Friday, March 7, 2014

57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by MG Buehrlen Blog Tour: Use of Flashbacks

Once in awhile a book comes along that I just fall in love with from page one. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare hits so many of my sweet spots: time travel, afterlife, a treasure hunt, twists, and a romance across time. It's a ridiculously good read and definitely a 2014 favorite.

So I'm especially excited to have MG on the blog today for a guest post. Enjoy!

Let’s Talk About Flashbacks, Baby

Today I’m hijacking Lenore’s fabulous blog to talk about flashbacks. Lenore wrote a great post last year about her top ten books featuring flashbacks, and two of those books, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, were direct influences on whether or not I would include flashbacks in my novel, The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare.

Some readers might lament finding a flashback in a novel, almost as if it’s a no-no or a sign of lackluster talent, but when flashbacks are done well, they can add immense depth to a story, not to mention the characters.

In The Book Thief, Death narrates his story by recalling each time he came in contact with Liesel (the book thief) over the years. Death’s narrative is straightforward from the beginning. At times, the author even goes so far as to tell us exactly what we’re in for at the beginning of each section:
 Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 7.12.15 PM.pngbook_thief.jpg

I adored Zusak’s use of flashbacks as well as flash forwards in the novel. I don’t want to spoil anything, but his flash forwards concerning Rudy’s fate didn’t ruin the suspense for me. On the contrary, knowing Rudy’s fate beforehand made me keep turning the page, wanting to find out exactly how Rudy’s destiny manifests. I didn’t lose interest. My interest skyrocketed.

Same for the flashbacks. Death’s memories of Liesel are poignant and poetic. Zusak puts the reader into those memories and gives them intense and exciting life. You never feel bogged down by them -- they push the story forward in the most heartbreaking ways.


In Code Name Verity, the narrator of the first half of the book has been captured by the Nazis. As they interrogate and torture her, she recounts all the memories that got her to that point by documenting them on paper as though she’s writing a story. Some of the memories aren’t even her own, they belong to her friend Maddie, but she does her best to embellish and make each flashback just as exciting as if it were happening in real time. I devoured each one.

Those are the kinds of flashbacks I love to read, and those were the types of flashbacks I wanted to include in The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare.

While there are only a handful of flashbacks at the beginning of the book, they were necessary in establishing my main character’s core dilemma. Alex had been suffering from crazy visions of the past that were affecting her school work and her family life. She wanted to get to the bottom of them (or just get rid of them by popping some pills). The book opens with Alex relaying these visions to a psychiatrist. This was the first time Alex ever divulged her secret of the “visions” to anyone. 


Soon after, the reader discovers that Alex’s “visions” were actually moments when she traveled back in time to her reincarnated past lives. From then on out, there are no more flashbacks in the novel. Even when Alex learns to travel back in time and does so willingly, she lives those scenes out in real time instead of simply remembering them like she would in a flashback. Her modern day self actually slips into her past life’s body, and she is able to walk around in the past, perhaps changing history bit by bit in the process... Eeep!

So, as you can see, I certainly love a good flashback novel (so much so that I wrote one). I also enjoy flashbacks in television and film. In my experience, most people don’t seem to mind flashbacks in TV and film as much as they do in literature. It could be that flashbacks lend themselves more naturally to the visual format than the written. With the use of different camera angles or filter colors, it’s easier to know when we’re watching a scene from the past, and therefore we’re less confused.

I love the use of flashbacks in the TV version of The Vampire Diaries, especially those with The Originals and how they became vampires all those centuries ago. I also loved seeing flashbacks of Steffan when he was The Ripper. Those flashbacks helped solidify the characters for me, giving them more depth. I could understand their present-day choices much better knowing where they came from.


Another great example is the BBC’s Sherlock. That series uses so many flashbacks that it’s become an integral part of the show’s storytelling. If you’ve seen the wedding episode from Season 3, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Screen shot 2014-03-04 at 9.43.28 AM.png

The entire episode was a montage of flashbacks based on Sherlock’s and John’s cases -- cases we didn’t get to see play out in full episode format. Judging from the episode’s success, viewers certainly didn’t mind the use of flashbacks. Just like in The Book Thief and Code Name Verity, the flashbacks were entertaining and helped push the story forward.

What are some of your favorite novels, TV shows, or films that use flashbacks? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks so much for having me on the blog today, Lenore!


Official book summary:
One girl. Fifty-seven lives. Endless ways to die.
For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.

Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.

Author bio:

When she’s not writing, M.G. moonlights as a web designer and social media/creative director.
She’s the current web ninja lurking behind the hugely popular website,
a social network for YA (and kids!) book lovers. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is her debut novel. M.G. lives nestled away in Michigan pines, surrounded by good coffee and good books, with her husband and son and three furbabies. Say hello on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Order links:
Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Indiebound | The Book Depository | Waterstones


Christina said...

I do know that some readers loathe flashbacks, but I don't mind, so long as they're not less interesting than the larger narrative, and you pass that test for me. :-p

Man, I need to reread The Book Thief.

Elizabeth said...

My absolute favorite use of flashbacks & flash forwards was in LOST. They gave the characters so much depth, and made them almost like real people. Some were so heartbreaking. *Sigh*, I still miss that show.