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Time, Chronology, Flashbacks

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 24 Jun 2013 | comments*Discuss
Chronology; Timeline; Timelines; Time

When you're telling a story that involves time shifts (as in the case of flashbacks), it's critical that you understand the chronology of the lives of your characters. Unfortunately, some authors forget that hearkening back to an earlier time in a character's development means staying true to the character, the timeframe, and the decade in which the experience takes place.

To make sure that your fictional works are accurate, try some of these techniques to guarantee that your handling of time, chronology, and flashbacks is precise and believable.

Make a Timeline

If you create a timeline, it will greatly help you write your narrative piece.

For instance, a basic timeline for a character born in 1960 could start as:

January 1, 1960 - Jessie Lynn is born in Warrington, Cheshire
March, 1962 - Jessie Lynn's parents abandon her at an orphanage in Northwich, Cheshire
April, 1965 - Jessie Lynn is adopted by the Millers, a couple whose insane worship of The Beatles propels Jessie Lynn into a lifetime loathing of rock and roll and advocacy against all popular music

Of course, as the writer, you can make your timeline as specific as you need. In fact, you'll probably want to insert new information as your character develops throughout the creative process.

Above all, making timelines as "visual aids" will enable you to quickly and efficiently refer back to periods of your characters' lives, critical when writing flashback scenarios or explaining a particular character "quirk" or relationship dynamic.

Stay True to the Period

Sometimes, authors set up a flashback without attention to the details of the time period in which the flashback takes place. Don't allow this to happen to you. If your flashback scene occurs many years prior to when the story is written, do a little research on the era about which you'll be writing.

For instance, if your flashback takes place in the 1930s in Yorkshire, find out exactly what was happening then. The Internet and public library are great resources for uncovering information to make your flashback historically relevant. Try to uncover, for instance, who was president at the time, the largest public concerns, the popular fads in music and clothing, and, if you'll be including dialogue, the colloquialisms of the age and place. Though it will take some energy on your part, your writing will be the better for your investment of time.

Know Your Characters

Flashbacks only work when you, as the creator of the characters, have a good sense of who your characters are. Thus, it's critical to stay accurate to their foibles and likes/dislikes. You want to make sure that your audience doesn't feel like they are reading about totally different characters when you flash back to an earlier time period. (Of course, people do change over time, but they usually have something about them that identifies their personalities, even at an early age.)

If you're not sure what stands out about your character, your readers won't, either. Therefore, it's essential for you to fully flesh out your characters' personalities. Ironically, a flashback can be a wonderful tool for doing this; as in the case of "Jessie Lynn", mentioned above, her avoidance of rock and roll had a specific start. Hence, you can trace her roots back to a particular moment.

When you feel like you know your characters, it will come out in your writing. Hence, your readers will be more attached to your characters and, by proxy, their situations.

By diligently researching and developing your timeline and knowing your characters inside and out, your fiction will take the reader back in time without missing a beat.

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