Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I'm going to say it...I'm not a fan of the flashback. The word reminds me of cheesy thriller or mystery novels that involve stereotyped 1970-1980 detectives. Or the ex-cop facing off against the criminal who killed his wife and kid in revenge (overused plot alert).

Merriam describes a flashback as "an interruption of the chronological sequence (as of a film or literary work) of an event of earlier occurrence". This is probably why I don't like them. They are really just a mechanism for an info dump and I don't like info dumps. I want the information to flow out during the course of the story.

In my reading adventures - and I am a reader of vast material - info dumps side track you from the point and make it difficult to follow the storyline or keep engaged with the characters.

I know the pro argument for flashbacks. They provide pertinent information to the current situation, including character motivation, relationship dynamics, and conflict. My response is always, "Maybe you're starting the story at the wrong place then". Or maybe you're putting too much into the "pertinent information".

Now if there's parts of the characters "past life" (pre-novel) that is important, you can work those concepts in to the current storyline by their reaction to certain situations and dialogue. Take Under the Dome by Stephen King, since I just did the review and all. He worked the character's past life into the modern story without info dumping or flashback scenes. He did it with tasteful glimpses through thoughts and conversations in the moment.

Well, imagine my surprise when I realized that my Galileo dream sequences were actually flashbacks? Groan and curse...dang it! Then imagine my chagrin when I realized that my like of dream sequences have faded the more I learn my writing style.

Now dream sequences I've seen done really well in regards to the characters internal conflict and foreshadowing events to come. I just don't think that I am the kind of writer to do them well and all mine reference past events and relationships.


Now I have these ugly things in my story and I have to find a way to work the core point of the content in better ways.

Time to be a dream killer...good writing all!


  1. I haven't read Under the Dome yet, but many of SK's books utilize some form of flashback. Wizard and Glass, for example, is basically one big flashback in the Dark Tower series.

    I think the reason it works for him is because his flashbacks are like little mini stories within the larger story

  2. Thanks for the reply Ed.

    You're definitely right about SK's love of flashback, especially in his earlier works. I can't speak to the Dark Tower series as I'll admit I can't get into those. (I actually forgot he even wrote them)

    You have a great point about the mini stories within the larger story. He makes them so much more than a flashbacks and expands them into something more than just an info dump.

    Thank you so much for your comment. Got me thinking about them a little deeper...who knows, maybe I'll grow to love them ;)

  3. No problem. A lot of people have trouble getting into the Dark Tower series because of the first book, The Gunslinger.

    It was mostly written as a series of short stories back in the 70's, and it is hard to get through. The rest of the series is really amazing though, and worth suffering through book one. (You could even skip book one if you really wanted to.)

  4. Great idea, I might try that. I have the holiday vacation coming up. I was going to read the first couple books of the Looking Glass Wars. Maybe I'll mix it up a bit.