I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned this, but Rose has a lot of flashback sequences and other dips into the past within the story, especially in the last two-thirds. I did this for a number of reasons: exploring the characters’s pasts; making them more complex; and just an opportunity to write some sequences to add to the horror element of the story. And there are a lot of horrifying things in those sequences, things that I can’t go into without revealing too many plot details, but they did make my beta readers gasp and stare at the page wide-eyed. They were horrifying moments in the story.

Not to mention, I think that flashbacks can be scary if done right. A good example of this is Gerald’s Game by Stephen King: while the protagonist’s current situation is scary enough, going into her past midway through the story and seeing how her father abused her as a kid was horrifying in its own right. Another good example would be the movie Oculus: that film flashes between the present and the past throughout its runtime, and it’s freaky no matter what year it is (see my Rewatch Review of that film).

Well, it looks like I didn’t do the flashbacks right for Rose. In the notes on the fourth draft from my publisher, they mentioned that all those flashbacks are just bad stuff happening to those characters, and while that stuff is horrifying, it’s not scary. I’ve had a lot of back and forth with them on this, and after a lot of thought, I can see where they’re coming from. After all, while in the real world “horrifying” can be a synonym for “scary,” especially in relation to current events, in fiction that’s not necessarily the case. Think about it this way: Harry Potter is horribly mistreated by his relatives, and what he goes through is horrifying. But if you ask any normal Potterhead what person or creature from the books they would be scared to face, the Dursleys wouldn’t rate very high on that list. The dementors, Voldemort and his Death Eaters, or the basilisk, sure. But the Dursleys? Considering most Potterheads are Muggle in biology and can’t perform magic, anyone who had to face them would probably be invited into Privet Drive and served tea and cookies in front of the TV!

So while showing how many terrible things happened in the characters’ pasts may be horrifying, it might not be scary. And considering how much experience my publisher has and how well-received their books are (have you checked out The Cronian Incident by Matthew Williams yet?), I’m taking this piece of feedback to heart.

I won’t lie, though, I’m a little disappointed, and I’ve been wondering where I went wrong. Or maybe to phrase it better, I’m wondering how I might have done the flashbacks better.

Well, in the case of Gerald’s Game, whose flashback is most similar to mine, they only do one big flashback sequence, not several. That way, it doesn’t become a repetitive cliche or trick. That, and its connection with the current events of the story: the protagonist’s abuse by her father is very much connected to her current predicament, on psychological and symbolic levels as well as literal levels. And with Oculus, the horror behind the story–a cursed/haunted mirror–is scary no matter when it happens. Spinning a tale of two siblings who experience the mirror both as children and adults, and then going back and forth between those two experiences, makes for some great psychological/supernatural horror.

And maybe that’s the thing: connection. In both those examples, the flashbacks, no matter how they’re staged, have very strong connections to what’s happening in the story’s present. Of the ones in Rose, while they do have connections to the characters’ pasts, only one of them has a direct correlation to the current events of the story. And that one’s told to us by the antagonist rather than shown in flashback. And that’s why the flashbacks in this story didn’t work as well as they could have.

So what’s next? Since so much of the novel is in flashback, I may have to do a whole lot more revising. Hell, I may even have to rewrite a good chunk of the novel. Which isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with: as many of you may recall, I had to go back and start over on the first draft back in college because the first attempt went in a direction that didn’t help the story.

Still, it’s a little annoying, and I haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do for these changes (though I have ideas). Hopefully, whatever I come up with, it’ll come out for the novel’s betterment, and bring it one step closer to publication.

Fingers crossed.

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Comments
  1. How much time do you have to go back over this? Do you want another person to look it over and bounce ideas around? I can put aside other projects to help you on this if you want.

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