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 September, 2003

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Advanced Techniques: Flashbacks

by Sandy Tritt


Flashbacks interrupt the current action of the story to show a scene from the past. As such, we must always weigh the advantages against the disadvantages. Are the benefits we receive (a glimpse into a character’s past) worth leaving our characters dangling in time while we go into the past? If so, don’t hesitate to use a flashback. If not, continue with your story line and find other ways, such as exposition, discussion, etc. to entwine the past with the present.

If you choose to use a flashback, you must tip the reader that you are leaving the present. This can be done with a transition statement such as, “John remembered the day his father died.” Then, use past perfect (“had”) two or three times to complete the clue that we are entering real time in the past. And you are in the past. Act out your scene with action and dialogue, and when you are finished, clue the reader that you are returning to the present by using past perfect once or twice, and, if necessary, another transition sentence (“But that was then and this was now, and John had to let the past stay in the past.”). Here is an example:

Danny remembered more about his mother’s death than he’d ever told anyone. The day she had died, she had called each of her sons to her bedside individually.

“Pour me a cup of fresh water, please,” she said, her voice thick with the Polish accent that decorated her words when she was tired or sick.

Danny filled the cup, careful not to splash it on the bedside table.
“Now, hand me my lipstick.”
“Be good,” she finally whispered, her voice raspy.

He went to the door, started out, then stopped and turned around. His mother tapped several tiny white pills from the lipstick case and shoved them into her mouth. She had gulped water, then dumped more pills into her palm and swallowed them. Three more times, she had repeated the process.

Even now, Danny felt responsible for her death. He looked at his father and swallowed hard . . .

Note that once we entered the flashback, we stopped using past perfect (“had”) and just acted out the story. Otherwise, the “hads” weigh down the prose and suck the action out of the words.

(from Section 4, Workbook)

Want more great tips and techniques? Our Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook is now available. Expanded tips, more topics, reproducible worksheets, exercises to practice what you learn and much more--check it out! Free shipping anywhere in the United States.

(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved, except for those listed here. September be reproduced for educational purposes (such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt at tritt@wvadventures.net for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.

   Keep writing!

Sandy Tritt

Inspiration for Writers tritt@wvadventures.net

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Edit Your Documents with ClearEdits

Editor's Note: Sometimes a new writer thinks it is inspiration, not grammatical correctness, which matters in a manuscript. But this doesn't apply when playing notes in musical performances, and it doesn't in writing either. Many of the manuscripts that arrive here have problems with grammar and other basic writing issues. To prevent this, I recommend ClearEdits, a new writing program I discovered two months ago. Therefore  I requested ClearEdits to tell us about their unique product.

Wouldn’t you like to speed up the editing process? ClearEdits® automates many routine editing maneuvers—making editing faster and easier, allowing you to clean up your drafts quickly.

ClearEdits is a software-based editor that works with Microsoft® Word. It flags many of the edits that professional editors make during a first editorial pass, before they address content. And it creates a marked-up version for you to review.

ClearEdits helps you write clear and concise text that will impress readers and publishers alike. Its automated scoring gives you immediate feedback on these issues—as well as statistics and pointers to help you assess the length and balance of your sentences and paragraphs.

Much more than a simple grammar checker, ClearEdits suggests changes for many standard edits.

Core edits:

Unnecessary words (to cut). Suggests cutting unnecessary words—such as actually, basically, and namely. By making these cuts you direct your reader’s attention to the important words and ideas.

Dubious words (to change). Suggests changing dubious words or phrases to words or phrases that are more concrete, more familiar, or more standard. Examples include data is (to data are) and ergo (to thus, therefore).

Overweight words (to lighten). Suggests alternatives to lighten your text, giving more prominence to important words and ideas. Overweight phrases include are capable of (change to can) and for the purpose of (change to for, to).

Weak verbs (to strengthen). Idle, common verbs—such as do, have, make, provide, and serve—often supplant a working verb, which becomes a noun. ClearEdits suggest transforming that noun or another word later in the sentence into a stronger verb, such as by changing serve to make reductions to reduce.

"-ion" words (to switch to verbs or concrete nouns). ClearEdits marks phrases that have manipulated a simple verb into a cumbersome noun construction ending in ‘-ion.’ For example, it suggests changing "The repetition of a word increases its power in the sentence" to "Repeating a word increases its power in the sentence."

More edits:

Compare seeming synonyms. ClearEdits shows the meanings of apparent synonyms so that you can select the right word to impart your intended meaning. It marks words and phrases often misused, such as among versus between and affect and effect,, and offers guidance on which one to use.

Flag too many "ands " If a sentence has many "ands," it could be too long or too complicated. ClearEdits flags sentences that deserve a second look.

Vector edits:

Vector edits. Vector edits directs you to words and suffixes that signal some of the most common changes to consider in your writing—and, of, which, -ed, and -ion.

ClearEdits is available at www.clearedits.com (and if you enter promotional code SR3500 you can save 5%).

Critiquing Special

  • Limited time special, one cent per word.  Just mention Publishing New Writers  Newsletter (September, 2003).

    Critiques by Sandy Tritt

  • Unlike most editors, I consider my role to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other writers.

  • Treat you with respect and compassion. All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.

  • Mark your manuscript, correcting grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where appropriate, line-by-line.

  • Highlight areas that are especially well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.

  • Where appropriate, offer suggestions for plot development, character development or other areas that could be strengthened.

  • Return a two-to-four page written analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting, characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks, etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.

  • If appropriate, recommend reading or resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.

  • Answer any questions you  have via email.

  • Provide my telephone number for a personal follow-up, if you desire.

