The Flashback Conundrum

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As I embark on writing the sequel to The Muse, I find myself in the middle of an artistic quandary. Writing a series is tricky business, particularly when it comes to reminding the reader what happened in the previous book(s) in a subtle, yet effective way. It’s all too easy to alienate readers with overwhelming reminders or lose them by providing little or no details to jog the memory.

Having read multiple Young Adult series books, I’ve taken note of how each author handles the  “flashback conundrum.” The methods vary greatly from series to series, which makes me seriously question how I should handle the flashback conundrum that inevitably plagues every series.  Ultimately, it comes down to how much an author trusts the reader. In the YA genre, we are dealing with a generation with short attention spans, but also fangirl mentalities that forget nothing. It’s a paradox with no simple solution!

The methodology of crafting a series flashback seems to break down into four categories:

Snapshot Flashback

This method involves inserting nuggets of information within the first few chapters or the entire sequel in small doses. Flashback details are carefully chosen and strategically placed to keep the reader apprised of necessary information without detracting from the story as it pushes forward.

Best example: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga

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Prologue Flashback

Some authors choose to remind readers of key storyline details by crafting a prologue that directly states prior events or utilizes a similar story layout or literary technique to pull the reader back into the world that was created in previous volumes. In a sense, it works like a mnemonic device to trigger the memory.

Best example: Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush Saga

hush hush books

Information Dump Flashback

This style of flashback tends to be unpopular, but unfortunately it still pops up in a number of series. The author essentially dumps large blocks of information either at the beginning of the sequel or in chunks throughout the installment. Most readers find this annoying and very distracting. I’d have to agree.

Best example: Luckily, I haven’t come across the information dump in recent YA reads, but it is very present in just about every Dan Brown book involving Robert Langdon since The Da Vinci Code. The Lost Symbol is the worst offender.

Invisible Flashback

There are a number of YA authors that implicitly trust their readers to remember every detail, look it up on wikipedia, or take the time to comb through the previous books. Little or no references to previous novels are included as readers are just expected to know everything.

Best example: Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices Series

Cassandra Clare Books The Mortal Instrumenst The Infernal Devices

Authors of all genres have grappled with the flashback conundrum as there are undoubtedly far more than four methods. Still, the question remains which method is the  most effective and least annoying to readers? There is no easy answer as readers are as diverse as the books they read.

To all readers and writers out there, I put the question in your hands …

 

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c.b.w. 2014

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