The Ditchwalk Book Club is reading and discussing Rust Hills’ seminal work, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Announcement here. Overview here. Tag here.
The full title of this section is The Frame, as against the Flashback. Following up on the previous section, Hills demonstrates how two different techniques — the fame and the flashback — relate to sequence, causality and juxtaposition.
As Hills notes, everyone knows what a flashback is from watching movies:
The screen ripples over, music ripples up, and we drop back in time for a sequence of action that “explains” why a character is the way he is or gives the “background” of the situation that exists “now” in the movie.
A flashback can function in one of two ways: as an explanation of something already disclosed, or as foreshadowing of something yet to come. Conceivably both goals can be met in an artful flashback, where the sequence both resolves and introduces elements of a story. Billy is forty years old and hates dogs: flash back to Billy as a boy being terrorized by his grandmother’s Poodle. Here an aspect of character is the motivation for the flashback, but that aspect could spill over into plot (Billy is a burglar regularly confronted by guard dogs), or introduce new characters or plot elements (the grandmother, who owns a warehouse Billy intends to rob).
In every story aspects of plot and character are expressed in cause-and-effect fashion. Flashbacks are useful in explaining the cause of an effect that is presented in the ‘now’ of a story. By the same token, a flashforward treats an event in the ‘now’ of a story as the cause, then flashes forward to show the effect. Driving home drunk one evening Billy intentionally swerves to hit a dog being walked by a young boy. Flashforward to Billy in prison, where one of the guards is the now-adult owner of the dog he hit. [ Read more ]