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I’m writing a historical fiction story set in the 1800s; the family has to move a lot when the protagonist is younger due to financial reasons, and the siblings often live out of state. In the second draft of the story, the protagonist is remembering the events that happened when he was younger in the style of To Kill a Mockingbird or Forrest Gump. Some beta readers have said the story reads like bits and pieces instead of a cohesive whole; how can I make the characters’ transitions more cohesive?

An example of the transitions, when the protagonist is recalling a trip he took with his mother and his sister when he was six:

Pa’s and Ma’s voices drifted from the dining room. ‘I can’t keep the family together,’ Pa said, his voice tired. ‘I’ve written to William about taking his brothers on the canal, but...’ His voice trailed off.

‘That’s why I think it would be a good idea to let them work in the bookstore for a time; that way, you don’t have to worry about keeping them together. I’ve written to my brothers, and they’re more than happy to let Etty and Stephy stay with them for a while.’

Pa sighed. ‘It’s better than nothing, I suppose.’

I was already out of bed and halfway down the stairs. We’d just rented a new house, and Ma and Pa were already breaking up the family again. ‘Don’t make everyone leave again.’ I grabbed Ma’s arm.

‘Don’t worry, Stephy. It’s only for a little while. You and Etty get to come with me to visit your uncles, and then we might go to visit some friends in Cincinnati and Louisville. How does that sound?’

I nodded. They weren’t breaking up the family completely.

The beta readers have said it’s not completely clear what the trip’s purpose is, though I thought it was stated to be because of finances, and I don’t know how to make the purpose and Ma and Pa’s motivations clearer.

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    Can you give any examples of what your transitions currently look like? – Chronocidal Jul 7 at 12:06
  • What is the story about? Because if the plot is what you describe, it needs more structure so it can cohere. "Moving a lot" is a choppy sort of story. – Mary Jul 7 at 12:45
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    Are you switching back and forth between different characters in your narrative? – Naomi Jul 7 at 15:10
  • There’s only one point of view, the protagonist telling the story in flashbacks, and moving around isn’t THE story, just a subplot and a condition that affects the protagonist’s psychology later on. An example of a transition, from when the protagonist is remembering a trip he took with his mother and his sister when he was six: “Pa’s and Ma’s voices drifted from the dining room. ‘I can’t keep the family together,’ Pa said, his voice tired. ‘I’ve written to William about taking his brothers on the canal, but...’ His voice trailed off. “Ma said, ‘That’s why I think it would be a good idea to le – user45011 Jul 7 at 16:31
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    If you cannot tell a coherent story because you don't believe you're allowed to explain in the text what is going on between scenes, you may be misunderstanding or misapplying "show don't tell". – Jedediah Jul 7 at 18:20
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So, you have a lot of flashbacks? This indeed can be confusing. Typically, this can be organized in two ways:

  1. Relevant flashbacks. Each flashback is connected to the "present" plot, either giving it a subtle (or not so subtle) push in new direction, or providing an important "reveal" or even twist.

  2. Flashback plotline. Flashbacks are organized chronologically and form a separate plotline. Essentially this acts as a "second POV character".

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