Monday, January 28, 2013

Dear Rocky: The Flashback Kid

Dear Rocky,

Most of the members of my critique group continue to tell me to “kill the flashbacks.” (Yes, they say it in a much nicer fashion than that.)

I LOVE my flashbacks and I think they move the story forward. I want to keep them in my manuscript but I’ve grown weary of this oft repeated criticism.


The Flashback Kid


Dear Flashback Kid,

This is interesting on several levels.

First, the general “rule” is to avoid flashbacks and back story as much as possible. Less is more so that the current action moves the story forward. Pacing can be killed by flashbacks. Of course, rules are made to be broken if you do it really well.

Second, critique is subjective. It sounds as if you’re listening to your critique partners and then deciding whether to accept and utilize their comments, which is as it should be. However, if you’ve been in critique for a length of time and “killing the flashbacks” is such a regular comment, it might be helpful to sit back and be slightly more analytical.

Perhaps you could take fifty pages of your current manuscript and highlight each flashback. That would provide a visual of how often you’re using them and possibly an illustration of why your critique partners continue to make this comment. Can you then drill down the importance of your very first flashback into a sentence or two, and insert that into dialogue or your character’s thoughts? Then read the original version and the edited version aloud. You might love the new pacing!

It’s hard to kill our darlings and your darling flashbacks are no exception. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for your writing and manuscript, but I’ve always found my critique partners to be an invaluable part of the writing process.  I don't accept and use every one of their comments, but I always take their comments seriously.

Best of luck and thank you for writing!



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1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

Sometimes, however, even the best critique groups get hung up on one thing they've learned is "wrong" and they'll harp on it until the end of time.

As critiquers, we need to look at each story/novel as a unique creation. Sometimes flashbacks work beautifully, and sometimes they're a disaster. We need to make sure we're not in a rut, saying "flashbacks are bad," as a habit instead of a valid observation for the piece under consideration.