Today’s Writing Tip

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Flashbacks can be tricky and confusing to a new writer. How to construct them is really quite simple. You introduce flashbacks with past perfect tense, then revert to simple past for duration.

For example, “She’d always known they were an item when their eyes had first met.” After that, you would go to simple past, i.e.: “She remembered that first time clearly, as it stood out so dramatically….” Continue is simple past for the duration of the flashback.

Then, when it’s over and you come back to the present story action, use past perfect again. For example, “That moment would always mean a lot as it had signaled from the start that it would be a special relationship.”

Today’s Writing Tip

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Another way to cover an event that occurred before the story action starts, yet relates to the plot, is to use flashbacks. If its a somewhat long explanation, then a prologue works best. If it can be broken up into several short scenes, then flashbacks can work. Make sure you know how to introduce and then close them out, coming back to the present, by  using past perfect tense.

In other words, to transition to the past, say something like “he’d gone to the movie” (past perfect) as opposed to “he went to the movie” (simple past). After that first sentence, switch to simple past until the flashback is over, then use past perfect again to alert the reader that the story is back in the present. If flashbacks are not introduced and closed properly, it can be very confusing to the reader and cause one of those “WTF moments” you want to avoid. In other words, it will throw them out of the story as they go back to try and figure out when something happened and whether they missed something.

Careful handling of such writing protocols is what labels you a professional versus an amateur.

Writing Tip of the Day

Introduce flashbacks with a past-perfect verb, i.e.: “She’d been charmed from the moment their eyes first met.” Continue with simple past, then close with past-perfect back to the present story action. #amwriting #amediting

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5 MORE TIPS FOR INDIE WRITERS: Perfecting Your Craft

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  1. Avoid adverbs and adjectives whenever possible. For example, rather than saying, He walked slowly say, He strolled or He dragged his feet. Using exactly the right word brings clarity and moves the story along more quickly. Verbs are powerful; use them properly and they strengthen your writing. This contributes to the Show, don’t tell admonition which allows the reader to experience the story as opposed to simply observing it. For example, which of the following is more effective?
    1. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that before,” Sally said sadly.
    2. Sally’s eyes filled with tears and her chin quivered with emotion. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that before,” she whispered.
  2. Use active voice and subjective case. In other words, say, He threw the ball as opposed to the ball was thrown by him.
  3. Avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph. This is something my senior lit teacher told us in high school. Of course there are exceptions, but often when you need to repeat a word it’s a signal that you could reword the sentence in a more concise way. For example:
    1. Sharon saw the pantry was empty so she went to the store to get some groceries. When she got to the store she bought bread, eggs, milk and sauerkraut.
    2. Seeing the pantry was empty, Sharon went to the store to buy bread, eggs, milk and sauerkraut.
  4. Flashbacks are often a source of confusion for the writer as well as the reader. The convention is to begin a flashback with past perfect tense, e. We had started that day with the usual cup of coffee. If you want you can use it for the next sentence as well, particularly if it’s going to be a fairly long sequence. Then when the flashback ends, you close it again with past perfect, i.e. I had thought at the time that it was a good idea, but time had shown otherwise. You can also include a simple statement such as He returned to the present….
  5. There are numerous words out there that sound the same but have different meanings and are spelled differently which are called homonyms. Examples include here and hear; whole and hole; where and wear; your and you’re; you’ll and yule; there, they’re, and their and a host of others.

In the past few weeks I have seen the word shudder used incorrectly in two different books. The meaning of this word is to shake or vibrate; it is not the word for those planks designed to cover or sometimes decorate windows; that word is shutter like in shut. Another one I’ve seen misused in an otherwise excellent book is the word reign. This word relates to authority, such as “the queen’s reign.” To restrain or limit is the word rein, like the straps used with a bit to control a horse. The most common seem to be your (possessive) and you’re (contraction for you are) and they’re (contraction for they are), there (a place) and their (plural possessive.)

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Conclusion

Nothing shows your ignorance as a writer faster than getting these different words mixed up. Many readers won’t know the different, I’m sure, but it’s really our responsibility as writers to provide correct usage and set the example for what appears to be an increasingly semi-literate world.

Of course now that we have autocorrect messing with our best intentions sometimes it’s not entirely your fault if they show up. Furthermore, if your keyboarding skills are advanced your fingers may tend to spell incorrectly from time to time. I have that problem where I know (not no) better but when I really get on a roll (not role) they often turn up (not turnip). That said, you’re (not your) going to have to pay attention and do your (not you’re) best to at least know (not no) the difference between them so you can correct them when you see (not sea) them. If you tend to read over your own mistakes then please, by all means, hire a good editor. Readers who know the difference will appreciate it.