I hate flashbacks.
See? That’s what you do when you want to make a point. You state it, then move on and get to the rest of whatever it is you’re doing.
Case in point, I like to do projects around the house, like carpentry or gardening. Occasionally I’ll have to ask someone for help (because, you know, objects can be heavy, and sometimes there’s stuff I don’t know). All I want is help. Muscle or info. That’s all.
Then whoever is lifting/explaining has to go all wavy-screened Scooby-Doo on me (picture the wavy lines) and say, “I remember this one time…”
And I’m frozen. Stuck there while the story unravels (unnecessary to my way of thinking, though I have gotten some great story bits out of these seemingly meaningless narratives from time to time). Though I have to admit that I’m a sucker for “…and then I turned the corner and came face to face with feral pig!” Or whatever pet story hook you might prefer.
Of course, I have to sit through the entire monologue, and woe to me if I show interest because—would you believe it? This guy has had more than one face-to-face encounter with feral pigs. Or knows someone who has.
And my project goes undone because time doesn’t grow on trees. (Hmm, story idea!)
The point is that if a writer or a movie has to pull a flashback scene to explain something that happened earlier, the story should have started there.
When I picked up Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, I was immediately happy with it. I was thrown right into the action with a character I wasn’t sure I liked. But he was doing interesting stuff.
Then, a few chapters on, BOOM! Danger, danger: Wavy lines ahead.
I wasn’t happy with the slowdown because Lawrence’s character was getting more interesting by the minute. I didn’t want to know what happened to his younger self because I didn’t think it mattered. At first I was irritated, but I was hanging onto the story because I wanted to know what happened next.
Once the present-day story gets under way again, I’m happy. But I know there are a lot of questions about what happened in the past. Where did Jorg’s mercenary army buddies come from? Who was responsible for the deaths of his family?
Before I knew it, I was hooked on both storylines, waiting to see what happened in the present and figuring out from the past why it all came to this. And I didn’t know for certain what Jorg was going to do when he got back to his father’s kingdom!
I knew how Ronda Rousey’s competitors must feel in a cage match. I was getting slammed on all sides by a story—actually, only one story—that just wouldn’t quit.
Lawrence hasn’t changed my mind about flashbacks (neither has watching Quentin Tarantino’s movies) but I learned to appreciate how much a talented author (and screenwriter/director) could do with them.
When I read Lawrence’s sequel, King of Thorns, the writer employs the same device, and I was just as caught up in the story/ies. If you haven’t read this series, do it. But be prepared to think about the technical skill behind it as well. And be amazed.
I know I am.
Mel Odom is the bestselling author of Master Sergeant, the Alex Award-winning YA fantasy novel The Rover, and many film and computer game tie-ins, including Forgotten Realms, Mack Bolan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel. Guerilla, the sequel to Master Sergeant and the second book in The Makaum War series, is available this week in paperback from Harper Voyager.