Don’t Look Back: Dealing with Flash Backs

One of the most difficult areas of fiction has to be dealing with flash backs or back story. Couple that with your novel’s opening and it’s a train wreck for most writers. The writer must know her character in detail. Yet often those details somehow make their way into the opening scenes. The result is often a stagnant beginning instead of the dynamic, compelling one the writer hopes to craft.
Writing Tip for Today: Novel openings and back story, as a general rule, don’t mix. Remember the cold mashed potatoes rule? Not to be crass, but there’s a reason back story is BS. What are the dangers?
  • Keep it Real Time. When a reader meets a character, that reader instinctively leans forward, keen on action. In back story, the real-time character is usually sitting around thinking about something that is already old news. If your character is sitting and thinking, the problems we discussed last post crop up: either the character is riding somewhere, staring out the window or even simply sitting. Character is almost always ALONE on stage, doing little or nothing (except thinking up a storm). Readers want movement.
  • Look for HADs. If you aren’t sure about your opening scene, check for “had.” Had in front of a verb denotes “past perfect” tense. Besides cluttering sentences, hads slow down the action.
  • No Chunking. If your story requires a back story reference, keep it brief. You can think of your back story as only necessary on a need-to-know basis. Only disclose back story a sentence or two at a time, and weave it into the real-time action. Your reader won’t be prone to getting lost in the story and will still understand what bits of past history she needs to know.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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