Monday, 5 November 2012

Are there such things as Flashforwards?


We all know about flashbacks – the often used device for writers to tell a back story or fill in gaps of information for the reader by dipping into the past, but what about flashforwards?

The case of the flashforward is debatable among writers. But there are such things.

Flashbacks tell us what has happened in the past. Flashforwards, on the other hand, tell us what happens in the future, but since most writing takes place either in the first, second or third person, flashforwards should not exist because you can’t predict what might happen in the future. Or can you?

This is the sticking point. Logic tells us that we can’t talk about the future, simply because the future hasn’t happened yet, so how can writers write about future events that are yet to take place without making the story sound trite and over the top?

There are some circumstances where a flashforward is desired and wouldn’t seem out of place – science fiction and fantasy writing for instance.  
These genres allow the writer to bend the rules where fiction is concerned, because sci-fi and fantasy relies on that ‘out of this world’ element, where the normal binds of reality don’t exist, so there could actually be a sequence where a character sees into the future, i.e. a time-traveller story maybe, or perhaps there is a dream scene where the character imagines the future. Or you might have a scene where the character who possesses the gift of prophecy  ‘sees’ into the future.

Within these genres, the flashforward is not out of place.
Of course, in most conventional genres however, the writing doesn’t contain flashforwards, simply because those events have not yet happened - the events largely take place either in the present or the past (i.e. first person or third person), and writers who try to attempt to do it risk making a complete mess of the whole thing unless it’s skilfully done, it’s pertinent to the entire story, it’s logical and it’s necessary and believable, and most of all, it’s expected.

If it’s none of the above, then it isn’t going to work.

Many writers also confuse foreshadowing with flashforward. These are not the same devices. They work on separate levels. Don’t confuse one with the other.

Foreshadowing simply hints at things that might happen later in the story, where the writer plants clues or uses symbols or metaphors. The flashforward is a specific moment in the future that the writer focuses on within the narrative, which, like flashback, still logically tells part of the story.

Unless you are writing a science fiction based or a fantasy based story, steer clear of trying to insert a flashforward into the narrative because while flashbacks can be notoriously difficult to write, think how strange flashforwards might be, where you are writing about events that haven’t happened yet.

If this kind of literary device is necessary within your story, then study other writers who have managed this – Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or the Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, to name just a few.  

So, there are such things as flashforwards, but only in special circumstances.


Next week: Avoiding fiction clich├ęs.

1 comment:

  1. Can't see how flashworwards would work - not in my writing anyway - without giving away the plot!

    ReplyDelete