Aug 9, 2010

Write Flashbacks Long, Edit them Short

When I first submitted Dog Show Detective to an online critique group, one of the common comments was about my long flashback. And it was true- this flashback was several pages long.

Through studies and reading, I've picked up that the story starts with the introduction of the problem, or at least the first change in the protagonist's life that leads to the story worthy conflict. But what if you love your long flashback and think it's necessary backstory defining your characters?

I trimmed my scene as much as I could, and it still felt too long. Putting it aside as 'too hard for now', I continued with the edits, until... I found another spot that would be suitable to host part of that flashback. I kept splicing it and weaving it through the novel, so ultimately each section of backstory was cut to a couple of lines.

When I read novels, especially with mystery novels, I am always in awe of the way the read weaves hints to backstory throughout the narrative, eventually revealing itself as clues to the protagonist's journey to this point. Now I wonder if it started with a big ol' info dump that gets transformed into snippets of backstory.

Writing is for writing, if a long flashback comes or a huge info dump, I'll write it that way - I can always make it look clever in the editing. To see why info dumping isn't recommended for your final draft, check out this long internal monologue of backstory:
Like to read more about how to handle back story? Here's my four favourite links on this topic:
  1. Dump the Information Dump by - trends change and readers no longer have the patience to read through pages of description.
  2. 3 Tips for Writing Successful Flashbacks by Writers Digest - excellent advice on how to handle the flashback including time-frames.
  3. Mastering the Long Flashback by Anna Staniszewski - for when the story calls for an epic flashback.


  1. This is a really good point. I always find myself brimming with back story or info I want the reader to know about but it's exhausting for the reader trying to take it all in one huge lump. So much can be done in the editing! My biggest recommendation - same as yours - would be to write it all down and then leave it for a while... look back at it when you've got a bit of distance and can be more critical.

  2. Backstory can be so tricky. It's important to get that info across to the reader - but you can't risk boring them or throwing them out of the current story either. Thanks for the links :)

  3. I have two backstory sections in my current story that are each almost a chapter long. However, each scene of backstory is interesting (full of action) and vital to the plot. My readers didn't mind the backstory at all.

  4. Great information about backstory. I had a huge chunk, it is now snippets dotted throughtout the novel.
    At the time of writing, I thought it was so good. We learn. :)

  5. I have tried so hard to learn to weave back story in slowly and stop info. dumping. It's hard but I'm beginning to get a handle on it. Very good post.

  6. Timing is everything. And hardest is not to put too much out there!

    Great points. Thanks for the lesson!


  7. I think you found the perfect solution, and that's exactly the way it ought to end up. It can just be so hard to remember from the middle of writing. Thanks for the advice and links!

  8. Backstory is always a tricky one to handle. Weaving it through the story is the best way to handle it.

  9. I like your idea of breaking up a flashback and mixing it in other scenes. I’m going to give this a try with one that’s been causing me concern because of the length. I’ll also check out the links for more ideas.

    By the way, the video was too funny – but a really good example of too much info at one time.

  10. Thanks for all the supportive comments! I'm trying to get back into the swing of visiting everyone's blog and commenting, but my internet is still off and I'm on limited time at the library. I'm determined to have it all fixed by next week so I can come and see what everyone's posting! Missing you all :-(

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