Flashbacks – friend or foe for the memoirist?

Can use of multiple flashbacks exhaust word budget and lead to writer's block?

I know nothing about the anarchic world of the fiction writer. All I can do is peer over the wall into  Elysian gardens fed by fertile imagination where ink drops from the pen like literary nectar.   Got a character or plot problem? No problem – make it up.

 But us, memoirists, we are prisoners,  gravely contained with the burden of truth (lest we be sued) and explanation (less our reader find us as mad as a box of frogs or worse-unlikeable)

Rules carved into stone state that ‘Thou shalt show and not tell’. We cannot get around complexities with a neat paragraph of summary. Enter the dreaded flash back.

Life as a writer of fiction as perceived by a memoirist
Life as a writer of memoir

Flashback to the fiction writer is a friend. It’s likely to be a single dramatic event which fills a hole in their narrative. Happy days!

Fiction writers can rejoice in one single happy event to fill a black hole.
The challenge facing the memoirist


But memoir relies on people and people are complex.  Most peoples lives are the consequences of earlier choices or situations. Our lives are structured like a line of falling dominoes. As a memoirist you want to contain your story, but chances are it depends on an earlier event.  You may have to explain that event to stop your protagonist appearing unhinged or unlikeable.


'Pick me as the flashback','No, pick me!'

Flashbacks look tempting but they are rarely a solution generating more questions than they answer. They set in train their own narrative, one which runs on a time line earlier than your main story.

The intended narrative is neat and has enough word count/ space to grow
You need to explain how your protagonist got in this almighty pickle in the first place and is actually a jolly good sort and not a psycho beast. Flashbacks have broken out.
The flashback has now taken on a life of its own. You are having to fit two narratives in one word count.
You can't write because you have run out of words and your manuscript has turned into a many headed beast. You have writer's block.

But there is a cure!

If you have a severe outbreak of flashbacks holding your manuscript hostage then release them. They want to be an earlier memoir.  So let them be free. You now have the middle and end of your prequel. The only thing you don’t have is the beginning.

But be warned. You may get repeated outbreaks of flashbacks. Eventually they are probably going to tell you that you can’t get to Memoir 5, without dealing with Memoirs 1-4 first.  They are your falling dominoes and each has a role to play in the choices, and consequences that were made.

So, in my view,  if you are a fiction writer knock yourself out!  A single flashback may be perfect. Loch Ness monster ate your homework? Why not?

If you are a memoirist and have been taken hostage by flashbacks and worse now have writer’s block, take comfort.

It may feel as if you are cutting your beloved text in half. You aren’t. But instead of being the author of one book, congratulations- you are having babies!

This is what it feels like
Congratulations! You've just birthed a new memoir! Or four...

I hope you have enjoyed my little bloglet. For more thoughts on writings and musing please do ‘follow’ and I would of course, love to hear your thoughts too!

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