Flashbacks, like a story within a story

I don’t believe I’ve talked too much about flashbacks, mainly because most stories I’ve read traveled progressively forward. If there’s back story we need, then we start with that. Maybe add a hint or two through a sentence or paragraph. Even most of the stories I write are linear, which sounds awfully boring now that I think about it. But it can be quite useful when well done.

While I was reading The Library at Mount Char, I got a flashback within the first chapter, which does a great job at outlining some of the characters and their history, including their relationships with each other, and this is of great importance, since the book is about a battle between the siblings – although not all of them know that at this point in time.

It starts with a single sentence, “Carolyn and the rest were not born librarians” (Hawkins 5). A single fact.

It continued with a little back story to set the scene: “But  one summer day when Carolyn was about eight, Father’s enemies moved against him. Father survived, as did Carolyn and a handful of other children. Their parents did not.” (5)

Readers get a short scene in the midst of the summary, to help paint the picture of Father’s control, the children’s catalogues: “But Margaret’s tears were streaked with blood, and when Father pulled her back into the stacks she wet herself” (6), before it launches into the main meat of the flashback with Carolyn and her deer, learning their language.

This flashback was critical for the story. By this point, readers might realize that the whole story starts in the meat of the conflict, so Father has already been removed from the library, either missing or dead. This flashback helps iterate what kind of father he was, to illustrate who may want him dead – either his enemies or the children he forced to suffer. It helps create a bit of a mystery – who went after Father?

I think this is a good way to show how/when to use a flashback – to help flush out history between characters in order to help create backstory, to help create a mystery around the conflict. I really wanted to do this with one of my books, and I definitely think I will have to try something like this. When done well, I can tell it immediately adds a sense of depth to the novel.

FYI: Flashback ended with this: “Carolyn rose and stood alone in the dark, both in that moment and ever after” (9).

I like the visual ending, especially how it tries to tie that moment’s feeling to her current feelings through the metaphor of darkness. Puts a lot in that one sentence.

Hawkins, Scott. The Library at Mount Char. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2015. Print.


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