Refreshed and Ready For Action #ROW80

Overall Goal: Figure out my writing process

Goal Pieces:

1. Read more books in my genre.

2. Read more books on craft and apply the lessons to my writing.

Forgive me, for I have not posted in the last few updates.


Did anyone even notice? There’s almost eighty of them.

There wasn’t much to report. “Hey, guys, I still suck. ‘Til next time!” I got stuck in The Rut for a while, but I’m out for now, thanks to my buddies, and I come with progress.

I read a chunk of Techniques of the $elling Writer by Dwight V. Swain and one section dealt with scene don’ts. Among them was the flashback. Swain had a great and simple way of explaining why this is a don’t. It’s not realistic. If you’re in a situation with conflict, the last thing you’re going to do is reminisce. I’ll use Terminator 2 as an example.

So, it’s the scene where the Terminator and John Connor are set to break Sarah Connor out of the crazy house. There’s an urgency to this rescue mission because the other Terminator, the evil one, is on the way there too. To kill and assume Sarah’s identity.

John’s Terminator successfully takes out the guards. No one can stop them from getting in. Now imagine instead of doing just that, John says, “You know, T, this reminds of the time Mom and I broke into this laboratory. I was younger and really scared, but she wasn’t. She kicked those guards’ asses just like you. Even though I was scared I felt safe. Kind of like now. Let’s go get Mom.”

Be honest, after you leapt through the movie screen, hoping to land in the T2 world so you could slap John upside the head, you’d be asking the manager for your money back.

Why would John, for one second, think about anything but saving his mom? Because conflict takes all thought except the matter at hand away.

I knew flashbacks were unnecessary for most of fiction, but Swain’s example made the reason why so much clearer that it’ll be very hard to make this mistake. Yay for that.

21 comments on “Refreshed and Ready For Action #ROW80

  1. Flashbacks are definitely a tough technique to use well. I don’t think the issue is with the flashback exactly, but with the skill level of the writer. If you’re still working on basic story concepts– stay away from the flashback! It just complicates things.

    With more experience, flashbacks can be used effectively. I do use them, but the key is how they’re used. I believe that a flashback can be used to heighten a tense moment, even a moment of action. I actually do this with the one story I’m editing right now. A character has a fight that reminds him of one when he was much younger and less experienced, and then he acts. It’s definitely a flashback, but it’s very sudden. There are no details, only a sudden hint that there’s something more at play. Later on, when things have cooled down, he is forced to face that memory.

    • Yes, flashbacks do have their place, but after reading Swain’s explanation, they seem to be a technique to be used sparingly. Especially for rookie me.

      As a reader, too many sometimes annoys me because it takes me away from the main story.

      I don’t write flashbacks much, but now I’ll ask myself if if the information in the flashback is important for the scene? If so, is there a way to show it in a more active way, like dialogue?

      • Oh no… dialogue is never active! That’s almost always horrible way in a story to reveal information. People standing around talking do not create a real scene. I know it happens in real life, but in books it makes it hard to really get involved.

        The thing I like about flashbacks is that they create a scene. There is nothing more active than vividly painting a scene.

        But as following comments and your comment shows, flashbacks can be annoying. So you’re wise to steer clear. Me? I dive on in there! But that’s because most of my stories rarely go from the beginning to the end, and the past is an important part of the story. Of course, I’m verified crazy, which is another reason why I self-published, lol.

        • I agree – dialogue being used to reveal information sometimes seems to me like a convenient way to give an information dump. I use flashbacks in one way only: a memory within the current scene. I never use them to present a whole different scene, if you understand what I mean. I won’t say NEVER use them, because a fine example of expertly written flashbacks is Stephen King’s “It.” I can’t imagine that book written in any another way and being as effective at building fear and dread.

          I think the writing advice out there being thrown about by other writers, editors, and publishers is too full of don’ts. It constricts writers, it’s taken as canon, it’s letting someone else drive your creativity – in effect, boxing your creativity into someone else’s acceptable norms. As a creative person – and somewhat of a rebel – I don’t let someone else steer my writing car. I am even *gasp* leading off my next release with a prologue. Don’t faint. πŸ˜‰

          Oh, and no worries on not posting the last few updates – I’m just now jumping into this round now that all my publisher duties are done for the moment. Best of luck with your goals this week!

        • I feel differently about dialogue. I like to learn stuff through dialogue because I love to hear what people have to say. But, there again, it has to be done well. I like it when you can really get into the story through the dialogue and interaction of the characters. Like Sharon said, though, you have to be careful and not let it sound like an information dump. It’s a fine line.

          • I’ve been thinking about it all day. I don’t mean to completely knock dialogue, as I love that too. Character interaction is one of the reasons I write, and dialogue can reveal so much about a character.

            But it is a fine line, and that line is so different for everyone. I think that’s why I’m also not keen on flat rules. You really can’t know your line until you play with it some and get some feedback.

  2. yay for learning and welcome back.

  3. We did notice!! Or thought maybe you forgot to put your name in the title of your linky – so many people do that! I also feel the same way when nothing for the week has changed and I’m just too tired to be witty or type. But, I backed myself into a corner and made not missing a check-in a goal, so even if all I say is I wrote and I’m tired, I’ve done it lol. I actually find Wednesday’s check in hard almost every week, so I keep them REALLY short, like a paragraph, unless I have more to say. This has made me a fan of the micropost!! Glad you’ve conquered #TheRut and best of luck for this week!

  4. Great tip – when you lay it out like that, it seems so foolish! Plus, why mess with the pacing?

    Good luck with your goals next week!

  5. Keep on going, Andrew. You’ll get this story ready to put out there!

    Flashbacks can be very annoying. Especially for an inexperienced writer. But some writers can pull it off. Remember our favorite Stephen King story? That book was one huge flashback, but it worked the way he did it. You just have to do it well. And if the flashback is unnecessary, then definitely don’t do it!

