Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Rebel Learns a Lesson (Lesson #1)

I always learn something during National Novel Writing Month. It could be anything - the idea I thought was so great actually stinks up the place, I drink way more coffee than I should, or the tortoises miss me hanging out with them since I'm in my office more than usual. (Okay, that last one is just an assumption on my part.)

This year - my first year as a NaNo Rebel - is no exception. But unlike the lessons above, I thought some of you might find what I learned this time around helpful or interesting or both. And please go ahead and comment if you have anything to add. I can use all the help I can get.

Lesson #1 - Flashbacks that are too long can be incredibly boring. (I swear I dozed off as I read back one I wrote for this novel.) It doesn't matter if the content is interesting (as I had believed this was.) It just wasn't working. I think the problem was that not only was the flashback itself too long and but it also took the reader out of the story for too long. The sense of immediacy was gone and a distance took its place.

Now, there are a number of solutions to this problem but one I stumbled upon was to have the character who was experiencing the flashback to tell it to another character instead. This keeps the reader in the story. It makes the reader more a part of the story because he or she is now listening to it just like the other character(s). I can add mannerisms to everyone in the scene, making them all more full and complex. I can mention aspects about the setting, etc. cementing the reader in the here and now while still learning previously experienced critical aspects of the plot and/or character development.

Another solution I found was to make the flashback more active. In my case, I took one of the snooze-fest flashbacks that happen later in my novel and rewrote a big chunk of it. Then, I moved the new part to earlier in the novel where it is actually happening and not just a memory. 

I won't know what will or won't work for this novel until I'm done with writing and revising...and revising...and revising but I am definitely going to keep this lesson in mind for future stories.


  1. "This keeps the reader in the story" -- Good advice! I've found some l-o-n-g flashbacks to be snooze-inducing even in published works; go figure.

  2. Thanks, Milo. I've found that sometimes a long flashback can be useful, well-written, exciting etc. but at the end of it, I usually feel ripped out of the flashback's story and thrust back into the main/present story, where I have to get myself acclimated all over again.

  3. Thanks for the lesson; it's one I need to keep in mind when writing.

  4. I've had problems in this area, thanks for the ideas.

  5. You're welcome, Sally. I hope some of these ideas will work for you.