More Musings about Flashbacks

I guess in films flashbacks are much easier to do: you can do them with (literal) flashes of blurred or hazy images (think CSI!) that last only a few seconds. In writing, it is of course much more difficult to simulate such flashes of memory: you have to describe what your character sees in front of his inner eye, but at the same time you have to soften the edges of your description in a manner of speaking to blur the images. I try to do this by not describing fully fleshed out scenes, but concentrating on specific details instead. But then I thought about how tricky it really is to really remember details. I mean, would you be able to remember the colour of the eyes of a person you haven’t seen for seventeen years? (Let’s face it: for some people *cough* some men *cough* everybody is of average height and average size and has light brown hair.) And exactly this was what triggered the following flashback (Ash is standing outside the music room, listening to a conversation between his son and the housekeeper):

The housekeeper made a strange sound. Her hand rose to circle her throat. “I beg your pardon, my lord. I shouldn’t have mentioned your mother.”

Oh yes, Ash thought grimly. You shouldn’t have. Had he not made this clear seventeen years ago after …

He shuddered.

Even now his mind shied away from that “after.”

But alas, the ghosts of the past had already risen to mock him and taunt him. The expression on her face that last time in his study. Milky-white skin — shock that he had seen through her masquerade, through all her scheming and lies. Large as saucers her eyes had been …

Her eyes …

Ash’s stomach dropped, and for a moment he had to lean his head against the smooth wood of the door jamb, while some unknown, unwanted emotion constricted his throat.

He couldn’t remember the color of her eyes.

He swallowed hard, then shook his head angrily. Fool. Fool. What did it matter of what color her eyes had been?

And here’s another problem with flashbacks in written texts: because Ash’s thoughts have run over a few paragraphs, I can’t just seamlessly continue with the conversation between St. Asaph and the housekeeper now. For the reader some time has passed simply because it has taken her some time to read these paragraphs. So this has to be reflected in the text as well.

5 thoughts on “More Musings about Flashbacks

  1. azteclady


    Why does time have to pass? more than a couple of seconds that is. I mean, can’t you have–at least for some of the flashbacks–something like, “it seemed to him that he has spend hours lost in his memories, when in fact, judging by the conversation around him, only a moment had passed” (or something to that effect, only *well* written)

  2. Sandra Schwab

    Laura, the housekeeper says “I shouldn’t have mentioned your mother” to Ash’s son, while Ash is standing outside the room, overhearing them.

    azteclady, haven’t we already established that I’m a meanie? *g*

  3. Laura Vivanco

    Ah, that makes a lot more sense! I’m also wondering about this bit: “Oh yes, Ash thought grimly. You shouldn’t have.” My feeling is that it’s normal to think “Oh no, you shouldn’t.” So extrapolating from that, “Oh yes […] You shouldn’t have” feels a bit strange to me.

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