My story is told in 3rd person limited. That means that we never see inside the characters’ minds and we get little in the way of narrative omniscience. The characters have to tell us how they feel or show it in what they do. Because of this approach, I use flashbacks as a way of replacing memories or dreams.
  2. I wanted to control how the reader feels about the mother, and pace out those emotions through her previous actions. I felt these specific moments in time accomplished that.
  3. A big part of the war has to do with where the Native Americans fit in, as well as who and what they’re fighting for. The flashbacks all deal with the story of the Odawa Indians, the mother’s tribe, and I don’t have many scenes for them until later. If I didn’t space them out better in the beginning then their scenes may feel like afterthoughts. I was originally going to have the same treatment for the British but felt like that would detract from the family as the focus. I made the mother Indian to tie their stories together and create more conflict amongst the family and society’s view of them.

Now, the lone flash forward. This is to go at the beginning of the book to bring the readers into an action scene that actually takes place much later. Its sole purpose is to grab the reader and hook them, and I’m struggling with that as justification. This is historical fiction, a story beginning at the brink of war. Will readers expect an action movie grab bag of battles or can I drive the story with characters first and deliver some bonus blood and explosions later?

I have yet to decide on this one and will update you when I do.

In the meantime, I’ll keep asking myself questions. I suggest you do as well. Do you really feel that your story is better off with flashbacks or flash-forwards? If you’re story is told chronologically, should you consider moving things around?

Tell me about your story and why you told the events in the order you chose. Also, Subscribe and follow. Thanks for reading.

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3 comments

  1. This is an interesting post on when it’s necessary to add flashbacks/flashforwards! I personally usually don’t like reading them because it can get a bit confusing in the story, but when it’s essential to enriching the story and giving me more information about the characters and their situation to better understand their current state, then I don’t mind reading it (like with your case here)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have read arguments for and against, and I see both sides having valuable points. It does seem to come down to flow and easy understanding of where the scenes fit in the timeline. If any of my early readers have any confusion then I’ll have to reconsider the approach.

      Liked by 1 person

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