Monday, April 22, 2013

Flashback or memory?

My younger son lives in LA, and he told me this is a game he and his friends play, looking at the people walking down the street talking to themselves, and asking, "Insane, or Bluetooth?"
(That is, crazy, or talking to someone on the phone?)
Another contemporary issue:
Flashback, or memory?

A commenter asked:
What is the difference between a flashback and the thought level POV when the character is thinking about the past?
From Alicia:
A flashback is an actual scene that takes place in the past. It might start in the character's POV, but doesn't stay there. 
Think of it this way. I'm going to assign years to the same character, because the PRESENT character might be remembering the PAST character experience, but isn't experiencing it:
2013 Anna looks back and remembers 1995 Anna's firing. She has a wider perspective on it now. She realizes that the job was really wrong for her, and she probably wasn't very good at it; however, with the benefit of hindsight, she has figured out that her boss was threatened by her greater insight. Anna now gets that she was lucky to get out of the toxic situation, and anyway, if she hadn't been fired, she might never have gone back to school and gotten the computer security degree which has led to her getting the job she really wanted. So 2013 Anna looks back and remembers what happens, but also realizes it was all for the best.
Flashback (book is in 2013, and 2013 Anna is the main character):
1995 Anna gets called into her boss's office. She goes in to find her boss cursing at and pounding the computer, having once again clicked on an email attachment that has let loose the virus that eats all the files AND sends the whole company's clientlist a pornographic picture. 1995 Anna feels guilty because she forgot to back up her own files last night, and they're probably gone now, eaten by the virus. She ventures a comment that maybe we should have a company-wide meeting about computer safety. Her boss yells at her, and then fires her. 1995 Anna stumbles out, feeling like a loser, full of shame as her coworkers watch her pack up her stuff and leave.
(Back to 2013, and super-accomplished and happy Anna with the computer security degree and the great job).
See the difference? It's 2013 Anna. Is she remembering? Then it's a memory.
If she stops being for a moment, and 1995 Anna has a scene, then it's a flashback, and presumably 2013 Anna isn't remembering-- it's just being related to the reader. 
So which is yours? Is this "happening" to 2013 Anna? Is she changed by the memory in some way (like feeling better about herself when she realizes it was good that she got fired back in 1995)? Then it's a memory.
But if it's an actual scene that takes place with 1995 Anna, then it's a flashback.
I never have any success persuading writers who love flashbacks to rethink them (been trying a long time: or at least to understand how to make them work. But let me just say, the "present of the story" is when almost all the scenes and actions should take place. If too much happens in the past, then why aren't I writing about that great exciting past time? Why am I setting the book in 2013 if I'm really so interested in 1995? 
Now if what I want is for 2013 Anna to realize that she was lucky to be fired back then, I'd make something happen NOW that makes her remember (briefly) getting fired. What sets off the memory? Seeing that her old boss was sent to jail, I don't know.
That said, I tend to use flashbacks AND memory when I'm stuck for plot events in the present. That's always a sign I need to plot better quickly.
So what do you think you're doing? It's possible to improve the scene, even a flashback, so it doesn't bother readers and actually adds to the story. Here's the question: What difference does it make? How does this memory or flashback change things in the present?
What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like tiny, one sentence memories in very close pov which point out WHY the character then says or does something.

Added together over the course of a novel, these snippets create a backstory for the character without any kind of infodump: each piece is provided at the right place, but is an extension of things before.

If the sentence is actual remembered dialogue, you can spot it because I use italics (actual thought in words used by the character) and single quotes (rather than double quotes, which to me say dialogue happening NOW.)

From the first 12 chapters of the WIP:
‘Bird in hand, princess,’ Daddy said. Thank God the house was hers, and an untouchable trust kept it that way forever.

Time to exit—on my terms. “That was good. See you tomorrow.” She could hear Daddy’s voice as she walked away.
‘The power player is the first to leave.’

‘Never be late for cues, princess,’ Daddy’d said. ‘Makes them think you’re not professional.’

‘Never show men your anger,’ Daddy said. ‘Hollywood will crucify you.’ Her clenched hands shook as she forced her voice into control. “You think I can’t direct.”

And what the hell would she talk about—how Daddy ruined a perfectly good liver by drinking?

The idea is that you get Bianca's background and relationship with her father (a failed entertainer who abandoned the family when she was eleven) in the effect he had on her - and still has - from his habit of creating aphorisms and using them over and over. His words stick in her head as Daddy's wisdom. Her behavior is formed by them.

Thanks for the always-interesting topics.