In my continuing quest to rid my manuscript of unnecessary flashbacks, I’ve come across a useful distinction. Most writers who’ve gone the workshop route—never mind an MFA program—have probably heard this already. I’ve probably heard it, too, somewhere along the line. But for whatever reason, I’ve gained a new appreciation.
“Backstory” versus “full blown flashback scene”
There’s nothing new here. We all write this way instinctively, dispensing background material that’s necessary to informing the present story in deft segues between scenes. I think what I’ve realized more fully is that most of the past can—and should—be handled this way, and it should be short and sweet.
Now, I’m not blowing up every flashback in the book, but I am killing any that aren’t absolutely essential to understanding/appreciating in greater depth the storyline and the characters involved. I’ve had to delete a few very nice flashback scenes, touching scenes with good writing. While I liked—in some cases REALLY liked them—they were taking the story off on tangents (albeit pleasant ones) that ultimately just slowed it down.
Slowing down a story is risky business. Readers want to know what’s going to happen, what comes next? Detours, I’ve learned the hard way, are dangerous.
Just a little something to think about on a Monday morning.
2 thoughts on “Killing Your Darlings”
Past and present never easy to merge, in fiction as in life!
Of course, you are the best judge of your manuscript. But I wonder if this problem–too much backstory–can be caused by starting in the wrong place. I read an interesting post recently that explained that too many authors were interested in diving into the middle of the “story”. This prevailing interest causes the author to forgot to establish the character’s norm. (Basely, who is she before this happened?) Establishing the norm is important. In that it helps the reader relate to the character and it helps to ground the reader in the story.