Note: these are not in order. *
1. Flashbacks*: General rule: don't use them.
As with every rule, there are exceptions. I would strongly warn against using any kind of flashback in the first 50 pages of your novel. Writers use flashbacks as a crutch when their story is limping along. Some examples:
A. The author finds himself needing to sketch their character's childhood. If you need us to know her father was an alcoholic, let her cringe at the smell of alcohol on a man's breath, her fear as she worries that he will hurt her--just like her father did (anytime you jerk your character to another time and place, you risk loosing the reader's interest).
B. Your character relives some important moment in there past. If it's so incredibly important, why doesn't the story start there? Seriously. If you can't live without it, change the timeline of your story so that it happens at the beginning. For instance, Luke Skywalker's childhood is shown to us near the beginning of the movie instead of having a flashback later.
So, when do flashbacks work? Again, this is tricky. When they work, they just work. Understand, using flashbacks is tricky and risky. Be warned.
2. Writing what I call the Description Pattern: describe scene, describe character (including flashbacks), describe conflict, and finally, begin story. The writer feels he needs to set up his readers in time, place, and situation before starting the story.
In essence, this is telling instead of showing . Start the story when your character becomes involved with the conflict. Show us your time, place, and situation by the characters interaction with it (She squinted as the sun blazed over the choppy, black waters.) Show us what she looks like (She absently tucked her frizzy blonde hair behind her ears). Weave these elements in the conflict instead of delivering them in chunks.
3. Poor Writing. Unbalanced writing (using too much description, using too many adverbs, show versus tell . . . ). I’ve written about this earlier, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. (http://amberargyle.blogspot.com/search?q=how+do+I+know+if+it%27s+publishable
4. Overkill and Wordiness. New writers have a tendency to describe a situation 5 different ways because they’re not sure they’ve made their point. Have you ever read a book and thought, “Okay! I get it! Can we stop now!” That’s when you know you’ve had overkill. A good example is showing us what our character is like, then telling us, and in case we haven’t figured it out yet, give us a flashback. If that’s not enough, we’ll tell you all over again with different language. Another is the following sentence: Janet petulantly stuck her tongue out of her mouth. (In case your wondering, “petulantly” and “out of her mouth” should be cut).
5. Bad story. There are a million different things that can go wrong with a story. Starting it in the wrong place, sagging middle, abrupt ending, weak conflict, unidentifiable characters . . . There are entire books on the subject. I suggest you read at least 5.
*This post is about writing, as opposed to querying. That’s a whole different ballgame.
*Flashbacks are different from prologues. Prologues have their own benefits and risks. I'll try going over them later.
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