So. You're staring at your manuscript. You're looking at that flashback scene, that paragraph of backstory, and you're thinking how do I know if it should stay?
When to use a flashbacks
- If this is a moment in time that has forever altered your character.
- You've spent time in the story building up tension about what happened on "that night" or "that afternoon" and your flashback is revealing what went down.
When to not use a flashback
- You wrote the scene, but then your timeline changed, but you really want to put it somewhere...
- It's a cute scene and you love it and you think readers will find it "fun." (Flashbacks are not about fun - they're about revealing something deeper.)
I'm not a huge fan of them being used in prologues, though with that being said The Apothecary's Daughter is one of my favorite books and Julie Klassen opens with a flashback-y prologue. So it can be effective in the hands of a skilled writer.
Backstory can be a sentence or two, like the red below:
"Kyle? Will you raise your hand so that Paige will know who you are?"
The entire class teetered with laughter at this comment. Paige and Kyle had been best friends since preschool. In fact, the idea of Paige not knowing a person in the class was a little humorous in itself. Paige had been friends with everyone and had been the most well-known girl in school.
Or it can be paragraphs. Don't worry. I won't make you read a paragraph of backstory. I'll just say that usually the lead-in to a paragraph of backstory sounds like, "Paige and Kyle met during a finger painting incident in preschool..." and then it goes on for awhile about the details of their meeting, but in a "telling" fashion rather than flashing back.
One of the biggest things to consider with backstory is your character's voice and viewpoint. Even backstory needs to happen through their eyes. An example is:
When I told Meghan about Jay, she said, "I think you guys should just be friends."
Of course. Ever since Joel stomped on her heart last spring, Meghan has been all about "staying friends."
That bit about Joel is backstory, but it comes through the Point of View character's filter. It tells us everything we need to know at that moment. Which is that she doesn't trust Meghan's advice because of what Meghan's been through. We don't need an additional paragraph about the narrators feelings on Meghan and Joel's relationship. Maybe that will matter later, or maybe not. Like we talked about Monday - RUE! Resist the Urge to Explain!
Little sentences here and there are normal. Those are the bread crumbs, or as I've been told Jill Williamson calls them, "shards of glass." If your backstory delves into a paragraph or two, it's definitely possible the story needs it, just make sure you're asking yourself that question.
Don't forget to get your writing prompts turned in tonight! And make sure you're back here on Friday because Sarah Holman, young author of The Destiny of One and The Destiny of a Few, will be here for an interview and giveaway!