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Why Is Everyone Doing This? Flashbacks




More often than not when I pick up a new book these days I am baffled and bored. Nearly every story is written using the same structure. Is this because indie authors are only reading other indie authors??? Or because they read the same writing advice blogs? Who the hell knows but it needs to be addressed.


Here is the structure:


1)The story opens with something happening (a scream, a person running in the forest, hearing a scary noise in the dark) Hold your breath...


2) Flashback to…. Sometimes a half hour, sometimes just that morning. But it's never enough to really make a difference. It's just filler.


Why flashback only a few hours?!?!? I can’t fucking stand it. Just start the story.


3)…Anyway, they flashback to the morning and the author proceeds with a massive info dump about how the guy loves his wife, or how the girl just broke up with her boyfriend, a stupid job and a stupid boss, etc…basically a mundane existence to show how boring and ordinary the character is. I think authors do this so that the reader gets totally blown away when the character's life explodes into horror.


4)The story goes slowly forward to the point where we originally flashed back, FINALLY, we’re going to see what the screaming was…… oh it's just a child having a tantrum or the cat knocking something over in the kitchen. NOTHING HAPPENS.


5) From there the story plods on and we pray something actually happens soon……


It seems authors are misusing the advice of hooking the reader with action. They are instead using a fake-out, making us think something horrible/scary is going to happen only for it to be mundane or nothing at all. What’s worse is when they start the story, flashback to the morning, then flashback yet again to last night. WTF?!? This is an example of weak, wandering storytelling. It also seems like they are just begging the readers to hang in there, they promise they’ll get to the story later.


What is going on with this structure? Normally in the past when there were flashbacks, it would be more like


1) The story starts at the peak of the climax

2) Then flashes back to the beginning of the character's story


3) The rest of the story then leads up to the climax/conclusion


4) end


There was none of this ‘mini’ flashback action. I think authors are picking this habit up from watching too many movies with those annoying jump scares. Only it's a book so it doesn’t work. It just makes the character look dumb and interrupts the flow of a story.


Writing blogs tell authors that basically, their audience is dumb. They seem to indicate that the author therefore needs to tell the reader everything otherwise the reader will lose interest or get confused. This leads to massive info dumping, endless mini flashbacks, and reminiscing about meaningless details that bog down the story. If you can’t think of a natural way to bring up the character’s auburn hair or trashy clothes, don’t bother, it probably isn’t relevant to the story anyway.


Advice from actual editors with real qualifications says that if the story doesn’t begin until the second or third page, then cut those pages out and start the story. Sprinkle in your character's life story as you go, let them have a conversation, and whatever you do don’t have them walking through the woods, finding a dead body, then flashing back to them having breakfast that morning. We don’t need to know.


Dropping the reader head-first into a situation is the perfect way to grab their attention without trying to pull the wool over their eyes or fake them out. Even if you start with the guy finding a dead body, he moves closer, then it turns out to be a prank and the kid jumps up and runs off, that's fine but DO NOT flashback to the guy looking outside and thinking about what a nice day it is and how he wants to go for a walk after he mows the lawn, keep the story moving ever forward and your reader will be more than happy to keep up and learn along the way, that’s what character development/growth is for.



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