Authoring Annals 5 – Using Flashback – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles #BrainfluffAuthoringAnnals5 #MantivoreWarrior #TheArcadianChronicles #AmWriting

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I was pleased that some of you took the time to let me know you found last week’s article interesting, thank you! So I thought I’d share a bit more of my writing process while working on my latest novel, Mantivore Warrior.

One of the structural issues I needed to overcome in this one, is that in both Mantivore Dreams and Mantivore Prey, the main protagonist is Kyrillia, who features on the cover of both books, while this book is told from the viewpoint of Jessob. Readers who read Mantivore Prey will have already encountered Jessob, but they won’t know much about him as he’s a minor character, even though he plays a pivotal role in one of the main action scenes. So while readers got to know Kyrillia organically as they were absorbing the world in Mantivore Dreams, now the pacing has been established over the previous two books, I can’t slow it down again just to enable folks to learn all about Jessob. Especially as they are already familiar with the other two major characters, Felina Keeper and Vrox, who are also driving the main narrative forward. This left me with the problem of how to give readers a detailed insight into Jessob’s strengths and vulnerabilities without resorting to excruciating dialogue scenes along the lines of, “Well, as you know, Vrox…”, or tedious info-dumps.

I decided to use a technique I’ve never before used – an extended flashback from the point in Jessob’s life where he first encounters mantivores. While I have used brief flashback scenes in Mantivore Dreams to show aspects of Vrox’s past, this is the first time I’ve ever interrupted the narrative timeline in a flashback that continues over a number of chapters. I’ve been wary of using this device to date. Done well, extended flashback can add a layer of characterisation and background that gives impact and purpose to the ongoing story. But if I get it wrong, it has the potential to turn into an irritating interruption to my story that I started with a lot of tension and a climactic scene. I risk losing all that momentum to provide the reader with details of Jessob’s backstory.

I decided it’s worth the risk, because Jessob’s journey is every bit as dramatic as the ongoing storyline and I felt the fractured flashbacks I used in Mantivore Dreams simply wouldn’t work. Those occur near the end of the book, when my readers are familiar with the characters and the world and fully aware of what the stakes are. Chopping up the narrative so early in Mantivore Warrior, when readers are still working out who is doing what to whom would simply be too confusing, especially as my writing style means I don’t tend to stop and explain much along the way.

At present, I’m about a third of the way through this flashback. Is it working? It’s a question that continually haunts me as I’m writing it. I think so – but I’ll be unable to tell until I’ve completed the narrative timeline and had a chance to evaluate its success within the overall story arc. Once again, it comes down to finishing the draft and trusting my instincts. In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted…

14 responses »

  1. I really love that you’re consciously trying to avoid that big info dump, which would clearly be an easy way out. I typically enjoy flashback scenes so I hope that method works out for you.

    • Oh, I’m allergic to info-dumps, both as a reader and a writer. I sometimes get accused of making it difficult for readers to work out what is going on at the start – but I’d rather that than pages ‘explaining’ the world!

  2. Thanks for sharing your journey! I think the flashback is a worthy tool in storytelling, especially when you’re bring two characters together. If the past storyline matters in the present, then why not share it with readers? I’m sure you’ll make it awesome xxxxxx

    • Oh, absolutely – it is a really effective tool. My concern is to make it fully effective in an extended form, which I’ve never done before…:). At present, I’ve had to put Mantivore Warrior on hold, as I’m in the middle of the final edit of Mantivore Prey, before it is released at the end of the month. I do – I need a writing clone!

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