Permission to Quit Granted – Alternative Means of Expression: Part II
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
A couple months ago, I talked about YouTube and alternative ways writers can express themselves in order to clear out writer’s block or perhaps simply gain perspective on career or creative issues. I consider the writer’s life a long-haul experience. Very often, we go through bursts of creativity and sheer writing bliss, only to end up in a long, slow burn of doldrums and low output. The first five to ten years of any writing career are all about figuring out our voices, our skill-levels, our likes and dislikes, and most importantly of all, our individual thresholds for, let’s say, soul-crushing rejection. After that, ultimate longevity is kind of a crap shoot, right? Well, sort of.
The workhorse model for professional writing doesn’t suit everyone. You may not believe me on that, but trust me, pragmatic holistics matter. Yes, in general it’s best to stay productive and avoid periods of low output, but it’s also a bare bones fact people seek and find inspiration in their own unique ways. For instance, it’s not uncommon for some very successful authors to disappear from the literary scene for years or even decades at a time, only to return in incredible, blinding flashes of brilliance. What do they get up to during those so-called creative droughts? Mostly, on an internal level, they live and experience a few more things until they feel they have something new to say.
If you’re the kind of writer who must hit the brakes every now and then, and by the way, I count myself among you, it may come as a surprise that there doesn’t exist a whole lot of information and support for your way of doing things. The workhorses of the world would have you believe you’re failing if you don’t put down your 2,000 words every single day. But you aren’t. Trust me on this. You’re still doing the job. Even quitters are doing the job. You’re smelling the roses, paying the mortgage, getting married, divorced, remarried, having kids, whatever it is. In essence, you’re telling the story so you can, you know, tell some more stories.
Quitting is a misnomer anyway. I’m not sure good writers ever actually quit. We say we want to, go through the motions, but sooner or later, the bug bites us again. Shamefully, we may disappear into our little domiciles and caverns and pine away for all the stories we never got to tell. But this attitude is borrowed, I can assure you, from a culture that sees reflection and seclusion as things slightly lower than sin.
Just quiz yourself for a moment. The last time you got yourself into a writing funk, wasn’t it because you had something bigger to do? You had to work on your insecurities or your fear of success, or maybe your great aunt died and left you a billion coupons for that buffet place she loved so much but that only serves your favorite brisket on Sundays. An unlikely scenario, sure, but you get the point. Writing doesn’t occur in a vacuum. As much as we may dislike the idea, every word we lay down reflects who we are, who we’ve been, what we believe and value, and the places we yearn to go.
It all depends on your purpose as a storyteller. Does anyone really have a purpose in this world? Yes, I believe we do, though you may feel free to disagree. As an avatar of the workhorse archetype (Family: workhardimus, Genus: unflappabilititus), your purpose may be to write whatever, however, whenever, and for as much money and prestige as possible. A worthy fate if there ever was one. If, by way of alternate example, your countenance and mean represent the BIG IDEA archetype (Family: trickleinspirationmaximus, Genus: deletekeywornout), you may make a habit of cooking a single manuscript for fifteen years before realizing it was good enough to show people eight years ago.
Is there a wrong or right answer here? I don’t think so. Is one of these writers lazier than the other? Arguably, but I don’t think dedication is the ultimate watch word. We’re looking at the sum rather than the parts here, and that makes all the difference.
Art, like life, is a product of time and gestation, and some ideas simply can’t be rolled out in the span of a few months or a few years. Let’s say all you want to write about is a clan of trolls that need to hatch a plan to infiltrate the King’s armory (why not? Substitute a diatribe for or against the Trump Administration, if you like). Every one of your writer friends tells you to plug away until the damned thing is finished, but instinct screams at you to put the story away because you don’t fully understand family dynamics during wartime, social patterns in relation to ground-dwelling malcontents, or the trials and tribulations of Diet Coke-swilling Presidents. I’m telling you to follow the instinct.