  6. Good job on working on your craft. Flashbacks are tough to master especially if you’re new at it. I think Lauralynn is right – the key is figuring out if the flashback is really essential to the plot or just something you love. Good luck!

    PS: if you’re reading on craft, Donald Maas’s Writing The Breakout Novel is a must!

  7. Great job! I have been behind on my posts as well so you are not the only one! It sounds like you are driven. You know, I did a lot of research on my creatures in my genre (paranormal) but I had never read any books similar. I was scared to; now I am loving them!

    I have not yet come to a point where there was need for a flashback in my book, and I hope I do not! I like to craft everything around my world as already something that is known, or is explained out in little tidbits so that when it gets to the point of conflict the reader goes “AHHH!”

    Good luck this week and keep up the good work!

  8. Thinking about the most inopportune places to add a flashback – and doing so – could be a fun writing exercise. I think it could make for lots of laughs at a writers group. If I suggest this, I’ll give credit where credit is due. So there, proof positive…You don’t suck.

    ’til next time…

  9. Well done for getting back on track! hope you manage to keep it up, and look forward to more check-ins (I’ll be keeping an eye out for you being missing now! lol)

  10. […] Been busy doing the actual writing.Β  But I think it’s time for a reset.Β  In that vein, Andrew Mocete had a nice breakdown of why flashbacks are generally bad (according to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, which I read a couple years […]

  11. Welcome back πŸ˜‰ Of course we notice these things. There’s a few others I keep seeing that haven’t posted in a bit. Going to have to go after them πŸ˜‰ Even if you don’t have anything to report, post anyway. I guarantee you’ll do *something* to avoid post the “nothing” post at some point.

  12. Welcome back! I agree that flashbacks should be used sparingly. Although in a way, my whole WIP could be considered a flashback unless I change the beginning. πŸ™‚

  13. Wow, everyone, I love the discussion going on here! I’ve been out all day, so this was awesome to come home to. Thanks to you all for taking the time to leave support and your thoughts. Since there’s so much to cover, I’m just going to address everything in one comment.

    Dialogue is something I love. When I’m reading and I see dialogue coming up, I’m happy. Yes, if used incorrectly, it can be a big info dump, but so can a lot of writing techniques. But with the right line(s) of dialogue I think you can give the reader tons of information in as natural a way as a conversation. I think of it as if I was eavesdropping on a couple of friends chatting. What would I learn about them just by what they said? Since they know each other, there’d be no need for them to explain the background stuff. They just talk.

    In terms of a book, whether the dialogue is necessary for a particular scene is one thing, but if it’s boring, then it’s my fault for writing boring dialogue.

    Stephen King’s It was mentioned as a good use of flashbacks. First off, this is my favorite King book. That said, I’ve never viewed these flashbacks as typical. It could easily have been a two part story, but King decided to tell two stories in one. And he did it brilliantly. I see two main reasons for this.

    1. There’s a clear distinction between past and present. If I remember correctly, the book is five parts and each one deals with either 1985 or 1957. So even though we’re going to 1957, it’s not like someone’s remembering 1957, we’re there and King writes it like the present. I also felt he chose wise breakpoints between time periods to make the flow smooth.

    2. This wasn’t King’s first book. According to wikipedia, this was his twentieth published story putting him a bit over ten years into his professional writing career. He had a lot of practice, including The Stand to get ready for this one. Even on his greenest day, I don’t think I’m on his level, so I admire his skill, but I’m not going to try what he can do until I get much better. To me it’s like trying to make the Statue of Liberty disappear before learning how to make a quarter appear from behind someone’s ear.

    As I write more, I’ll experiment more, play with the rules and see what new things I can do with them. I didn’t mean to make sound like you should never use flashbacks. Even if that’s what I meant, I’ve never published a book! What do I know? But seriously, the “rules” of fiction aren’t set in stone, but at my level I think it’s wise to understand the principles well. That way when I break one, someone will call me brilliant.

    I think that covers it. If I forgot something or you want to add to this, well, you know what to do.

  14. I look on those books as guide lines and reasons for /against rather than strict rules- different books need different treatment – I like to read many dif. types and genres. I’m not keen on reading lots of dialogue but having said that my series is made up of transcribed recorded interviews of past events – so all one long flash(well memory) back plus long monologue voice interspersed with multiple dialogue!! – go figure:) the one I’m doing for nano – prob. little flashback much internal dialogue and what else I dont know its so new to me.
    It’s all a matter of trial and error and being bold – all the best for this coming week

  15. Flashbacks, no, but witty one-liners in combat are practically crucial and not so easy–witness the Buffybot.

    who has spent the weekend in Dragon Age
    fighting at Alistair’s side
    oh yes, he will be mine!

    I love it when we kill something and he says, “I think we work well together.” &heart;

    PS. I realize my comment adds absolutely nothing to this discussion. Not sure if two intertwined storylines, where one is past, if that really counts a flashback. Lots of stories do that very effectively like…”Julie and Julia,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Highlander.” LOST was freaking spectacular at that.

    Supernatural handles short, simple flashbacks really well, giving us specific glimpses into the boys’ pasts that help us understand things about them or the current story. But then, Supernatural gets away with lots of stuff because of the pretty.

  16. @Alberta- It can definitely be confusing deciding which way to write a story. What I like about this book, is that the author has a strong opinions, but never says you must do this or else. But he does make a strong argument for why following his advice can strengthen your work.

    @Susan- Oh, I disagree. Your comments add so much to EVERY conversation.

    Yes, I think some flashbacks are really multiple storylines weaved together. And in the right hands, they impact each other in a way that enhances the overall arc.

    Good luck with Alistair!

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