The Problem with Flashbacks

shattered glass from a car wreckFlashbacks.

You know what I’m talking about. When a writer rips us from the present moment of the story and catapults us into the past.

And that’s the problem. It stops the forward momentum of your story. Like a driver slamming on the brakes and you go flying through the windshield.

First, realize a flashback is not equal to backstory. In The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, Tim Tomlinson tells us backstory is:

“…information in the story’s or character’s past, and it can be parceled out effectively in the narration as the story progresses.”

A flashback is a fully dramatized scene, written like any other scene in your story. Writers often feel the need to use this device in order to explain a character’s present action.

So ask yourself these two questions first:

  1. Does the flashback present information essential to the story?
  2. Does it work as a scene—with the conflict and action of a scene—and not as an information dump?

If you answered yes to both, then a flashback might be your option. I’d also attempt writing that information into a present moment scene, and see which one works best.

Use them sparingly and not too soon in the story. As a guideline, I recommend what Nancy Kress says in her book Character, Emotion & Viewpoint:

“First, you must earn the right to flashback. This means that enough interesting things have already happened in the story to anchor us firmly in its present before you carry us off to its past.”

In other words, the reader needs to be emotionally invested in your character and the character’s present before you take us back to her past. If you find yourself writing one in the first chapter—or worse yet—the first scene, you probably started your story at the wrong place.

Use a strong sensory detail to introduce your flashback.

As Alice entered the house, the scent of fresh homemade bread assaulted her. That same smell had greeted her a year ago when her father’s house blew up. She barely stepped through the front door when the force of the blast knocked her into the yard. Unable to move, yet in no pain, she wondered if she was dead or alive.

Notice the use of “had” in the example above. I used only one to introduce the scene, then continued without it as though the scene was happening this very moment.

Use the same sensory detail to exit your scene and come back to the present.

Alice plugged her nose to avoid the bread’s scent and wobbled to the kitchen.

Do you have flashbacks in your current work in progress? Put them under the scrutiny of these guidelines and make adjustments as needed.

Have questions about this post. Leave them in the comments below.

How to Find a Publisher

For people dipping their toes into the vast sea of publishing for the first time, knowing how to find a publisher can be an overwhelming task.

I’m talking to those who have ventured into these waters from another field. Doctor, teacher, business exec, stay-at-home mom. And now God has given you a story or message to share.

Where do you start?

Our Enemy Is a Spiritual One

TerrorismI’m veering off my usual blogging schedule because this is one of those times I feel compelled to speak out.

As we face the tragedy that took place in Orlando this week, many of us shake our heads at the senselessness of it. We can only imagine the heartache these families are experiencing, and we lift them to the Lord in prayer.

I remind myself that what occurs in the physical realm has a parallel in the spiritual. Omar Mateen isn’t the enemy. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12 NLT).

Those who don’t know Jesus [Read more…]

Marketing Different Books Simultaneously

Marketing Different Books Simultaneously Kathy Nickerson Interview

Author Kathy Nickerson released a book in March and will release another one in July. Today she’s here to share how she’s managing the marketing of these books.

Kathy, thanks so much for joining us here today. I always enjoy your books and your blog. You have a sense of humor I like, and that comes through clearly in your voice.

In March you launched The Secret of Serendipity, a middle-grade novel, and next month you release Rose Hill Cottage, a women’s contemporary fiction. How have you handled the marketing for two books in such a short period of time? [Read more…]

3 Things You Need to Know About Flash Fiction

Today’s post is by Ben Wolf, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Splickety Publishing Group. I had the privilege of meeting Ben last month at PenCon (a conference for editors). He gave an inspiring keynote speech on day 2 of the conference.

I enjoyed his keynote so much, I decided to ask if he’d be willing to guest post on my blog—and yes, I had to encourage myself to be brave enough to ask. He graciously said yes.

Ben Wolf, Splickety Publishing Group3 Things You Need to Know About Flash Fiction
by Ben Wolf
Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Splickety Publishing Group

Instant gratification reigns supreme in today’s fast-paced society. I could go into a spiel here about Twitter, DVR, multi-tasking, and Big Macs, but we all live it (and, in most cases, love it) every day. [Read more…]

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