Okay folks, trying to be more forthright here.
what do you guys think of the use of flashbacks in a crime novel? in my novel a high priced model/prostitute is murdered. her murder is investigated. creeps crawling out of the woodwork. her sister wants to set everybody straight including the P. I. she's given up on the cops and the newspaper reporters. someone's feeding the P. I. with fantastic leads; (not the sister) she's never seen the stuff! letters, photos--and he's finding things aren't as black and white they seem. in a series of scaled down only pertinent flashbacks I want to bring out the dead woman's true self maybe before she started to fall--this then starts to turn the investigation on its head but eventually leads to a confrontation with the murderer--and so on!

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Hi, I think Leigh Michaels' describes it well: Sometimes, especially when a story takes place over a period of years or has its origins in a long-ago event, flashback is a useful tool in story-showing.

Flashback is not simply a character recalling what happened. A true flashback takes the characters and the reader back in time to the event, so we see the scene as it really was and hear the actual words (not the characters’ memories of what was said)--just as we do when describing present-day action.

Before using flashback at all, consider whether it’s really necessary. Flashback seldom moves a story forward. In fact, it slows the action of the main story and can bring it to a dead halt from which it will never recover. Flashback does not develop character; while it can illustrate character by showing past actions, that’s important in only a limited number of stories.

A flashback is not appropriate if the author’s intent is simply to insert the character’s history. In that case, a one-sentence reference to the past may be more effective in accomplishing the purpose than is a lengthy flashback.

Flashback should be used only if the past action illustrates motivation for the main story and if it is necessary for the reader to see that action occurring in order to understand the present-day story.

Because we’re using narrative within the flashback, it’s sometimes confusing to keep time straight and make it clear to the reader just what time period of the story we’re in at the moment. But there are techniques to make this easier for the reader.

The rules of using flashback
bullet Warn the reader of what’s coming; make sure she knows she’s about to enter a flashback. You can do this by using past perfect tense during the shift from the current story to the flashback, then changing to past tense for the body of the recollection, and returning briefly to past perfect to finish the flashback and return to the current story. In many cases, a sentence or two of summary at the beginning and end of the flashback are necessary to set the scene and establish place and time.
bullet Make sure the transition from present to past is logical. Memories don’t come out of nowhere, so just sitting still with time on her hands probably isn’t enough to send the heroine into a torrent of recall, particularly if the memories are unpleasant. What brought the past event to mind? What’s making her think about it right now?
bullet Be certain the placement of the flashback makes sense. Does the character have time for the luxury of memory? While the heroine’s being chased down the street by the bad guys, she’s not likely to be reconsidering her life. If she’s holed up in a closet, holding her breath and hoping they’ll overlook her, she might.
bullet Don’t use flashback too early, and never start a story with a flashback. Get the present-day story well-established first. By focusing on the main story, you’ll build sympathy for your characters and reader interest about what happened in their past. There’s plenty of time to fill in the background. If you’ve done a good job of making your characters sympathetic, by the time you take your reader on that journey she’ll be happy to accompany you.
bullet Break large flashbacks into smaller portions. If your story has a great deal of important past action, it’s a good idea to feed it to your reader in small chunks, returning to the present at intervals--even if for only a few paragraphs--in order to reestablish the main story.
bullet Always finish a flashback by returning your reader to the place and time she was when the flashback started, and make it clear that the side trip is now finished and she’s once again on the main path.
excellent advice and thank you. things i thought i understood i'm begining to realize i need to think about like the use of flashback.
let me ask you this, a character can tell someone about something that happened --that they witnessed--right| i think i'll do that instead.
but just hypothetically, would you say a novel can begin in chapter one where a murder takes place and then pick up in chapter two which happens to be six months later? what do you think about that?
I think Carole you are overly complicating things, especially for a first novel. Tell the story, make it exciting and, above all, keep it moving forward. Flashbacks - especially too many of them - not only require great skill to work well but also tend to slow the story, and that is something a reader does not want in a crime novel. And, yes, having a crime/body/murder right up front really gives the reader a reason to turn the page. Whatever, good luck. Writing is the easy part; selling and marketing the results of your efforts are the hard parts.
thank you! you know i agree now. i got so m;uch good advice,like yours--that i decided to have my p.i. only learn things through other people--what they tell him, what he sees and from letters; leaks,;tips that sort of stuff. so he's deducing what has happened. thanks so much tony. really appreiciate that.
No sweat. All I've got to do is apply it to my own writing......, which could mean a chunk of rewriting of the first book. The second's OK as far as opening scenes go.
how many hours (roughly) do you work a day. I have a feeling you just keep going. i've been at it or 10 to 11 hours sometimes, but i think it's too much. it's not good to over due we are told, but when we're on a roll and things are just coming along nicely--who wants to stop and go to sleep. like i could fall asleep-- no way. my brain would still be working overtime!
It doesn't sound like you need any flashbacks. I'm not sure if a character reading a letter that provides information about the victim, qualifies as a flashback anyhow. It's not a bad device for letting the reader know more about the victim - that and seeing the victim through other people's eyes who the detective talks with. I'd use the letters sparingly and try to mostly uncover the life of the victim through the investigation itself. Then again, I'm not very fond of flashbacks in either books or movies. With very rare exceptions they seem to slow things down and interrupt the pace.
yes. couldn't agree more, Eric. the letters came after i decided (because of this discussion!) that i wouldn't use flashbacks. i would have tips through letters, but more from what people tell him.
But you can begin a novel say six months previously and then go into the action. right? getting paranoid now
I don't see why not. I usually write in the present tense. In my third book I played around with opening it in the present tense - the first chapter - leaving the reader hanging at the end of that - and then switching over to the past tense - not getting back to the present tense until about two-thirds of the way through. I was worried that it wasn't going to work, but my agent, who's a plenty critical reader, liked it just fine. I figure there aren't any hard and fast rules. If we can't have fun with our writing, why are we doing it? It's not technical manuals, after all.
when you say present tense do you mean :
he walks into the room. he picks up a magazine as opposed to
he walked into the room, he picked up....?
Yep, although my books are in first person present tense. I wrote the first one in past tense - "I walked into the room...." and then just for fun tried changing it around to present tense and it just seemed to pick up the pace considerably when I did that. I don't know that it works for everything, but it worked pretty well for me.
very good. I keep trying different tenses as well. but at some point i have to decide on one thing and go with it! so what did you do in the end?


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