For Sandy's success stories, see http://tritt.wirefire.com/Manuscript_Critique.html

Write Sandy at tritt@wvadventures.net

(See Sandy's article above.)


Read...   Move Over Maharishi

By Dee Landerman

An ordinary housewife is catapulted into the unknown. For over twenty-five years with one foot in the other dimension, experiences visions, apparitions, and visits from the divine. As a Christian Intuitive with the ability to see into a person’s spirit, she experienced first hand where the departed go.

She shares her life openly with you, with the intent to give answers and direction for you to find power, peace and acceptance in your own life. Dee reveals the ‘Heart Of God’ about organized religion and today’s churches, sharing God’s concerns and desires for America and the world.

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Publishing New Writers,

September, 2003 (no. 409)


Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.  Fax (847) 428-8974.

Submissions /comments  cookcomm@gte.net.

Links are welcome.


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The Adventures of Kenny Chameleon
By Kenny Mulhollandeon.
For any reader, adult or youngster, who might like to read my next short work at AuthorMe, "C'mon kids. Time for a story down at the Old Hollow Log". Here is a question. What is Lucky's lucky number? The clue is: kids, cowboys and characters. The answer will be posted on the next Newsletter along with the name of the first person to guess.
'It's not easy being green: Having to spend each day the colour of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow, or gold-or something much more colourful like that....'
' Who can make a rainbow, sprinkle it with dew?'  The Candy Man can.
So can, ' The Old Master Painter from The Faraway Hills', paint all the dewdrops and the daffodils.
So can, 'The Ghost Riders in the sky', become the Ghost Writers in your works.
'It's not easy being a writer: Having to spend each day working along the same way.
When I think it could be nicer being something much more colourful than that....'
Something much more colourful than that....
How about, ' Those faraway places with the strange sounding names, in a book, that I took from the shelves....'
And how easy is that?
Take those books down from the shelves. Read them again. Read all the old tales and stories that you have kept from childhood to now.
Right now, I'm looking at a copy of ' Dinnie, Binnie and Jinks', by Irene Cheyne. Inside the cover it lists; Kenneth Mulholland 2.A. (That's Primary, second grade-I was about seven years old. Year-1951.)
Registered at the General Post Office, Melbourne, for transmission as a book. Whitcombe and Tombs Pty. Ltd. Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
This tiny children's book bears no date, but it is mine; entrusted to me by kind permission of the Victorian School Papers (Which are now long gone and forgotten-as would be the Modern Printing co. Pty. Ltd. 34-46 Leicestor street, Melbourne.)
And it reminds me of John and Betty, out my first grade Reader Book:
'John can run. Betty can run too. So can Spot, the dog.'
And how can we see that from another point of view?
'John and Spot run fast. So can I.'
'Betty and Spot run so fast, but I can keep up with them.'
'Look at Spot! He can run as fast as both of us.'
'That darn dog runs as fast as Betty and John!'
'Those two kids and their dog are always running!'
'Woof! I can run faster than Betty and John!'
Oh yeah, the point is, You can be anything you want to be as a writer. Here is a plus for us. Writers are not constrained by limitations. We can be the Kenny Chameleons. We can write about whatever we want.
And we can do so in whatever random pattern we choose.
And, we can write on any subject we choose: many subjects, all at the same time.
We can be Chameleons in writing.
Being a male writer, I can take up a feminine point of view and attempt to write as a woman.
Likewise, so can a woman of a male viewpoint.
We may not always succeed, but we are able to try.
Sometimes, the best man for the job is a woman.
In writing, the best man for the job is a woman, or a man, or a child.
We are here, all equal.
So, not only is it possible to write, working on several different subjects at once; it is also possible to work at writing from very different viewpoints: All of which are exercises in the making of a writer's palette.
A writer should, and must have a palette, similar to that of the painter's.
A writer needs to be flexible: to be able to absorb, to mix, to add and subtract, to colour and to extract the tiny details, to distil and to re-assemble.
As the great painters, composers and writers of the past have done, so must those of the future do; using and building on the old blocks of the past, as they go forward.
So think about where you want to be in each thing you write. Think about your attitude toward the story. How you want to approach it, from which viewpoint, how you want the reader to take it in.
And remember, that you are not bound by any hard and fast rules here. You make the rules as to how you will shape your story, or poem or great novel. You have the choice as to how it will read.
And you also have the choice of the Chameleon; to write about a multitude of subjects in a multitude of ways.
Don't procrastinate. Procrastination is a recipe for mediocrity and disaster.
Dare to work from all vantage points, get inside your character, see your character from outside; try the work in your mind as a past/present/future tale. Look at it from all angles.
And most of all, think about the diversity of writing. You can be a king or a harlot, a down and out tramp or a store keeper. You can be a cat raiding garbage bins or sitting in state as the precious pet of an Emperor.
Look at your style of writing and then aim for no style by trying your hand at lots of different subjects and viewpoints.
Try writing about Marcel Marceau, ( If he was ever arrested for some offence would he be given the right to remain silent? ) and describe what and how he works. ( Actually he was interviewed recently on radio and I was expecting a lot of questions followed by a lot of silence, but he was extremely interesting in his comments about his life and the many people he had met. At the end, I gave him a rousing round of one hand clapping.)
It is said that people steal from each other to create further works, and I think that may well be so.
And may well it be, if it continues to further the evolution of the arts to greater heights.
As for writing, may we all become the Chameleons that lie untapped within us.
As usual, we are out of time again. So for this time I'll say goodbye until next time, when it will be time to say hello.
Or maybe 'Once upon a time.'
Think about that.
Take your time.

Ken Mulholland

Country Editor - Australia

AuthorMe.com Group











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