We’re in primrose and rhododendron heaven at our house. The primroses are like flower fireworks: one tier of flowers opens, then the next above it. If you’d like to see, just click on David’s website on the right.
And there seems to be a new promotional thing in the publishing world: the cover reveal. I had never heard of it, but now I’m involved. Writing Magic is getting a new cover to go with the forthcoming Writer to Writer, and I will reveal both–ta da!–the next time I post, and you will be among the first to see Eliza’s great subtitle as it will appear.
Now for this week’s topic. On March 23, 2014, Eliza wrote, My heroine has to find and save her lost boyfriend, who disappears at the beginning. I’m doing flashbacks so the reader can care whether or not he’s rescued. I don’t want the flashbacks to overwhelm the real story, so I’m doing important moments, like their first meeting, first kiss, etc. I know I need more but I’m not sure what to include. Ideas?
And Bug offered this: Have you read “Persuasion: A Latter Day Tale”? It’s a retelling of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”. In it, Anne keeps meeting her old boyfriend, which is pretty hard for her, and every chapter starts out with an old journal entry of a date with Neil or some random memory. Maybe if you read that it could give you some idea? I think that you should just add whatever memories you can think of right now, and then, when you are editing your book, cut the unnecessary stuff out.
I like the suggestion that Eliza write more than she may need. Pruning is easier than padding. And it’s a wealthy feeling when we have lots of material. I also like the chapter beginning idea. The advantage is that the reader comes to expect it, so we don’t need to create an entry into the flashback and an exit from it, as I wrote about in a post on the subject. If we do this a few times but irregularly, we won’t need one for every chapter, which could be burdensome.
As for choice of flashback moments, I don’t remember when my husband and I first met. We went to the same college, and he was just there in my background as I was in his. My most vivid memory was an early date when he set his hair on fire.
We were both smokers back then (and now we’re long-time non-smokers), as most everyone was. He decided it would be romantic to look at me through the flame of his lighter. He had curly, bushy hair, and it went up, but because it was so thick he didn’t feel it immediately. My jaw dropped. I didn’t know him well, and in my mind he could have been crazy enough to light his hair on purpose.
That was memorable.
What did I learn about David from that mini-conflagration? That he’s a romantic. After he realized and put the fire out, he thought it was funny, and he wasn’t so embarrassed he never spoke to me again. He wasn’t angry, either, because I’d been there when he looked a little silly. What do we have? Romanticism, sense of humor, willingness to be vulnerable. What a guy! (And he tolerates me retelling the story many times over.)
So, the important flashback scene may be the fifth kiss rather than the first. Or, it can be the first, but we want it to be the moment that means the most to our MC, and it’s nice if it can be a little surprising to the reader, like flaming hair was to me and David.
I assume that Eliza’s MC is trying to rescue her boyfriend because she loves him. If that’s the case and if the reader identifies with her, he will care about whatever she cares about. We need her to think about the boyfriend and miss him, but we may not need a lot of flashbacks.
In this example let’s call her Lena and him Luke. Suppose she’s thinking about when he was last seen and what she should do next. It might go like this: The terrible thing was, she wanted his ideas. They always puzzled problems out together. When Luke brainstormed with her, lines of inquiry never petered out. She’d reach a dead end, or he would, and the other one would see a glimmer further on. Over a cheeseburger or on a walk in the nature preserve, they’d solved the world’s problems–and Luke’s problems with his boss and her difficulties with her packrat of a roommate. Lena pressed her fingertips into her temples. Luke, Luke, how would you find you? What would you suggest? How did you become such a part of me? (Along with worries about his suffering and even–eek!–possible death.)
For this, the reader doesn’t even have to think well of him, only of her. Our reader may even come to understand that he’s horrible. She (the reader) may want Luke to never be found, but she wants Lena to be happy.
Or Lena may be rescuing Luke for some other reason than that she loves him. Their relationship may have run its course. They’re not that close anymore, but she doesn’t want anything bad to happen to him. She may have another motive as well. Maybe someone, who could be Luke or another character, has accused her of being incapable of finding her way out of a paper bag. Now she has something to prove. Or maybe their last moment before his disappearance was an argument. She needs to make up or explain herself or get in the last word.
If there isn’t quite as much at stake emotionally, the reader will still want Lena to succeed and will still be engaged by her investigation. So long as we make that interesting, we’re home free.
Back to the flashbacks. Another way to use them is to work clues into them, too. Suppose the seeds of Luke’s disappearance were sown long ago, and clues lurk in the flashbacks, then we have a second reason for introducing them. For instance, Lena thinks back to the party where she met Luke. He came with a friend named Otis whom Lena never saw again. We flash back to the party. Lena sees Luke writing in a small notebook. At the end of the evening, Luke walks Lena home, and Otis drives away. His car has a vanity plate: OBLIT. Lena thinks the meaning has something to do with literature, since Luke is an English Lit major. Flashback ends at Lena’s door. Now, back in the present, she wonders if OBLIT stood for obliterate.
Here are prompts from the post:
• Imagine a memorable early event in the romance between Lena and Luke. Doesn’t have to involve a small fire, but it can. Write the scene. If you’re writing from omniscient third person, include the thoughts of each about the other. If from just one POV, write the thoughts of the POV character.
• Write another scene from early days in their relationship and drop in hints that there is something mysterious about Luke.
• Write the scene in which Luke disappears. If Lena isn’t present, write the scene when she finds out about his disappearance.
• Write Lena’s speculations about what may have happened to Luke. Write the first scene in which she tries to find out what happened to him.
• Write a flashback of Luke and make the reader mistrust him and fear for Lena.
Have fun, and save what you write!