My writer friend who graciously offered to beta-read my novel — we met up at a restaurant, ordered dinner and spread each other’s respective manuscripts all over the table, thoroughly puzzling our waiter — had several excellent suggestions for improving things, one of them being some flashback scenes. It would help humanize one of the characters. It would give the other characters more depth. It would help pinpoint where a particular relationship started to go wrong.
Now, I hadn’t thought in detail about what happened to these characters before the start of the novel. Because I’m a pantser. (I love this term for some reason. It makes me giggle.) I quite literally make it up as I go along. I find my way through the story as I write it, as though a road map were some sort of unnecessary oddity. Which is ironic, because a road map, and a GPS, and possibly a co-pilot, are entirely necessary when I want to physically go somewhere. Letting my brain wander aimlessly is much more useful than letting the car wander, and it saves on gas, too.
So following my friend’s suggestion, I flipped to the likeliest starting spot and began to write a flashback scene. And then I did it again. And again. And discovered facets to my characters’ personalities that I had not known were there. Apparently there’s a reason why two of them don’t like each other. There’s a bit of stubbornness, an immaturity, in the main character I hadn’t seen before, but now I do.
I’m quite delighted that my characters and I still have interesting things to say to each other. I hope that never changes.
I’m about running out of space in the narrative to add another flashback (otherwise they’re in danger of colliding with the present, and then I’d have a bit of a metaphysical pileup), and am a little disappointed. My characters will just have to find another way to get my attention.