I'm working on a novel. The POV never leaves my main character (third person point of view.) Throughout the story he is given hints at a past life so to say. In reality the man has been alive since the dawn of man kind. Every time his life would end, he forgets his past and starts a new one.

So in order for the story to conclude and the main plot point to be reached, he needs to remember at least one life and possibly a second. To do that i wanted to have him literally go into the memory so the reader learns everything at the same time as he does.

So my question is, is that still considered a flashback? (Worried about losing the reader in one that could take up chapters rather then paragraphs.)

  • 1
    If the character is literally walking around in his memory I wouldn't say this is a flashback at all because its still moving the plot forward via the MC rather than just unloading information he already knows into our lap. It sounds really interesting actually ^^
    – Mac Cooper
    Feb 24, 2015 at 9:22
  • Cool that's what i was hoping to hear. The "flashback" is at the end of the second act. So it isn't like i open with it or anything either. Now the only issue I'm having is if it should be through his eyes as "Frank" or through his eyes as who he was in the past. I'm thinking the latter but struggling with methods to let the reader know it is still Frank and we didn't just jump to a whole new character. It seems like it shouldn't be confusing though considering i never deviated from his POV once.
    – Lokiie1984
    Feb 24, 2015 at 10:14
  • Not starting with it is a good idea - I need to care about Frank before I want to help him struggle through his past ^^ and yeah I agree, present frank sounds like the best POV, not past frank :)
    – Mac Cooper
    Feb 24, 2015 at 10:29
  • This past segment takes place (I'm guessing, more research is needed to know for sure) around 10,000 BC and opens up with him poised to kill a trapped baby mammoth. As much as he wants to do it, he cant bring himself. Gentle soul and all that. Now would it seem odd in that setting referring to him as Frank? One thing i was thinking was having the narrative referring to him as Frank but his friends calling him by the past name, Ak'ire (no idea what they named their kids in that era so i just threw some letters together for now.)
    – Lokiie1984
    Feb 24, 2015 at 10:34
  • That is a very interesting idea name wise, tho there should be a reason why frank. Maybe he had a friend named that who I dunno died or something so he takes the name, or maybe his first name was like the proto-name that would translate to Frank. Did they even have names back then? XD we should move to chat at some point, as we're drifting a wee bit away from Q and A xD
    – Mac Cooper
    Feb 24, 2015 at 10:37

2 Answers 2


I think the important question is not whether this qualifies as a "flashback" by some technical definition, but rather whether you make it clear to the reader what is going on.

I've occasionally read books where there was a flashback and I was well into it before I realized it was a flashback. I started getting confused, saying to myself, "Wait, I thought the hero already knew this, did he forget?" Or, "What happened to his friend Bob? Why isn't he helping?" Or whatever, before I finally figured out, "Oh!!! This is a flashback to BEFORE the last chapter!"

As long as you make it clear that the chapter is the hero's previous life or whatever, whether this is technically a flashback or something else doesn't really matter.


Like Jay, I think that it is unimportant what this might be called. I agree with him that the reader should understand what is going on. But to me, much more important is the question wether your readers will want to follow you along that detour.

Every reader loves a straight story (if it is well told). I have never read a review that complained that there where too few side stories or too few parallel storylines or too few tales told around the campfire. No one is unhappy about a story that sticks with one protagonist and follows him or her to the end.

But I personally dislike parallel storylines. I have written elsewhere in another answer that I get thrown out of the story whenever George R. R. Martin switches to another character in The Song of Ice and Fire, and it feels like I really don't care for the next chapter's character and have a hard time getting back in – only to be thrown out again at the next chapter end.

When I read, I identify with the protagonist. I care for what he or she cares for. I am the protagonist, and I want to have things happening and to get to my goal. I don't care about all the tales that my companions tell around the campfire and that some authors make to last chapters, while the enemy is making ready to fall on us. I don't care about what my best friend goes through when the last thing I know is the cliffhanger of some assassin jumping me.

Do you see what I mean? I – for as a reader I am the protagonist – am in the middle of the most exciting or frightening action, and I don't want the author to push the pause button and tell me things that might be interesting at another time but feel completely irrelevant when I'm about to be die, make love, or whatever.

And I am not the only one. While no one complains of an author sticking with his protagonist, many readers are like me and are thrown out of the story by these crass changes in viewpoint and storyline. You can read it in countless reviews. When you chose to switch, you will lose some readers. How many, will depend on your mastery. I did read GRRM's novels, because they are just so masterfully told, but I did not enjoy it as much as some other books. I was bored by the ents in the Lord of the Rings, but I did read that chapter, too, eventually (although not the first time around).

So I did pay for those books, and would do so again, but only because those are masterworks.

Can you grab me – and the others like me – enough for me to buy another book by you once I was disappointed by your first?

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