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Writing About The Past

One of the things I struggle with as a writer is how to handle flashbacks.

Part of my difficulty is balancing how much to show about a character's past or past events that inform who they are now as a character. New writers are told to start a story by dropping readers in medias res. Yet, writers are told to limit how much they use flashbacks, since it can interrupt the narrative flow.

You're always juggling as a writer. Setting, characters, plot. They're bowling balls and chain saws and balloons, and the best writers keep each moving through the air in beautiful arcs that defy gravity. One moment you're on page one and the next you're looking for the writer's next book because you can't get enough of their fluid prose.

Flashbacks came to my mind this morning because I'm working on critiques of my second chapter from Monday's writing group session. Some of the responses I received were good, other members in my group wanting to know why a character was in WITSEC, when I wasn't ready to show that yet. Other responses questioned how I attempted to maintain my narrative thread, believing the chapter too jumpy. I knew this might be a problem, and it's completely due to my opening line, which is a kick ass line--

Confession is good for the soul.

--but doesn't work when the chapter heads down the wrong path.

The new opening line and paragraph are perfect, since the chapter now progresses from a solid beginning in the character's past and follows him through to the present day.

A lack of conscience worked wonders when Nicco Esposito was a hit man, but it wasn’t helping him now. Not when it mattered.

My challenge with this construction is the writing needs to sing to carry the story established with the first chapter, which opened with a detective's appearance on a murder scene. Time and future rewrites will determine whether I got it correct.

Best part of today's observations is the story still works at its core. Moving paragraphs here and there, rewording a few, inserting one or two and clarifying character motivations ... that's just juggling.

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February 2012


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