The relative complexity of the story you want to tell and your ability to execute it depend entirely on where you’re at as a person and a creator. An eighteen-year-old could write her magnum opus as easily as a fifty-year-old, it’s just the soul of one finds itself prepared many years prior to the soul of the other. So prep your soul a little. Here’s my recommendation if you’ve tried the 24/7, 365 model and found it wanting: live a little between projects. Forget what you’re working on right now, shelve it; yes, I’m giving you permission to quit. Here’s a real test of mettle. Can you forget all about your big dream? Can you go back to being a regular civilian non-writing-combatant? Knowing in the back of your mind when you return to work at some distant point in the future, you’ll be changed, the world will have changed, you’ll have packed on a few years, losses, wins, regrets, and that your stories will thank you for it?
Sometimes alternative means of expression require us to express nothing at all. To me, making something from nothing is a lot like breathing. The inhale, the brink, and then at last, the release and relief of a nice grateful exhale. Take in oxygen like a prize fighter or a Buddhist monk. Breathe until your belly fills with all the desire and longing you can stand, and then let it rightfully explode. Awaken to the possibility of laziness. I mean that. Sit on your butt and watch The Price is Right, or go to work every day and pretend to care about earning a living. In one hundred years you will be dead. Sorry if that’s a bit of a spoiler. Now did you write two books or forty? Would you rather have written fifty? No doubt, but tell me, was it your role to do so? Were you driven to do it? And can you really call that life of yours a waste because you lived how you were compelled to live?
To be blunt, don’t live by other people’s standards. Just in general, don’t do it. If you’ve got the drive and the nerve to chase your star, chase it as hard as you can. But if survival and struggle are all you know and you’re damn tired of it, understand there’s nothing to be gained by producing a mountain of crap for your name to sit atop as you relax into a neat pile of old bones. Individuality is far more central to our world than most people have the ability to recognize. One-size-fits-all only works in plumbing fixtures and baseball caps. Don’t knock yourself out with this story or even the next. Put it down if you need to. Put it down. Put it down. Put it down.
Then go for a walk and pick up a winning lottery ticket, meet the love of your life, or get an autograph from the leader of the free world that sends you reeling back through space and time to meet the man who invented Diet Coke. Stranger things have happened. I’m sure of it. Until next time, everyone.
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I did most of my poetry reading between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. I was in love with a girl who loved poetry. Otherwise, for the next several decades I neglected poetry. It was an occasional pleasure. Lately, however, I have been rediscovering poetry. If you want to read today’s poets head for the online magazine “Across The Margin” (acrossthemargin.com). ATM publishes living poets and prose writers. I am, fortunately, online buds with the editors Michael Fisher and Chris Thompson. As curators of such a venue, they are brilliant. They bring together some of the best writers of our times. While I’m throwing out resources, I must also mention the uber-poetry web empire PoemHunters.com
As an adolescent I was drawn to the work of Federico Garcia Lorca and Rainer Maria Rilke. Their influence yet remains with me. They occupy special seats in the Poets’ Pantheon. Lorca, who was mired in the political confusion surrounding the Spanish Civil War, was assassinated in 1936. He is now a Spanish national treasure. Extensive searches for his grave have failed to find his remains. He was thirty eight when he drew his final breath. No one knows who murdered him. The Fascists blame the Communists and the communists blame the Fascists. Hey, it was Spain in the thirties.
Here is one of his poems. As a Spaniard and member of what was called “The Generation Of ’27”, he was inspired and surrounded by surrealists.
in the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the
Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.
Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
eyes of cows.
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention
of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.
Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.
No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.
Rainer Maria Rilke was born into a middle class family in 1875. The family was highly dysfunctional, as are the families of 99 percent of every artist in Earth’s history. Rilke had the good sense to hang out with the most illustrious artists of any age. He was, for a while, Auguste Rodin’s secretary. He lived the life of a poet during the height of the Romantic era. His life was no piece of cake. He was drafted into the Austro/Hungarian Army at the outbreak of World War One. It took two years for his influential friends to free him from possible slaughter in the trenches. He did, however, have such friends. He wrote in a variety of media, including some four hundred poems.
