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Shamrock

Are Flashbacks passive writing?

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A friend who writes tells me that using flashbacks in fiction to bring the backstory of a character is a form of passive writing. A technique used by writers when they have plot issues.

 

Which is interesting when you consider JK Rowling had Harry sticking his head into Dumberdor's 'memory bowl' a clear device for flashbacks/backstory. Then there is Citzen Kane and The  6th Sense both which using the technique to good effect.

I came across this article which suggest it is OK to use them.

 

https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/blog/2018/03/11/how-to-write-a-flashback/

 

What do people think?

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If your flashback isn't written in passive voice (tense) how would it be passive? Maybe I'm not correctly understanding the problem.

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Whoops. I will try to copy the link when at my desktop.

 

Friend's argument is that if it is not written in the present time the n it is passive. Personally I dosagree but thought I would throw it out for comment.

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6 hours ago, Shamrock said:

A friend who writes tells me that using flashbacks in fiction to bring the backstory of a character is a form of passive writing. A technique used by writers when they have plot issues.

Flashbacks can be a powerful storyteling device or a lazy way of including backstory. It all depends on the writer wielding them. In the same way, depending on who's holding it, a scalpel can murder someone or save their life.

 

Just because your friend has seen flashbacks deployed badly doesn't mean that all flashbacks should be condemned. But they definitely need to be used judiciously. Looking forward to reading that article. For some reason, I no longer seem to get the Advanced Fiction Writing newsletter. I don't know whether I unsubscribed by accident!

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It's just another gimmick to say that it is bad.  Then five years from now it will be good technique.  Then ten years from now it will be bad and good, depending on how you use it.  And so on, and so on...

 

I say if you can use it successfully, then go for it Shamrock!  Let all the critics eat your dust!

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I personally tend to consciously avoid them, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. If you need it, write it. It can always be edited out later. :)

Edited by Sophie
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5 hours ago, EBraten said:

Your link doesn't go anywhere!

 

Try it now.

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I understand where your friend is coming from but I disagree. A flashback is a tool which can be used poorly or used well, but they aren't automatically passive writing. I've read many, many novels which use flashbacks well and they can add an interesting dimension to your novel.

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2 hours ago, carolinamtne said:

I don't know this is the same article, but give it a try.

That is the one.  I did use the link icon - not sure why it didn't work but thanks 

 

3 hours ago, EBraten said:

Flashbacks can be a powerful storyteling device or a lazy way of including backstory

 

Agree with you there.



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3 hours ago, Shamrock said:

Friend's argument is that if it is not written in the present time the n it is passive.

To me, this sounds like your friend is getting mixed up between past and passive. Past happenings aren't less active than present happenings. They just happened at a different time.  If a flashback seems less active (or more passive), then I think there's probably something going on with the writing style of the flashback.

 

I suppose if a writer has more flashback than anything else, he probably needs to start the story at a different point, but I've often seen flashbacks used very effectively. One result of putting the reader into the middle of the action right away (something that feels very active to the reader) requires that you include some flashback to show readers what led to that action. Otherwise, you'd have to start stories with information dumps to bring readers up to speed before the action begins.

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7 hours ago, Shamrock said:

Whoops. I will try to copy the link when at my desktop.

 

Friend's argument is that if it is not written in the present time the n it is passive. Personally I disagree but thought I would throw it out for comment.

Keep the friend, but don't count on him/her for writing advice. ;)

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5 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

It's just another gimmick to say that it is bad.  Then five years from now it will be good technique.  Then ten years from now it will be bad and good, depending on how you use it.  And so on, and so on...

 

I say if you can use it successfully, then go for it Shamrock!  Let all the critics eat your dust!

I don't even think it's a gimmick. I've never heard any writer remotely suggest this. And, I think I've heard all gimmicks, except for maybe romance gimmicks. (Not into romance, so don't know if romance writers have gimmicks too.)

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Never use flashbacks!

(billowing clouds, last words echoing and echoing...)

"Wilma!"

 

Ok, just kidding. Some people hate flashbacks. I think he means "lazy writing", not passive - but that's dealing in absolutes. A theory offered without testing, research or hypothesis is a broken theory. Like Evolution.

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17 hours ago, Shamrock said:

What do people think?

I think they're fine as long as they advance the plot and aren't overused.  I've read some excellent ones, and some that make me feel like editing :) 

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