Flashbacks

Sometimes there is a lot of back information which needs to be presented to the reader so the story makes sense. Often, new writers plop that information in at the start. Don’t. The beginning of your book needs action, something to capture the reader’s attention. Unless the back story is full of action, it needs to be given in small doses elsewhere.  A rule of thumb is to include only what is absolutely necessary and to place that information closest to where it is needed.

Okay, so now we know how much to include and where to put a flashback. But how does one go about doing a flashback? Really it can be accomplished quite easily and you don’t need to go “had” crazy. Assuming you are writing the main body of your book in regular past tense, follow these simple steps:

1. Employ the word “had” in the first one or two sentences. This is the past perfect tense and will indicate you have moved into a flashback.

2. You don’t need to use the word “had” all the way through. You can if the flashback is very short, but on longer pieces, it gets a bit monotonous reading “had” this and “had” that.

3. Once you are near the end of the flashback, simply use the past perfect verb tense a few times and the reader will know the flashback is coming to an end.

4. If your character interrupts a task to enter a flashback, you can show the flashback is over by resuming the same task. See the next example:

“Can you teach me how to knit, Grandma?”

“I’m not sure you’re old enough,” Maureen answered, as the knitting needles she held seemed to move on their own accord. “After all, you’re only seven.” As she said this, she felt a tinge of guilt.

Maureen had been only seven when her own grandmother had painstakingly showed her how to hold the needles properly and make the stitches. At first, knitting was a struggle and the piece she made looked nothing like a square. She expected her grandmother to laugh at her efforts, but instead the dear woman praised her for not giving up. Her grandmother had always been supportive and because of that Maureen had loved her–sometimes more than she had loved her own mother.

Maureen set aside her knitting. “But since you’re such a smart seven-year-old, I think I can give you your first lesson. Let’s go find a pair of needles and some practice wool.”

See how bracketing the flashback portion with the two knitting actions is used? They clearly mark the start and finish of the flashback. And when you pair that technique with the past perfect verb tense at the beginning and end, there will be no confusion to the reader. Though most of the third paragraph is flashback, the word “had” is used only five of the possible ten times.

I hope this post helps you.

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