An Inside Look at Revision: Flashbacks are Not as Useful as Writers Sometimes Think

Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation is available on Amazon and Smashwords. With every chapter, I posted notes about the process of revision.

Chapter 10
Young Woman Drawing 
by Marie -Denise Villers*

Chapter 10 is a perfect example of a writer struggling with show don't tell!

To back up, Part II contains the newer chapters of the revised Aubrey (Part I contains almost all the older chapters with a few exceptions). Chapter 10 went through the most revisions!

The problem: flashbacks.

In the prior-to-publication version, Aubrey mulled over changes to her body by thinking back over several months.
This is a typical approach for me--I like to start things in the middle, then move on with the action. However, I have to remember what I learned from the commentary of Finding Nemo: forget the flashback; sometimes, the writer needs to show what happened!

The commentary for Finding Nemo is well-worth listening to (and watching since it contains visual commentary); at the very beginning, one of the screenwriters mentions that he originally considered making Nemo's tragic beginnings (death of his mother; scarred fin) a flashback--until he realized that the pay-off just wasn't big enough to justify this wait-and-find-out-later approach. Instead, he decided to start the story with the tragedy and move on from there.

The lessons I took away were (1) sometimes it's better to give the reader the necessary information; (2) if all else fails, show the reader the events.

These two lessons sometimes contradict. If I take too much time showing an event, I'm not simply giving the reader the information and moving on. On the other hand, sometimes giving the reader the information, rather than showing the event, bogs down the narrative so much that I begin to think, "You know, I could show this faster!"

Pre-publication, Chapter 10 of Aubrey  fell into category two. So I decided to split up Aubrey's discoveries about herself, showing each; as a result, I was able to throw in a hint about the reappearance of a certain character . . . who will make his reappearance in Chapter 12.

I will discuss changes to the new Chapter 11 in my post about Chapter 11. 

*Marie-Denise Villers was a pupil of another female painter of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson. Young Woman Drawing may be a self-portrait.

Chapter 10 begins Part II of Aubrey. The pictures/images in Part II focus more on inquisitive and confident young women. Thankfully. Frankly, by the time I reached the end of Part I, I was running out of portraits of depressed, hounded, and sad women!


Joe said...

One problem with flashbacks is the discontinuity they can cause both to the reader and the writer. In many cases you end up seeing the flashback as a distortion. So may the writer. In the worse case, it's merely a cheesy way for the writer to get around a problem of character development of his own making.

I have a growing antipathy toward what could be called flash forwards or extended flash backs. Most commonly seen in television, this is where you have a teaser scene/chapter and then the text comes up "_____ hours/days/years ago." The problems being that a) it rarely pays off and b) it often actually ruins the story itself (in part because you already know what isn't going to happen to the character and as long as there's more than five minutes left, all the danger, development, etc. are even more red herrings than usual.)

As I thought about this, I realized that a big problem with all of this is that the writer has probably already worked out the story, so to the writer, this scene is significant. But to the viewer/reader it isn't.

(And don't get me started on stories told out-of-sequence....)

Katherine Woodbury said...

In general I agree. I feel the same way about prologues in fiction books that insist on taking me through a whole bunch of extraneous information ("This story starts eons ago when somebody or other did something or other.") And I don't care. But the writer thinks I should care.

One exception--and only because I'm rewatching it right now (hey, it's the start of my summer!)--is Keen Eddie which often starts with a flash-forward, then resumes 2 days or 24 hours earlier. It works because it is so totally hilarious. The writers themselves get the joke of showing you Eddie handcuffed and blindfolded in the back of a car--especially since that scene has almost nothing to do with anything that happens next!