This is Rilke.
At The Brink Of Night
My room and this distance,
awake upon the darkening land,
are one. I am a string
stretched across deep
Things are violin bodies
full of murmuring darkness,
where women’s weeping dreams,
where the rancor of whole generations
stirs in its sleep . . .
I should release
my silver vibrations: then
everything below me will live,
and whatever strays into things
will seek the light
that falls without end from my dancing tone
into the old abysses
around which heaven swells
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
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I wrote in an earlier piece that my first motivation for writing poetry was to please a girlfriend. What is more apt, more romantically human, than writing and reciting poetry?
I was fifteen and completely smitten. My amour and I belonged to a group of friends who fancied ourselves as Beatniks, avant garde, fringe elements. Oh, how daring, these suburban kids flirting with dangerous radicals and writers! We weren’t political. We were curious and flying as close to the flame of modern art as we dared.
Our god was e.e. cummings. A close second was Charles Bukowski. Cummings was the defiant rebel and iconoclast. Bukowski was just plain foul, profane and we loved his flouting of middle class lifestyles. The two poets could not be more different. In the classroom we studied T.S.Eliot. We studied Robert Frost. Whee!
Then cummings came along and we were swept up in his lyricism and humor.
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves
and kisses are a better fate
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
and death i think is no parenthesis
This is one of his classics, one of his best known poems. In it he exhorts us to pure experience, to FEEL life, not to think about it. That appeals and will always appeal to the young. Bukowski is a different matter.
the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
crawling in and out
the bone and the
for more than
there’s no chance
we are all trapped
by a singular
nobody ever finds
the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill
Bukowski was more the nihilist, far more transgressive of social norms. He didn’t give a shit! By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie “Barfly”, do so. It is based on the life of Bukowski. It’s a hoot.
I don’t know many high school kids these days, so I have no insight towards their poetic tastes. They have hip-hop. They have the internet. I have no doubt that kids today are as adventurous, rebellious and weird as they have always been. It would be a good research project.
As always with these essays I close with a poem of my own. I’ll keep it brief. It has nothing to do with the subject.
Between my pillow and the back of my head
in the space where the stubble of my balding scalp
meets the soft fabric of my cotton dream ship
Shall I wake and know this to be a dream?
Dancers dressed in furs and leather
wearing antlers and tusks
tracing circles and hopping
from one leg to the other
drums and rattles, sticks with bells shaking
Magical Dancers in a dream
but my eyes are open, my mind lucid.
This is no longer a dream.. Are these dancers merely
the fleas left behind by the cat as he warmed my pillow?
Surely not! Surely not! But if they are, then I salute you,
fleas, for taking on strange identities
in a world where nothing is quite real
where fleas are shamans, ancient survivors
magicians of blood and skin.
If I turn on my side, what will I see? Fleas vanishing into the cat’s fur
or shamans celebrating the oncoming wave of another dream?
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. Photos in these columns are by Arthur Rosch.
Want to be sure not to miss any of Art’s The Many Faces of Poetry segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.
One town, two killers and the body count is rising. Artemis, by Chris Snider is the tale of how freak set of circumstances turned an ordinary scientist on the brink of death into something no longer human. With superhuman powers, including the ability to command animals, Joseph Art becomes Artemis, defender of animals and the innocent or vulnerable. The police don’t know whether they should string him up as a vigilante, or pin a medal on him. After he comes face to face with the evil clown axe murderer, the stakes are raised and the hunt becomes personal, and no one knows what will happen when the two killers confront one another a final time.
The individual storylines are skillfully woven into a single plotline and action filled climax. I give Artemis four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the garage
Not a creature was stirring, not even the Dodge.
The spark plugs were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of sparks danced through their heads.
The inner tubes were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that Saint Nicholas would fill them with air.
Mama in her kerchief and I, in my cap
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bunk and missed the ladder.
