Sand buffeted my face as I ran across the desert. I churned my legs as fast as I could, but could hardly move, stalemated by the wind.
Panicking, I pushed harder only to be forced backward. It was only then that I realized I was carrying a baby in my arms. My baby. Little Claire.
Claire was still, her eyes closed and breathless. Stillborn. My little girl was stillborn.
Weeping, I kept running into the wind to no avail. Finally, I lost my balance, falling onto my back, still clinging to my little girl.
Then someone stood over us, casting a shadow over Claire. I recognized her immediately. Sarah, my wife.
No, I thought, correcting myself. Serenity.
Serenity reached down, taking Claire from my hands. I was powerless to stop her as she walked away.
Then the sand overwhelmed me, leaving me buried and alone.
I awoke with a jolt of panic, sweating as I pushed off the wooden floor to my feet.
Miguel was already awake, staring at me as he sharpened his knife on a black stone.
We were alone in the living room, separated from the bedroom by a single closed door. Muffled noises emanating from outside the cabin signaled the morning, punctuated by the rays of light peaking through some of the slats in the wall.
“Today is the day,” Miguel said, unblinking as he watched me wipe the sleep from my eyes.
I nodded, frowning back at him.
“Nightmare?” Miguel asked, his lips curling up into a malicious smile. “Nerves catching up to you?”
“Re-occurring dream,” I said, “No nerves.”
“‘Cause if you were to go back on our deal…”
“There’s no reneging on a blood-Oath,” I snapped. “I know what would happen.”
“It’s just… I’m beginning to think you might not mind the consequences,” Miguel said, slowing walking toward me with his knife. “You sure you’re not tired of the immortal life?”
I stared back at him, holding my ground as he pressed the tip of his knife against my chest. “I’m sure.”
Miguel pressed harder, drawing blood through my shirt as he peered into my eyes. After a moment, he stepped back, nodding. “Alright, then,” he said, smiling. “Let’s do this.”
Just then, the door opened, our hostess appearing through it with a snarl on her face.
“Good morning, Esme,” Miguel said cheerfully.
“Time’s up,” she growled, “get on your way.”
Miguel nodded graciously, a smile still plastered on his face as he holstered his knife.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” I said, wiping fruitlessly on the bloodstain on my shirt.
“No thanks required,” she said, gesturing to the door. “We made a deal. Now it’s time to go.”
Miguel smiled as he sauntered out the door. I followed close behind, blinking against the sun shining down on the town.
It looked much different in the daylight; much more like a cozy town and less like a ghost-infested village. Children ran around the cabins, laughing as adults worked around them.
Two pigs were currently roasting over fires; my catch from the night before. The smell was intoxicating.
Miguel seemed to be thinking the same thing as he stopped in front of the fires, licking his lips.
“Go,” Esme said, pointing toward the mountain pass.
“But we haven’t had breakfast,” Miguel said, frowning.
“It’s fine,” I said, pushing Miguel toward the pass. “We’ll find something.”
“We’ll find something,” I said again, drowning out Miguel’s complaints.
Miguel stared daggers at me before finally relenting. “Fine.”
“Thank you,” I said again to Esme as we walked away.
“Didn’t sleep well either,” Miguel mumbled as I let out a whistle.
Moments later, Jade and Jessica appeared through the thin layer of fog surrounding the town, landing right in front of us.
The entire town stared at us as we climbed onto Jade and launched into the sky, disappearing into the mountains.
We cleared the mountains within minutes, crossing into a vast stretch of swamplands and forests. It was midday by the time we finally cleared the muddy terrain.
“How much longer?” Miguel asked, petting Jessica as she curled up against him.
“An hour,” I said, “maybe less.”
Past the swamps, farmland stretched out as far as we could see, identical to the land they’d left behind.
Eventually, we found the town I was looking for.
“Finally,” Miguel said, clapping me on the shoulder.
“That’s not it,” I said, shaking off his hand. “It’s a ways past the town. We should stop for lunch.”
“No,” Miguel snapped, spit hitting my ear. “We’re not stopping. Take us to the dragon. Now.”
I didn’t respond at first, afraid of pushing him too far. “Fine,” I said eventually.
