Get on with the Present—Don’t Live in the Past

Imagine someone telling you a riveting story that’s keeping you on the edge of your seat.

“Go on,” you say, just dying to know what happens next.

But the storyteller says, “But you see, ten years ago…,” and he gives a ten minute discourse on something that happened in the past.

What happens to the avid listener? The storyteller has lost him. The listener is now drawn into the past. Will he be as rabidly entertained? Maybe.

But wait, we have to get back to the present, and the narrator pauses and begins again with the current crisis.

I just finished reading a terrific historical romance—super characterizations, descriptions, plotting, but a couple of times the author pulled me out of the current riveting story to reminisce about past life experiences.

In one of the passages, I was so disoriented by the shift, I had to flip back to where the flashback began to assure myself that it was a flashback. Did it add to the story?

Not for me.

I read a paranormal like that, too, where the story was going along great and then the author stops everything to reminisce about the past. Again in this instance, it didn’t add anything to the story as far as I was concerned. It was filler, boring, and a distraction.

Whenever possible, keep the story moving forward. Sure, it’s fine for the hero to think of the special moments he’d spent with the heroine the night before, or consider the grudge he’s held against his brother for the last hundred years.

But when a flashback turns into actual scenes with dialogue and action, is it really necessary to the story? Does it maybe force the reader out of the story too much? Will you lose some of your readers? Will they forgive you?

Move the story forward. Write in the present. Don’t force your reader to live in the past unless it’s absolutely necessary and adds to the story. Use them sparingly and when you do, don’t make them so long that the reader forgets this is not the current story, but a flashback to the past.

Happy Holidays!
Terry Spear
Heart of the Wolf, April 1, 2008!!!


Anonymous said...

Great post Terry!

When I first started writing I would load it up with page after page of backstory, just terrible! I limit to just a sentence or two, or maybe a paragraph if it is really necessary. But I also like leaving a little mystery to it, no sense in telling the reader everything up front.


Vonda Sinclair said...

Great post, Terry!! I agree 100% those long unnecessary flashbacks yank me out of a story. I want them to get on with it. :-)

ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Terry!

I'm with you on flashbacks--a little goes a long ways. Handled well, I enjoy flashbacks.

Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

Smiles across the miles,