Ran to the window, threw open the sash,
Leaned out too far and fell in the trash.
I stood and brushed off all the new fallen snow
And greeted St. Nick with a hearty “Ho! Ho!”
He was dressed all in fur, for it was a cold night
It must have been freezing on the sliegh while in flight.
A bundle of goodies flung over his back
He looked like a peddler as he opened the sack.
His eyes twinkled through goggles, his dimples so merry.
Then, he took off his cap, but my, he was hairy.
His hair flowed over his shoulders, so white
He reached into his sack and pulled out a flash light.
Then to my surprise, what he pulled out of his bag
Was a 345 Hemi, ready to drag.
Then he pulled out some headers that looked really sweet
And to top it all off, a set of big meats.
He pulled out a tire iron, a hammer and wrench
Before I could grasp it, he pulled out a tool bench.
When all the tools were layed out in a nice, neat row,
He turned with a wave and said, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all, may you win tonight!
By Greg and Kaye Booth
This is not the first time this author has appeared on Writing to be Read as a part of a book tour. At the end of July I had the pleasure of interviewing Scerina Elizabeth as a part of her tour for Nocturnia and Spellbound. Today’s post is a part of the Full Moon Bites book blog tour for her most recent releases, Eternally Yours and Fangalicious Divas, with an excerpt from Ms. Elizabeth’s erotica vampire romance novel, Eternally Yours: Bloodlines. The content may be adult in nature, so this post is for those eighteen and over only.
Unlike my book reviews, where I tell you what I think and rate the work for you, an excerpt speaks for itself and lets the readers decide. So, without further ado…
We all looked at each other, waiting for either Chloe or William to explain it all. It was Chloe who started.
“We had been working for your grandmother for over ten years. I was her housekeeper while William was the groundskeeper. We were the ones who managed the estate when your grandmother fell ill and was unable to handle things on her own. She was a beautiful woman who was the sweetest thing and very generous. She allowed us to live on the estate just above the horse stables. When she was in the last stages of her illness, she told us all about you and your whereabouts. She also told us about your dark family secret which she instructed us to tell you about once you arrived.”
She continued, “Your dark family secret is something you would not believe so for you to truly believe and understand, we must show you.” As she said that, she got up and waited for us by the door that led down to the cellar.
We all followed her down to the cellar where she stood in front of a steel sliding door that was padlocked and chained where she asked me for the keys. Expertly she rifled through the keys to the right one, unlocked the padlock and pulled the chain from the doors. She tossed the chains to the side and stuck the padlock in her pocket. Both she and William pulled the heavy sliding door open. There in front of us was another set of stairs made of stone that looked much older than the house itself. She lit a torch on the wall. Once there was light and we could see better into the stairwell, it looked like something that you would find back in medieval times, like an old dungeon or something. The smell was stale and musty. You could tell no one had been down here in years. She led us down to the lower level of the cellar where at the bottom of the stairs was another heavy, steel, sliding door – chained and padlocked like the one upstairs. She opened the door as she had done before, she knew exactly what she was doing which washed away any doubt I may have had of her. She seemed to know her way around this house and knew much about my family.
The inner room lit up as soon as the doors opened. It looked like a mausoleum, very sterile and white with hints of gold and silver here and there. In the heart of the room, were three white marble slabs and on top of each slab was a coffin.
The one in the middle was an enormous gold coffin with a massive silver crucifix was inlaid with rubies and diamonds in the center of it. Along the sides were more precious gems and it had detailed artwork covering it. It was gorgeous.
The two smaller coffins were bronze with smaller gold crucifixes covered in emeralds and diamonds on them. Just like the center coffin, the two smaller ones had gorgeous detailed artwork.
At the very front of the room in the center, were two silver columns that looked like a doorway. I figured it was mere decorations since two silver columns were not only covered in detailed artwork but more precious gems and diamonds. Not paying much attention and figuring it was just a decoration, I continued to take in the room. It was a family mausoleum clearly and I could understand in a sense why the dark family secret would be kept down here but what I still didn’t understand was – what was it? I was just about to find out because William began to speak.
