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I just finished the first draft of my novel. From my previous question:

Sushi Break

A story about a girl who travels 3 hours every weekend to see her boyfriend (the boyfriend is doing an internship and doesn't have time visit her). Things are OK for a moment, but after some days the boyfriend starts cancelling the meetings at the last minute (usually with some lame excuse). However, the girl keeps traveling to the city to eat in a sushi place she fell in love with. In this place, she meets all kind of strange but friendly characters who help her reflect on her relationship.

The following is an outline a made to remember what the chapters are about (the flashbacks are those with a summary):

OPENING

TELL ABOUT INTERNSHIP (Boyfriend tells protagonist about the internship)

FIRST EXCUSE (The first time the boyfriend stands up the protagonist)

MEET AI-LING

SPY WITH AI-LING

MEET DE-SHI (How the protagonist met her boyfriend)

AI-LING GONE

MEET A-KEN

AT ROXY 99

FRIENDS COME

TOILET CALL

KUO ALONE

FIRST KISS (Protagonist and boyfriend first kiss)

AT KUO’S HOUSE

MEET AI-LING AGAIN

TAMSUI NIGHT MARKET

AI-LING DATE SHOWS UP

LANTERN FESTIVAL

LANTERN FESTIVAL FLASHBACK (Protagonist and boyfriend first holiday)

STUDENT PROTEST 2014

MISCARRIAGE 1 (Flashback about the protagonist's miscarriage)

MISCARRIAGE 2 (Flashback about the protagonist's miscarriage continued)

BUS STOPS

DECLINE RELATIONSHIP (The first time the protagonist notices a decline in the relationship)

BUS ACCIDENT 1

BUS ACCIDENT 2

WITH A-KEN AT THE HOSPITAL

ENDING

As you can see the flashbacks are ordered chronologically (but not all of them) and are composed of whole chapters (sometimes two). Most have smooth transitions (e.g. X reminded me of the time...[next chapter]). But some just show up randomly in the next chapter (I did this to break the pattern and add variety).

I wonder if this will confuse or annoy the reader? (the way flashbacks are sorted and the fact that they occupy whole chapters)

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1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

For me, there must be two rules with flashbacks:

1 They must be ordered in the sequence that they slowly unfold the truth, and only when the last flashback is told, can the reader resolve the whole mystery.

2 They must not hold back information in an artificial manner. For example the present story might remind the character of something and he thinks of it, but the author withholds that info from the reader. That's cheating.

Both rules partly contradict each other, because if you hold back the main truth until the end, while the protagonist knows it, you are of course cheating. So while the protagonist always know everything about his past, you have to let the understanding of that past, and the order in which he considers it, slowly develop in accordance with your plot and the understanding of the readers. All three must be in tune.

How the order of the flashbacks relates to their chronological ordering is irrelevant. It must relate to the development of your plot.

It also does not matter if there are two or more chapters of flashback in a row. I HATE books that have one chapter from the boy's perspective, then one from the girl's perspective, then the boy again, girl again, and so on, keeping it equal just for the sake of equality. If the plot demands that, then its fine, but if you find that you create dummy chapters just to because now it's the boy's turn again, then that's not good.

So, again, just let the plot dictate the ordering of whatever you need to tell. If it makes sense on the plot level, readers will follow you.

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