As many of you know I've been taking a short creative writing course that will be coming to an end in another 2 weeks. A lot of people have found the assignments interesting and some have even been taking them up on their own blogs.
So I thought I would post this week's assingment now instead of with the finished piece. That way those of you interested can take a crack at it too!
So students this week, we're writing a Flashback!
What is a flashback? It's an illumination, it's in the past, and it's often quick as a...
A flashback is not an ornamental device or long digression. It must be relevant. It's usually a revelation which informs the present (or near past) character-story. It should deepen our understanding, add a meaningful new layer of insight, reveal aspects of the character's story which would otherwise be hidden. A flashback is not a rambling reminiscence or a guided tour down memory lane. It's usually involuntary, subconscious, provoked. As such, it can reveal 'secrets' to the reader -- insights which help to unmask even the most guarded or controlled characters.
Flashbacks are triggered clearly for the reader by a change in style, a key word, a striking image, an evocative sensation... or a direct reference to the time difference (eg "When he was 12...", "Years before..." etc). When you signal the change in time frame, you need to be in control of your tenses. You also need to be very clear about when you come back out of that deeper past.
Sometimes a weighty flashback works better if it is broken into separate chunks. Each stage can deliver a new insight. Whatever happens, we shouldn't lose sight of the main story. And we shouldn't lose our sense of narrative momentum. The central character needs to remain located in time and space. If need be, remind us that (eg) s/he is driving a car, eating an icecream or late for a wedding.
Avoid using clichés like "Memories came flooding back" -- unless you're playing with the technique in a self-conscious manner -- such phrases are the equivalent of cinema's calendar pages blowing away or misty swirls accompanied by harp music!
It's much easier to write from the present tense (eg "X is doing something" or "X does something") and go into the past from there.
So this week's exercise is harder than that! But it's also likely to be more useful.
-Write a story set in the perfect or imperfect past tense. (eg "X did something" or "X was doing something")
-Keep it to one central character's perspective only.
-S/he has a flashback -- usually in the pluperfect past tense (eg "X had done this") or a repeated continuous memory (eg "X used to do this" or "X would do this every Sunday...")
-The flashback continues (you can drop the pluperfect after a while, or else your story becomes riddled with the word "had")
-The story comes back to the im/perfect past.
If you want to save time, make use of an existing character or story you've already started, THEN DELVE!
PS. This is my 100th post! Thanks for still reading.