While reading through the messages in response to Nathan's recent Prologue Opinion Poll I noticed that a number of people declared themselves totally anti-flashback. That surprised me. I can understand how overuse of flashbacks can be annoying (too much hopping around in time or using continual flashbacks to tell info that could be told in other ways) but now I'm curious to know if most people dislike them.
My current WIP (commercial fiction with a romantic dramedy flavor) follows the lives of two young married couples who meet when they become neighbors. The majority of the story takes place in chronological order, but as the couples get to know one another, share stories of their past, experience traumatic events, etc they do each experience "flashbacks". To me, in the context of this story, the flashbacks are memories that are being relived because something in the character's present invoked that recollection. The stories told through these flashbacks either help the character process something he/she is experiencing in the present or illustrate a facet of his/her personality. In some cases two characters will have recollections of the same past occurrence and you'll get to see how differently two people experience the same event. People are made up of their memories. You can walk past a cafe, catch a whiff of coffee and suddenly be transported back into your grandmother's kitchen (mentally, not physically, unless it's a really, really special roast). The mention of the word tequila can cause you to physically cringe as you recall the aftermath of the first night you tried doing shots of it (it's just an example, I admit nothing). Most people flash back to events from their past on a regular basis in daily life; it's normal (and by normal I mean I do it, and other people tell me they do too).
I'll admit I probably have a greater desire than most to get inside people's heads and understand them (came in handy when I worked as a mental health clinician, now I use it primarily to annoy my kids and my friends and to analyze shows like The Bachelor), and that analytical, need-to-know tendency definitely comes across in my writing style. The authors in my writing workshop have all commented that they love the flashbacks because they explain some facet of the character's personality and they show rather than tell; they've actually encouraged me to add more. I have another reader who's not in the group (and doesn't write) and she has said that, generally speaking, she prefers to have a story unfold entirely in chronological order. She likes the backstory she's learned in the flashbacks and doesn't think they should be omitted, she just likes to journey through time in only one direction.
So, my question: since everyone experiences flashbacks, and people recount stories to one another in real life as a means of getting acquainted, is there a time and place for them in novels?
Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing