Flashbacks, premonitions, and instant replays

I think flashbacks are overrated.  One well-placed flashback per book is OK, if it gives background to your story, but it’s best to try to avoid jumping back and forth too often.  It can be very disorienting to your reader.

I had a client several months ago who decided that rather than put her book in chronological order, she’d put it together by theme.  Since this was a book of meditations, it would have been alright, except that she included what was going on in her life at the time of each meditation, and the same events kept popping up in different places.  In her case, I suggested she move the life events to a separate section and put them in chronological order, or maybe give a brief synopsis of the life events in a foreward to the book of meditations.

Premonitions are iffy too.  Premonitions are where you foretell something that will be happening later in the book, and unless you are writing about a paranormal experience, it makes the later event feel like deja vu.  If you must use a premonition, the best place to do so is at the very end of the chapter preceding the one where you tell the story.

For instance, you could say, “John thought it would be fun to show up on Vicki’s doorstep and surprise her, but the surprise was on him.”  Then you start the next chapter telling about how John arrived at Vicki’s house and found she had gone on a two week cruise to Hawaii.

It is ill-advised to talk about what happened after your character died, and then talk about him being alive still.  I believe it was Mark Twain who said that rumors of his demise had been greatly exaggerated.  Bear this in mind when you are writing. 

Instant replays are when you have to rewind to show the same scene from different perspectives.  I mentioned a scene several days ago that was very complicated.  My brief description was in better order than the 10-page scene it came from, and even I couldn’t tell it without having to rewind.  The writer had layers upon layers of characters doing different things all at the same time.  In order to describe everything that happened, he had to keep going back and forth in time.  This is not a very kind thing to do to your reader.  Chronology is everything!

Four stories at once!

 The one exception to this is a clever picture book by David Macaulay called Black and White.  In it he has four stories happening at once and they are all connected by the colors black and white.  You can go through the book four different times and get a whole new perspective each time.  Macaulay has illustrations to help explain how four things could happen at the same time, but if you aren’t writing a picture book, be careful to keep your story running pretty much forward all the way through. 

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