Flash Back & Frame Narrative (On Writing and Editing)




A big part of my editing is trying not to trip over my own legs as I go. I have two concepts in mind I want to reflect on, Flash Back and Frame Narrative. Both of these idea relate to time and development in your work. A flash back is when we leave present action, to return to a previous period. This memory should have some important aspect to it, so it is not a needless interruption of the current, status quo, action of your story, which is the good part.

A frame narrative works differently and sets up a sort of static time and place and then a second line of current time runs in the “framed” story. So for instance a frame narrative could be a detective reading a crazy’s personal journal, which would have its own internal time structure. 

What I find myself doing is, and it’s not good, was giving a short couple paragraphs of a present tense, but then slipping back into a reflective narrative of other, earlier events. I realized that I need to rewrite the section so the flash back was just the action. Then I could do a brief flashback of those events in the later present scene. I wanted this recognition from the character in the later scene, to build pressure, which is much more effective when we have already experienced the pressure ourselves. We are tracking one character through a series of events. Stay linear unless it is absolutely necessary.  Of course there are exceptions, the one’s the come immediately to my mind are from film, like Tarantino’s movies, and Memento, for instance. Film has done it the best, but thinking about it there seems no reason why time distortions can’t work in stories? 

I know Joyce does some tricky time things in Ulysses. And I always think of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury too, in these regards. Again, I think it is advisable to stick to a more traditional time structure in your early novel. Walk before running and all that. 

There was of course some rewrite to make the changes flow, but it isn’t that difficult, and it makes it so much better. I feel like there are also traps in the rewriting, editing phase, where there is an urge to just dump material, and rewrite it; I stop myself from this. First, because I enjoy and trust the initial inspired, first draft; it just needs some help. But more importantly because it is easier to rework than rewrite. It is easier to untie a knot, then weave a new rope. (Oh that was nice) 



Yeah, I am going to get back to work. I am a third of the way done editing this short story. I want to edit another ten pages before lunch. I’m thinking I am going to edit at least one more short story before I get back to the book…we’ll see. Hope your own work is going good! (Whoever it is that I may be talking to) 



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