So, I've been working for about a month now on my latest novel but have come across some issues in regards to recollections of past events.

I'll outline what I mean, because that's a bit general...

It's based around a psychiatrist and a patient discussing the patient's life.

The main problem I'm having is transitioning from long conversations between the patient and doctor, to the patient's recollections of the past events the doctor is asking about. I'd also like to including interjected dialogue and description from both of them.

Take the Alias Grace mini series for example. But, instead of being a visual medium, It'll be written down as a story.


3 Answers 3


That's tough, it sounds like a hundred page wall of dialogue to me.

To eliminate most of it, I'd resort to flashback. Flashbacks are not that popular anymore; but they would be better than an endless wall of dialogue or thoughts.

For flashback, write the recollection as a story, with a neutral narrator, third person omniscient limited, focused on the character.

For the psychiatrist, have them use a Guided Imagery Therapy, i.e. the psychiatrist is asking questions of the patient to tell the memory in story form, to remember the details of what was seen, felt, who was there, etc, not in a demanding way, but as if curious. You can begin with this, and after a hundred words or so, drop into the patient's flashback of the experience, which you tell as if it is currently happening, and then at the end pop out of the flashback into the psychiatrist's office.

Using this pattern the reader will see the conversation with the psychiatrist as prelude to a flashback. You can make a chapter out of each such flashback, the chapter begins and ends on the psychiatrist's couch. You could interleave these chapters with chapters about what is happening to the patient (or psychiatrist) in the present day, which may offer some parallelism with the flashbacks.


If you're writing from the patient's POV, it's probably easier. You can show the patient's unfiltered reactions and thoughts to the doctor's questions before writing the patient's answer.

"So, when was the first time that happened?"

"A month ago," he said automatically.

The doctor made a note and he frowned, the confidence of a moment waning. There had been that situation last year... but did it count? After all, he hadn't really felt much affected then. A month ago, he'd spent the night awake, reliving the event, whereas the previous year... No. Last year didn't count.

"A month ago," he confirmed out loud to shup up the annoying memory of the previous year.

You should avoid long dialogues between the two characters. Use a variation of direct speech and reported speech (in its different forms).

"Can you describe last month's event in more detail?"

He shrugged that it hadn't been anything that serious.

"I didn't even think about it during the entire day. It was only at night that it came back to me."

He breathed out the anxiety caused by the memory and described how the driver in front of him had braked and left the car, shouting obscenities. He could see the scene before him as if it were a film, down to the guy's white sneakers and how the whiskers were slightly more reddish than his mousy brown hair. Obviously he didn't give that detailed an account, referring only the actual actions, the expression of rage and the vocal threats, minus the expletives.

"I think I was simply too shocked to feel anything at the time."

He laughed at the doctor's question if he hadn't even locked the car. It was something he did since he'd first started driving. You don't get rolling till every door is dutifully locked. The doctor made another note, mumbling something about safety measures.

If the recollections are to be longer you could still do the transition as above, perhaps moving to a new paragraph.

"Can you describe last month's event in more detail?"

He shrugged that it hadn't been anything that serious.

"I didn't even think about it during the entire day. It was only at night that it came back to me."

He breathed out the anxiety caused by the memory.

He had been listening to the radio to get over the boredom of the traffic jam. There was a reference to the previous day's game and he was paying so much attention to the commentator that he barely registered the hooting cars around him.

"That guy's a jerk," Jenny, who was sittin next to him, grumbled.

But he still didn't pay attention to what was happening. Not until Jenny dropped a scared 'shit' did he look up to see what was happening ahead.

After an even long scene, you can cut it short with the doctor simply asking a question. It'll bring both the character and the reader crashing down into reality.


A crucial question: does the psychiatrist contribute anything to the story, or is he mainly the setting, the excuse as it where, for your protagonist to tell the story?

If the psychiatrist makes no meaningful contribution, you can have considerable chunks of your story in first-person narration, no interruptions by the psychiatrist. Let the readers all but forget the psychiatrist is there, and immerse themselves in the protagonist's story. Think about it: it is not at all uncommon to have a complete story told in first person narration. That's what you'll be having, the psychiatrist serving merely as a framing device.

This technique can envelop all the story, or it can be a part of it. For example, in Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, Corwin is the main protagonist. At one point, his brother Random tells him about something that happened to him. For the space of a chapter, Corwin disappears, and all we have is Random's first-person narration, as gripping as any story told in first person. It doesn't matter that in-story Random is talking to his brother rather than to the readers directly. As far as the narration goes, it's all the same. When Random's story is finished, we go back to Corwin.

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