“All of which came true, except the bobkittens soon got out of control in their turn. Small dogs went missing from backyards, babies from prams; short joggers were mauled. Not in the Compounds, of course…” (Atwood)
This tactical tool is one employed by Margret Atwood in Oryx and Crake. In the novel, much of the past is explained to us through the memories of Snowman, who tells not only his own story but the story of how the world became the way it is presently. I’m also using flashback in a similar way. A large part of my story will be told in flashback. There’s two separate time-lines in my novel and they converge at the moment when the two main characters meet. One is a present day timeline, the other is one that covers a much longer span of time, as well as a majority of time in the past, thus in order to tell that story it has to be in flash-back. The time-lines alternate all the way through the book to the meeting. Here’s a bit of Ny-ello remembering.
Example – Ny-ello remembered Dr. Jamison’s eyes when he first told her about his discovery. They were watery and bright, like tears waited. He leaned close to her, his breath smelling of mint and his labcoat of old coffee. But his eyes hid a star, a whole day’s worth of sunshine, a life changing knowledge. Then he began to whisper…
I can use flashbacks to integrate alternate plotlines into my story by allowing characters to talk about their pasts in spurts throughout the book. It will also build a little tension as the reader waits to find out what else happened. In my novel, the reader follows Ny-ello through the past time-line story and Tasha through the present time-line. Ny-ello’s plot explains how the present situation for her and those around her was achieved and why it may be an issue for those in the future. Tasha’s plot is more of the themed, emotional, inner conflict side of the story. She is the main protagonist of the novel and Ny-ello could not overcome her issues without Tasha’s help.
Sometimes I think it can be a little tough to identify a flashback unless it’s labeled as a separate bit from the main narrative. To find sneaky ones, I’ll have to pay attention to the clues provided by the author, especially if there is an unreliable narrator. Instead of a flashback it could be a lie.
A large part of my story in flashback is a logical choice. I’m able to tell the entire story as well as add a secondary plot element that leads to a more dynamic external major conflict for the protagonist. I can use flashbacks as I stated, in order to tell more than one story in a single book. I can also use them to make references to possible alternate books, whole novels, and pique the interest of reader. Maybe even grow a whole slew of interesting side stories off of a couple little asides. Flashbacks can appeal to an audience that’s looking a for a little backstory, a bit of what happened before, without having a whole big block of exposition plopped in their lap. It’s also neat to see a little piece of a different story, which is part of why flashbacks add a touch of flare when used thoughtfully.