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Old 10-18-2012, 11:45 AM   #1
Ravenswd
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How do you format a flashback?

What's the best way to physically alter the text in some way to indicate to the reader that you're entering a flashback? In printed books, they usually narrow the margins and bump the font down a bit. Is the same method used in an e-book? If it is, what codes do you use to make it happen?

(BTW, when I create an e-book, I create an html file and then convert it using Calibre.)
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Old 10-18-2012, 02:20 PM   #2
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A good "what you see is what you get" editor is Sigil. If you convert your html to epub using Calibre, you can edit the book to add the visual effects you want - italics, font-size, indented margins etc. - without bothering with the code (although you can edit the code as well if you like).

Personally I'm not a big fan of visually-formatted flashbacks unless they're very short - they can get annoying. If you're telling the story through the eyes of your characters, you might try setting your remembered sequences apart by having them in the present tense. It sounds counter-intuitive, but this can make them vivid and memory-like.

Or you could trust the reader to keep up. They're pretty smart.

Last edited by MartinC; 10-18-2012 at 02:24 PM.
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Old 10-18-2012, 11:23 PM   #3
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Cheat and tell the reader directly what you are doing with your narrative. Something like:

When she kissed me it reminded me of that time when the dog farted. It was during fall break...

I was sitting at the table, and suddenly a stench floated across the room...<insert your flashback here>
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Old 10-19-2012, 05:29 AM   #4
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Some styles utilize / date/ name/ place/ as paragraph/section/chapter headers, but better to the side. Not in the middle. This sets everything down precisely.

Stardate 20432z
Kazoom, 3rd

Leave the top middle for pithy statements, prose or verse.

....................."round goes the bobbin,
......................out spins the thread...

You still should indicate the flashback just as if you didn't have that placement info above.

It can be subtle or not.

Thirteen years ago in Marmazo, a small boy struggled to reach a fruit ...

She drifted off...

A smile came with fond remembrance...

"Damn, Parkerson would like to have seen this. He said it couldn't be..."

Flashes came to him of that fateful day...

He was alone, but he could still sense Stanz watching
and quipping "Damn, boy you going to kill yourself..."

Last edited by frahse; 10-19-2012 at 05:53 AM.
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Old 10-19-2012, 07:58 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VydorScope View Post
Cheat and tell the reader directly what you are doing with your narrative. Something like:

When she kissed me it reminded me of that time when the dog farted. It was during fall break...

I was sitting at the table, and suddenly a stench floated across the room...<insert your flashback here>





Don
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Old 10-20-2012, 04:46 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by MartinC View Post
If you're telling the story through the eyes of your characters, you might try setting your remembered sequences apart by having them in the present tense. It sounds counter-intuitive, but this can make them vivid and memory-like.

Or you could trust the reader to keep up. They're pretty smart.
This is what I do. I also link characters in with it. To be honest I don't think there is a rule to writing flashbacks as long as it makes sense to the reader and the formatting makes it readable on all eBook devices.
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Old 10-22-2012, 02:46 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ravenswd View Post
What's the best way to physically alter the text in some way to indicate to the reader that you're entering a flashback? In printed books, they usually narrow the margins and bump the font down a bit. Is the same method used in an e-book? If it is, what codes do you use to make it happen?

(BTW, when I create an e-book, I create an html file and then convert it using Calibre.)
I think you're describing the <blockquote></blockquote> HTML tag, but I don't know whether that is used for flashbacks. And mobi format can't do it properly; mobi just doubles the indent on the left and does not provide an indent on the right.
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Old 10-22-2012, 07:53 PM   #8
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So am I the only one who was told time and again that flashbacks don't belong in decent fiction? They can't convey action, and thus violate "show don't tell."
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Old 10-22-2012, 10:23 PM   #9
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So am I the only one who was told time and again that flashbacks don't belong in decent fiction? They can't convey action, and thus violate "show don't tell."


Disagree! They "show" the past, and can have plenty of action.
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Old 10-23-2012, 09:40 AM   #10
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Disagree! They "show" the past, and can have plenty of action.
Interesting that we're disagreeing about a technique that has its origin in film. OK, I'm sure somebody will be able to find a flashback somewhere in Dickens, but essentially it only means anything in a linear narrative, and written fiction doesn't have to be that. A really able writer - say, Hilary Mantel - may slip back and forward constantly without any formatting or signalling and without deterring the reader for a moment.
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Old 10-23-2012, 10:07 AM   #11
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Interesting that we're disagreeing about a technique that has its origin in film. OK, I'm sure somebody will be able to find a flashback somewhere in Dickens, but essentially it only means anything in a linear narrative, and written fiction doesn't have to be that. A really able writer - say, Hilary Mantel - may slip back and forward constantly without any formatting or signalling and without deterring the reader for a moment.
Absolutely true I would also argue, not all chapters need to be non-stop action, although in a suspense novel or crime one it's good to keep the pace up.
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Old 10-23-2012, 01:11 PM   #12
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Disagree! They "show" the past, and can have plenty of action.
I'm just quoting what every single litfic professor I've talked to has said. Flashbacks by definition can't convey action.
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Old 10-23-2012, 08:09 PM   #13
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I'm just quoting what every single litfic professor I've talked to has said. Flashbacks by definition can't convey action.
How many litfic processors can a person have? More seriously: Some people think of writing as an art, and in art there are no hard rules, merely guidelines that you can bend or break once you understand why the rules exist. Some people think of writing as a science, believing that you must write your story in three acts and have an upward inflection at the end of every chapter before your novel could possibly be successful.

The only "by definition" limitation of a flashback is that the narrator did not cease to exist - that's pretty much it. There can be as much action as you like, some stories are told entirely in flashback. To say otherwise rather flies in the face of the evidence.
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Old 10-23-2012, 11:02 PM   #14
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I'm just quoting what every single litfic professor I've talked to has said. Flashbacks by definition can't convey action.
How can that be? I really do not understand? Flash backs do convey action, I have read and written (and seen in movies) many that do. What definition precludes action?
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Old 10-23-2012, 11:21 PM   #15
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How can that be? I really do not understand? Flash backs do convey action, I have read and written (and seen in movies) many that do. What definition precludes action?
That's what I asked too, and the general response (from five of them) was the same: "Because they don't. Now who's the professor and who's the student? Right, thought so."

Each of them had also been published multiple times in major litfic circles, so they can't all be wrong.
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