We flew straight past the town, casting a shadow over the small buildings clustered together. I made eye contact with one of the boys outside, his mouth wide open as he marveled at the flying lion.
It was another thirty minutes or so until I finally saw the river. The river had been called many names over the years, but I’d always known it as the Fuorn.
The Fuorn was the largest river I’d ever seen. At most points of the river, it took nearly an hour to fly over the width of it.
I glanced back at Miguel, smiling at his shocked expression. “We’re close,” I yelled.
I steered Jade over the river, flying downstream until we reached the fork; the narrowest point in the river due to it breaking off into two different streams.
My heart beat fast as we touched down at the fork, right where the river split.
“So where is it?” Miguel asked. “Buried at the fork?”
I shook my head, beginning to undress. “Underwater.”
Miguel just stared at me for a moment before shrugging, beginning to undress as well.
“Leave your clothes on,” I said, “I’m going in alone. No point in you jumping in with me.” And before Miguel could argue, I dove into the river.
The force of the river’s current threw me against the rocks forming the fork, threatening to sweep me away.
Dazed, I latched onto the rocks and used them to pull myself underwater, taking as deep a breath as I could muster.
My chest tight, I forced myself into the depths of Fuorn, mentally reaching out to my dragon. I didn’t feel anything, nor did I sense any dreams. Our bond had weakened over time.
Breath running low, I pulled myself to the river floor, my ears popping from the pressure. One the edge of panic, I clawed at the packed dirt floor, hoping she hadn’t buried herself too far underneath.
Just as I ran out of breath, I felt her scales against my skin.
Fighting against every bodily instinct, I pressed against her scales and reached out to her. Claire.
Suddenly, the scales moved as Claire shook herself free from the river floor.
Father, it thought, impressing an image of me on my mind just as I blacked out from lack of oxygen.
You don’t need to understand storytelling to tell a story. This is evidenced by the countless subpar movies and books in existence today. In my opinion, a big reason for this epidemic of mediocre stories is the concept of tropes.
If you don’t know what a trope is, it’s a basically a storytelling cliche. Reluctant hero. helpless damsel. Plucky side-kick. Grizzled mentor. Mentor dies and/or turns out to be the bad guy. Etc.
These cliches exist for a reason: they work. And they work for a reason.
Too often, writers make their sidekicks plucky purely for the sake of following a formula rather than understanding why a sidekick should be plucky in the first place. The results are unoriginal stories that miss the mark.
All that to say: If you want to write a food story, don’t just copy another story. Study the story. Understand the story. Then write your own.
And such is the context for this week’s topic: Flashbacks.
Flashbacks are a really common tool in storytelling, but to be honest, it’s also a really cheap one. This doesn’t make it wrong to use in a story, but it does mean you need to understand them so you can use them wisely.
- Efficient in revealing character
- Makes it feel like the character existed before the story began
- Pulls the reader out of the story
- Stops the momentum of the story
So while Flashbacks are helpful in revealing character/making characters feel more real, you must be aware of the fact that using flashbacks can also bring a story to a screeching halt. Like fight scenes, readers have a tendency to skip over them because they care more about what happens next in the story than what happened in the past.
The key, then, if you’re set on using flashbacks, is to show what happened to your characters in the past while also moving the story forward. And the best way to do this is to disguise your flashbacks as something else. Instead of just showing an old memory, have them witnessing the memory from someone else’s perspective. Just do something, anything that isn’t just showing us the past. Something that directly affects the current timeline of the story.
In this chapter, I chose pretty much the most cliche option available: dreams. But what did I do to mitigate this? I actually made it a dream. It wasn’t an old memory played out in a dream, it was a legitimate dream with half-truths and metaphors tripping over themselves to take prominence in Draco’s mind. Not only that, but it was also very short, which means even if the reader was engaged by the dream, they didn’t have to work very hard to get past it in the first place.
Rules to take form this are:
Don’t be afraid to have fun with Flashbacks.
And keep them concise.
That is… if you think writing a flashback is necessary in the first place. Because if you can show your character’s past without disrupting the momentum of your story, do it. Every time.