Originally posted on December 13, 2012 at 12:15 PM
There’ve been three times in my life that I’ve thought I was close to death. The first I learned about in retrospect and involved a teenaged boy with mental health issues, I being myself about three years of age. At this point I’m going to ask you not to look down to the bottom of this entry because I’m making a point.
A few years ago I had my novel Secret Summers edited by a community college English instructor who charged me $350, letting me know it should have been $700. (I paid her $400. She complained about me “stepping out of the story” so I made the reader lose contact with the narrative. The story had been written from the standpoint of an older person remembering some very unusual childhood experiences and I felt some setting up was in order. Sometimes the childhood viewpoint needed supplementing from a wiser, more experienced eye and voice. Also in most of my stories I tend at one time or another to leave the major thread of the story and recall events which occurred at an earlier time. I generally tell part of that story then return to the major thread and provide the ending at some later, perhaps unexpected point in the story.
“Flashbacks.” (No looking!) Some teachers these days appear to think the only way to tell a story is to start from the beginning and plod, outlinewise from I. 1-A. through IL 13-X. The reader is so attention deficient that she or he cannot maintain interest long enough to absorb some possibly valuable information before diving back into the gripping narrative. I’ve even been asked when I was using what a believe is called an “anonymous Narrator Voice” how some distant event could have occurred in the story if none of the characters were present to experience them. This isn’t how we think. It’s not how we talk and it’s certainly not how I learned to write even though my writing training was admittedly somewhat hit and miss.
I love flashbacks because I know of no way better to build tension in a story. I will often stay with a story in order to discover a connection to something dangled but not entirely revealed when otherwise I might have put the book down. Mysteries are so often founded upon something which happened long ago, forgotten by nearly everyone. It isn’t until David Balfour’s father dies and he meets his Uncle Ebenezer, the Clown returns to town, the reason why the Old House has lain empty all these years is finally uncovered. We are fascinated by faraway places and likewise with farawhen. Computers are good at linear thinking. If there is anything uniquely human in the way thinking is done, is is our wonderful ability to make connections where no logic processor would find anything to connect. This is one of the sub-plots of my current novel in process; The Void Between.
Okay, regarding the boy and my unknown at the time brush with death. A family near to mine which included Jimmy and Mary, childhood playmates of mine; had taken in this “Troubled Boy”as a foster child. He was found missing from the family home one night and police found him around midnight (another good plot gambit) walking along a rural road, for some reason, wearing a pair of much too large men’s pants, fondling himself and swinging a heavy wrench on a chain. When questioned he said he was on his way to a particular woman’s house (relationship unknown to me) and he was evidently intent on rape and murder. Beyond that he stated he’d planned to kill Jimmy, Mary and myself evidently because he knew we were cared about and nobody had cared about him. Since I first heard about this story when I was perhaps in my 20s I’ve thought often about this boy and how flash-backs intrude into our lives whether we would or not. You may judge for yourself their effectiveness. (As to the other two brushes with death—more suspense—later.)