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Thread: Flashbacks

  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    6

    Flashbacks

    I've heard you aren't supposed to start a novel with a flashback but mine does. It's quite short though and the purpose of it is that when the story begins, the main characters aren't talking to each other so I wanted to set the tone of what their relationship used to be like. And also because they have quite a long history together it'd be pointless to start from the beginning of it. Does it work? This is a piece of it.

    -----


    1.

    Charles gave these dull streets significance. He pumped them with life because of the possibility that we could see each other roaming about them.
    We would find each other every time at the familiar, undeclared meeting place: it was the web of shadow under the leafy canopy of a tall, forgotten tree.
    Charles and I used to roam about the town of Arima all the time. Just thinking about it reminds me of how much I loved him. The way he used to glide in and out of my life. That sharp pang of excitement in my chest whenever I saw him- whether I was expecting to or not.
    His hair would hang in spirals over his eyes as he barely glanced up at me through his eyelashes. His black eyes were like hooks. They were the most striking thing about him- the only physical feature of his I actually took in. If you asked me what I found physically attractive about him, I could never tell you, because I only looked at his eyes. They were so dark and deep they drew me in.
    I always wondered how he could be clothed in all black in weather like this. Trinidad heat is murderous.
    Trinidad is an island in the Caribbean, a dot in the sea, as my favourite Trinidadian writer, Naipaul, put it. On the map, its name is even bigger than the actual island.
    So it was not hard to understand why I was through with this place. I was tired of walking these same streets, tired of the monotony of my narrow life. I wanted more inspiration, more to see, more to do. I just wanted more. And it also reminded me too much of Charles.
    I’d last seen Charles at our usual place a few months ago. I don’t think he goes there anymore.
    The memory of that afternoon strikes me now, as memories often do the unsuspecting. Just when you think you have no more reason to hold on to the past, memories intervene.
    He was already at the taxi stand that day, sheltering under the tree. He was glancing my way even before I bent the corner. He was looking out for me, I suspected. But he would never openly admit it and I would never have the courage to suggest it.
    Charles was playing with a pocket knife and a lighter.
    “What’s the lighter for?” I asked him.
    He just shook his head dismissively and I assumed it was just style. He thought he was just so devilishly mysterious.
    Well, all right, he was.
    But that didn’t change the fact that I knew the real him. I knew him longer than anyone else did- about twelve years long. I knew him long before he fell into the world of rock music. Before he pierced his eyebrow (and his lip and his nose and his ears, and grew his hair, and got three tattoos...)
    Charles passed the knife lightly over his arm and left a small scratch. Then he turned to me.
    “Give me your hand,” he commanded, grinning.
    “Yeah, sure, cut me and see what will happen,” I threatened. I stretched out my arm, nevertheless, sure that he was just teasing and wouldn't actually cut me.
    But he took my left arm and swiftly swung the blade over it twice, leaving two thin, long scratches that swelled a little. They flushed red as a little blood rose to the surface. I gasped and began fighting with him for the knife.
    “I can't believe you cut me! Give me the knife!”
    He just swung the knife behind him, over his head, and everywhere I couldn't reach, and smiled. “Nope.”
    Eventually, successfully keeping me away from the knife, he outstretched his right hand, and with the blade in his left hand said, “Fine, I'll cut myself.”
    "Why?" I demanded, slightly miffed.
    “Because you would cut too deep,” he said stubbornly.
    So I let him.
    And in one swift motion, Charles’ skin didn't just flush red, but actually started bleeding. He swore and started trying desperately to wipe it up with his shirt.
    "F---! Come, give me your shirt," he ordered.
    “Pfft, No!” I wasn't taking any chances this time. Moreover, my shirt was white. Or was supposed to be, anyway.
    “It's your fault!” he insisted.
    “How is it my fault?” I cried.
    “You made me cut myself!” he claimed. He never stopped smiling, and when he did, the smile still left traces on his face, bright and alive.
    “What the –”
    I took out a tissue and took his arm in my hand, pretending to be mad, and as I did so I noticed his right arm was full of long, white scars, in all directions.
    “What's all that?” I demanded.
    “Nothing,” he said, nonchalantly, “I just scraped my hand while I was trying to climb a fence.”
    I looked at him suspiciously while I pressed the tissue hard onto his arm but he said nothing further.
    “That's not fair,” whined Charles. “I got cut deeper than you. I should cut you again.”
    “Uh, no, you cut yourself deeper; that has nothing to do with unfair, it just means you’re an idiot. Plus, I think you've left enough scars on me already...” I mumbled, hoping he hadn’t heard me.
    And I was right, I thought, that Charles hadn't heard me because he asked me to repeat it, but I didn't.
    He begged but eventually decided to leave when he realised he wasn’t getting anything out of me. Disappointment filled me but I would not show it. So I tried to stop him from going.
    “Fine, go, I won't tell you what I wanted to.”
    He suddenly seemed much more interested. “What? What, what, what?”



  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Posts
    187

    Re: Flashbacks

    HI Candice,

    By starting with a flashback, you risk losing the reader's interest. So the flashback itself must be interesting.

    I think what you've written is too long for a flashback and gets a bit confusing. Figure out what's absolutely esential for the reader to know at the very begining and just include that information. It might be better if the flashback starts with "the memory of that afternoon" because that's where the tension starts and shorten the dialog a little.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    508

    Re: Flashbacks

    Candice,

    Don't know about this business of not starting with a flashback. Just be sure to keep your times clear so you don't get the reader confused. There was some confusion in here for me. You aren't using your tenses ruthlessly, which is terribly important when you're messing about with time. Get that sorted out and see what you think. But I liked quite a bit of your writing. Get the scene steady and the reader aware of your narrator and the current time line before you go backward. Doesn't need to be much, but firm.

    Be clear when you transition to the flashback, perhaps shorten up the dialog and intersperse your narrator's thoughts more so it doesn't feel like a he-said, she-said so much. Loved the first line, but consider another sentence first that establishes your "I" narrator before giving us another character's name.

    Sounds promising.

  4. #4
    James North
    Guest

    Re: Flashbacks

    It’s better to avoid flashbacks altogether. If you use flashbacks, make them short. The goal is to have as many immediate scenes in your story as possible. You want the reader “there” experiencing what’s happening “now.” There are an infinite number of ways to write ANY story; your story can be written without a flashback or with one (or more) later in the story. New writers often get bogged down into believing they “must” write it this or that way when they have a million ways to write the same story. Generally, writing instructors say don’t use flashbacks at all, at least not until you are experienced.

    I’m just a guy with a computer who has written a few novels and one non-fiction book, so take it or leave it.

    Much success.

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