Flashing Your Readers

Dear Maggie,

I know yer not supposed to use a lot of sentences and paragraphs without no dialoge, but really I don’t see no harm in that. My jernalism perfessor always said to write whatever feels right and that conversations between your characters arent necessary. Now I thought instead of writing in lots of – whats it called – background for all of my 20 main characters I could jest use flashbacks, you know like what goes on in their minds as their walking along or pooping on the john or whatever. Course it still wouldn’t be conversations although I guess sometimes it could be part of the flashbacks. 

Now don’t that sound like a grate idea, Maggie? I bet noone else came up with that huh? 

Yours in litriture,

Pamela Flashbuck



Dear Flashbuck – or Flashback – or whatever the heck you call yourself, 

Concentrating on flashbacks for the moment, I’m afraid that technique for filling in backstory, as it’s called, is fairly common in fiction writing and has been around a long, long time. Let me state for the record – one more time – that anything that interrupts the flow of the story line is to be avoided, be it narrative summaries or flashbacks. Now that’s not a hard and fast rule, however. As long as you can make the scene as visual as possible and as immediate as possible, it may well serve your purpose. 

Let’s do an example. Take the following sentence, from a flashback maybe: 

George’s thoughts suddenly became filled with the horrible sights and sounds of the battle that had almost killed him 20 years ago and had left him traumatized every since. 

Changing that flashback into something that will keep your readers’ interest, you should instead write: 

Every so often, George’s mind would suddenly erupt with the blinding reddish-yellow bursts and ground-shaking thunder of bombs exploding all around him, as he knelt in the bloody mud of his foxhole. Helplessly he watched through slitted eyes the arms, legs, and even heads of dismembered comrades flying in all directions.  

Now that will grab your readers’ attention and keep the story moving right along. Do you see the difference in the two flashbacks? If not, then maybe you should confine your writing to dog food commercials. But not cat food commercials. Your talent – actually, lack of talent – just doesn’t quite make the grade for such exalted writing. 

One last caveat about flashbacks. You may or may not have noticed that my second, corrected example did not contain the word “had.” If you must use flashbacks, use the same simple past tense verbs you use throughout the rest of your story, assuming, of course, that you use past tense. That is the most common tense used and deemed acceptable by agents and publishers. Using “had” in flashbacks can cause some extremely awkward phrasing and, again, will unpleasantly intrude upon your readers’ experience. Not a good thing. 

Oh, and by the way, just which “jernalism” school did you attend, The Lastditch School of Dropouts where “perfessors” are paid by how many they pass? Hmm, sounds like dog obedience school. 

Now that I’ve mentioned cat food, I think I’ll go and stare pointedly at my guardian until she succumbs to my hypnotic eyes and dishes out the gourmet tuna.


About aakemp

I am a fiction writer and freelance writer/proofreader with excellent research abilities as well. What I offer is high quality writing done in a smooth, logically consistent and error-free manner. No fluff ever with my writing! Just intelligent, interesting copy. My novels include the young adult fantasy, "The Dragons of Atlantis" and the thriller/mystery, "Beneath the Smoke," available on Amazon's Kindle program. Also "The Dragons of Atlantis" is available on OffTheBookshelf.com as an ebook or hard copy.
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