It’s awesome, ya’ll. Really awesome. I can’t even begin to describe how helpful it is. It’s not at all vague or high-brow or over my head, like I’d worried. It’s super easy to understand and very direct, citing actual examples of how you can improve your work. Every author should have this on their bookshelf.
But I digress. The flashbacks. Often when I’ve encountered a flashback in a book, I’ve been tempted to skim or jump a few pages. I’ve never really understood why until Sol told me:
‘The reason flashbacks create a problem for readers is that they break the reading experience. The reader is intent on what happens next. Flashbacks, unless expertly handled, pull the reader out of the story to tell him what happened earlier…if we are enthralled, we don’t want to be interrupted.’-Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein.
Immediate reaction? SHIT! I have a flashback in my book. MUST PRESS DELETE OR MY BOOK SUCKS AND NO ONE WILL BUY IT! Then I read the rest of the chapter and settled down. Sol doesn’t say you can never use flashbacks—sometimes they are a very useful and even necessary tool. But he does caution against it and lists some considerations for an author before going down that route. Oh, there is so much great information on how to handle flashbacks well that this chapter alone would be reason enough to pick up this book. A quick and dirty tip I picked out of the chapter ‘Flashbacks’:
‘Certain words should carry warning labels for the writer. “Had” is the number-one villain. It spoils more flashbacks than any other word. Most fiction is written in the straight past tense. When writing flashbacks, as quickly as possible use the same tense you’re using for the present scenes.’-Stein On Writing, Sol Stein
Let’s do an example.
I recalled the dream I had earlier in the week. I had been hiding in a darkened, abandoned shop. Suddenly, a horse had burst through the window and had started to kick me with its powerful legs. I hadn’t wanted to stab it, but it was attacking me.
Weird, right? That was my actual dream. An effing horse was attacking me and I had to stab it. Probably I should see a therapist. But back to the point! That paragraph had five ‘hads’ in it and was terrible. Removing most of the ‘hads’ we get this:
I recalled my dream from earlier in the week. I hid in darkened, abandoned shop. Suddenly, a horse burst through the window and started to kick me with its powerful legs. I stabbed it purely out of necessity.