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I am writing a medieval fantasy story, in which MC has suffered some serious injuries and has lost most of his memories leading up to when we pick up with him. Now, he does have the occasional flashback or dream about his former life, often without proper context to his "current self".

My aim is, that we journey with him and experience his life through his eyes, and to build the world half using present experience/conversation and half using flash-backs and "memories". By build the world I mean discuss recent historic events, introduce key political players and various groups within the world, introduce geographic locations, etc.

The time difference between "then" and "now" as far as the story line goes is roughly 5 years. In which time various changes have occurred in-world, which leads to more confusion for him. These changes are more political and have been directly impacted by the event in which he was injured, and to a lesser degree his actions since.

How can I go about illustrating this difference in time and due to the changes the differences in the world?


This is not a duplicate of my other question. I deliberately separated it into two parts. So that I can sort through a) how to write longer flashback and now b) how to illustrate a time difference in which drastic changes have occurred.


Edit 1 Clarifying:

These changes are more political and have been directly impacted by the event in which he was injured, and to a lesser degree his actions since.

Without giving too much of the plot away (as my goal with this is to get published), he was injured in an event in which the "politcal dynasty" or ruling class was changed. Since recovering and making it on his own he has made choices that have directly impacted the governing bodies (keep in mind medieval fantasy, different kingdoms, serfdoms, etc.) in a way that he is clearly not the same person he was before he got hurt.

As a result the journey we embark on with him is as much a mental one (him trying to make sense of the jumbled mess in his head) as much as a physical quest in which he navigates the world he has inadvertently changed, while coming to terms with who he is, was and which "persona" he will decide to embrace.

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    Hi @J Crosby, this is a key sentence but may have an error or two in it; can you clarify what you mean? "These changes are more political and have been directly impacted by the even in which he was injured, and to a lesser degree his actions since." – wordsworth Jul 25 '19 at 22:26
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Extrapolating from the details you have shared, I'm making a number of assumptions: It seems that the MC is (now?) in a position to make decisions that impact the lives of his subjects/countrymen, and he comes to those decisions by approaching them through a different, possibly more fundamentally ethical, logical pathway than he did when he was unquestioningly part of a larger, established political machine/heavily prejudiced by his life experiences.

With this loosely in mind, I also assume that your MC is surrounded by a mix of new and old associates, in a familiar setting (at least some of the time), and that the political changes have at least some minor effects on the material world around him.

Show us physical changes to people:

  • Individuals: Aging, scars, new hairstyles, signs of status changes such as military decorations, widow's garments, pregnancy, wedding bands, etc.
  • Inner circle/political sphere: Who's present vs. missing? Is the formerly tough-as-nails justice of the peace tired and downtrodden now? Does the former advisor sit in a corner and get ridiculed, or are they in charge now?
  • Societal: changes in fashion, new regulations such as different sumptuary laws, uniforms for a new order, changes in overall health due to change in prosperity

Show us physical changes to setting:

  • Remaining damages from violence/political overthrow: damage to throne, ruins of burned out manor house, politics are controlled from military barracks instead of the partially destroyed palace, etc.
  • Evidence of new order: new banners, mounted proclamations, heads on pikes, infrastructure changes, abandoned buildings or fields, new prosperity & construction, changes to state-supported religion as new churches or symbols
  • Set events in different seasons as shorthand (e.g., if there's snow or cold, or a certain type of flower is blooming, it's always 5 years ago) (Edit: ooh, fun motif idea! As the protagonist's memories come back and he becomes a more cohesive, whole person, present day can be approaching that same season again, and you can reuse the blooms to represent that.)

Embed hints in dialogue (in either time period):

  • Discussions of current events
  • Habitual statements referring to the ruling powers (God bless the Queen --> God bless the King, or GBTQ --> May the sun shine ever on our democracy)
  • even random hopes and dreams could change quite a bit depending on current circumstances (e.g., some Democrats did care most about universal health care 4 years ago, but now it's all about damage control from the current administration). Farmers could have been trying to find some governmental support during a drought, but now they're discussing exotic new crop varieties imported from Italy.

I hope those help!

By the way, have you watched the TV show Dark Matter? It's a space western borrowing heavily from Firefly, and the writing is lamentably clunky, but thematically it has a similar premise to yours. You might want to examine the various tricks they use for exploring the characters' lost backstories and the consequences of shedding their previous personalities and biases, including flashbacks and alternate universes. I'm sure there are many more stories out there with this thesis as well.

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    Thanks for the insights - and yes I watched Dark Matter (loved, Firefly) but it felt like a cheap ripoff. As a result I never got too into it. I may have to check it out to get some ideas. – J Crosby Jul 26 '19 at 14:00
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    Yep, the first season borrows especially heavily, but there's just not that much Firefly to steal, so they eventually had to go new places. If you find other shows/books with your theme you could check those out instead and not waste as much of your life on a mediocre show. – wordsworth Jul 26 '19 at 17:33

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