“What lies in these coffins is your family’s dark secret. From generation to generation your family has watched over and protected the contents of these three coffins. In the center lies your great-great-grandfather Jacob LaBau and in the two smaller coffins lies your great-grandaunts Latrelle & Charlamaine LaBau.
Now what am about to tell you, you will have trouble believing and you might want to have a seat for this next part.” He gestured towards a marble bench on the side of the room and we did as he said.
In last month’s memo I talked about ways you can use flashbacks in stories and it led to a discussion about flash forwards and a request from Kaye that I do a post about them, so I decided to focus on the difference between flashbacks and flash forwards. I’m going to primarily use films and TV shows for examples as the film/TV examples are easy to visually show what I mean.
(Disclaimer: I don’t own the rights to any of these video clips or shows. I apologize in advance for some of the quality of the clips but they were the only ones I could find at times. Many of these shows mentioned are on Netflix, so I recommend watching there if possible.)
A flashback is almost any moment when a story jumps from the present time of the story to show you something that happened in the past. It’s not just talking about the past, but actually showing the events that happened. The flashback can be just a quick glimpse, or it can be a very long section of the story.
Flashback Example 1 – The Usual Suspects:
This film opens with the explosion on the ship and then moves forward to Kevin Spacey in the police station being interviewed. When he starts telling the story of how all the “usual suspects” were rounded up the film flashes back to show this happening, and the story continues in the flashback time period until the end of the film when we return to Kevin Spacey in the police station again.
Flashback Example 2 – Forest Gump:
This one is pretty straightforward that it’s cutting to a flashback. Forest is in the present moment talking about things that happened in his past from his childhood to adulthood, and we constantly hear his voice over and see him in present day on the bench talking about his past.
Flashback Example 1 – Breaking Bad Season 1 Episode 1:
Again, we start in the present time where Walt is crashing the RV and already cooking meth, then we very clearly jump back after the opening credits several weeks in time to when he was a normal school teacher. The main story of this first episode is all flashback with the opening and ending being the present moments.
Flash forwards are tiny glimpses of the possible future within a story. Basically you get a glimpse of the future and then return to the present afterward. This future glimpse doesn’t have to be true, and it doesn’t HAVE to happen, it’s just a glimpse of what COULD happen and the audience has to keep watching to see if it does.
This technique is often used in stories involving anything with psychics. The key is the events haven’t happened yet, and may never happen depending on how the present continues to unfold. It’s a glimpse of the potential future, but the story is still taking place in the present day and will return to present day once the future glimpse is over.
Flash Forward Example 1 – The Dead Zone (film)
When Christopher Walken shakes Martin Sheen’s hand he gets a vision of the potential future. We see clips of what Martin Sheen may do, but we don’t know if it will happen or not because it hasn’t happened yet, all we know is that it’s possible to happen. Once the flash forward is over we return to the present moment where Christopher Walken is.
Flash Forward Example 2 – Scrooged:
When Bill Murray leaves the elevator he gets several glimpses of the possible future he will encounter if he doesn’t change his ways. Again, these are all brief flash forwards showing potential future moments. It’s a little different because it seems like Bill Murray is in the flash forwards, but he has no ability to change them while he’s there so it’s still a flash forward to a potential future if he doesn’t change his ways in the present.
Flash Forward Example 3 – Terminator 2
When she lays her head down, Sarah Connor has a dream vision of the future if machines are allowed to get out of control. This vision is a potential future and is the motivation for her to try to stop this outcome with her actions in the present.
Flash Forward Example 4 – FlashForward TV Show Season 1 Episode 1:
This episode actually has a flash forward AND a flashback in it. I’ve started this clip right before the flash forward moment where the protagonist gets a glimpse of his future and then wakes up after the accident, but if you scroll back to the very opening of the episode you’ll see that the story starts with the accident, then there is a flashback to 4 hours earlier leading up to the accident again to show what caused it (which was actually the flash forward). Are you confused? I know, it’s a lot.
The flash forward is the glimpse of the potential future that the main character may experience at some point later on, and then you return to the present moment. The opening sequence at the start that shows the accident is NOT technically a flash forward because it’s not a glimpse of the future, it’s where the story is NOW. Then we flashback to 4 hour earlier to see how we got there and how the accident happened.
Flash Forward Example 5 – Sherlock Holmes (film)
This fight scene is a type of micro flash forward because it tells us what will happen moments before it does, even though it’s in verbal form. It’s more of an abbreviated flash forward because it’s verbal and it’s similar to how flash forwards are often used in fiction. The narrator gives the reader a glimpse of what will be to come, but we’re still in the present moment of the story where it hasn’t actually happened yet.
Distinguishing Between the Two:
Most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell whether something is a flashback or a flash forward because it’s in the middle of the story and the story either jumps forward or back for a short time before returning to the present. However, the one area that seems to cause the most confusion is when the flashback or flash forward is used immediately at the opening of a story. Is the story starting in a flash forward? Is the main story all in flashback? What is happening? To figure out whether you’re seeing a flashback or a flash forward, think about where the scene is currently taking place and where the protagonist is in the present.
If you look at the openings of Forest Gump and Breaking Bad, both are happening as we watch and we’re not seeing a future possible event, we’re seeing the events as they happen to the protagonist, then we (the audience) jump back to see how the protagonist got to that present moment, but all of it has already happened and the protagonist is still in the present at that opening scene waiting for us to catch up to him.
Flash forward scenes are events that have NOT happened yet, and may not happen, and when they end we are returned to the present moment where the story is taking place and the protagonist is currently. Everything between that present moment and the future event we saw has not happened yet, and may not happen, but that is why we’re watching to find out. The present moment may eventually lead to that flash forward moment, but there’s no guarantee.
One of the few times a show can open with a flash forward is if it opens with a psychic event such as a dream or prophecy where we get a glimpse of what may or may not happen before a character pops awake or something and reveals it all was a vision or dream. Then the rest of the show builds to reveal whether it is something that is going to happen or not.
Neither Flashbacks nor Flash forwards:
There are a few other story methods that some people confuse with flash forwards and flashbacks but one of the main ones I want to mention is time travel such as in the Back to the Future Series. This and other time travel stories are tricky areas because it is easy to say we’re flashing back because we’re going back in time, but that’s not true in most stories I can think of.
A flashback involves looking back at past events that have already happened exactly as the person remembers them happening, while most time travel stories involve a character physically going back to these past events such as Marty does, and having influence on those events. This makes it not a flashback because Marty has the ability to change things if he does something wrong. That means the events aren’t set and aren’t just a memory of what happened, they’re fluid and changing. Flashbacks are memories of what happened prior to the present so they can’t be changed unless someone is misremembering something or lying. Marty is physically there and it’s his present time even if he’s physically living in the past, and he can make mistakes (and does) that change the future, so it’s not a flashback.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that just because a story goes forward in time doesn’t mean it’s a flash forward. A flash forward is a glimpse into the future but it doesn’t move the story TO the future. When your story jumps forward in time to a future point, if the story continues from that point on and isn’t just a glimpse of that future time, then what you have is a forward time jump and not a flash forward.
Every now and then you’ll see someone define those opening scene moments where we start the story at a major event as a flash forward because it shows a “future” event and then immediately goes back in time after to where a huge chunk of the story takes place. But these stories that start with a major event and then go back in time almost always say something like “x time earlier” which establishes that the first scene is the present time period and everything afterward is in the past, making everything after that opening scene a flashback.
Ultimately, if you’re asking “what happened to get us here?” then you’re probably about to see a flashback to find out. However, if you’re asking “what WILL happen to get us here?” then you’re watching a flash forward and you will return to the present to find out as events unfold.