I have a story appearing in the newly released science fiction anthology from Zombie Pirate Publishing, The Collapsar Directive. It’s a dystopian tale titled, If You’re Happy and You Know It, set in a world where you’re only allowed to be happy on the weekends. I must give kudos to the editors, Sam Phillips and Adam Bennett for their selections for this anthology. The other stories featured in this anthology are all top rate, and my fellow authors are a talented bunch. I feel proud to be counted among them.
Zombie Pirate Publishing is pretty smart really, because they get their authors involved in the process – not really the actual publishing process, but with the final editing and, certainly in the marketing process. And having been involved in the process with this great group of writers, reading the stories of the others, which are all well written pieces, got me to thinking about what elements make up a high quality short story.
When I review a short story, I look for the same things I’d look for in a novel length work, with a few exceptions. I’d down my rating for the same type of things though: if it doesn’t read smoothly, if there are logic problems (which occur less in short fiction, but they do occur), excessive use of adjectives and unnecessary words, or if there are a lot of typos or spelling errors which bring my editors mind right out of the story.
Just as in a longer story, I want to see a well-written story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. But, this is where short stories often fall short. In a novel, it may take the author several chapters to wrap up all the loose ends and tie their story neatly into a bow. Short stories don’t have that luxury. Although, there is no set length as to how long a short story should be, other than word count limits set by those you are submitting to, it is even more important with short fiction to eliminate any unnecessary words and get to the point of the story. If you don’t, your story may end up becoming a novel. So, in short fiction, I look for stories that tell the tale without drawing it out unduly.
However, it can be difficult to get in a full story arc, without drawing out the tale, so I’ve come to expect this to be the case with short fiction. That way, instead of being sadly disappointed when a short story falls short (pun intended), I am pleasantly surprised when I come across short fiction which feels complete at the end of the story. It is even harder with flash fiction. The shorter the story, the less space you have to accomplish the task. I recently reviewed an anthology in which almost every story had a full arc, leaving me with a very satisfied feeling. (Catch my review of Darkscapes.)
All of the stories in The Collapsar Directive accomplish this feat, as well. All the stories featured seem to arc nicely, the beginning, middle and end are usually easy to identify in each one, and they all hold my attention to the end. That, of course, is the most important element in any story, long or short. It has to pull you in and hold you there from the first page to the last, regardless of the length of the story.
Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.
In last month’s memo I talked about ways you can use flashbacks in stories and it led to a discussion about flash forwards and a request from Kaye that I do a post about them, so I decided to focus on the difference between flashbacks and flash forwards. I’m going to primarily use films and TV shows for examples as the film/TV examples are easy to visually show what I mean.
(Disclaimer: I don’t own the rights to any of these video clips or shows. I apologize in advance for some of the quality of the clips but they were the only ones I could find at times. Many of these shows mentioned are on Netflix, so I recommend watching there if possible.)
A flashback is almost any moment when a story jumps from the present time of the story to show you something that happened in the past. It’s not just talking about the past, but actually showing the events that happened. The flashback can be just a quick glimpse, or it can be a very long section of the story.
Flashback Example 1 – The Usual Suspects:
This film opens with the explosion on the ship and then moves forward to Kevin Spacey in the police station being interviewed. When he starts telling the story of how all the “usual suspects” were rounded up the film flashes back to show this happening, and the story continues in the flashback time period until the end of the film when we return to Kevin Spacey in the police station again.
Flashback Example 2 – Forest Gump:
This one is pretty straightforward that it’s cutting to a flashback. Forest is in the present moment talking about things that happened in his past from his childhood to adulthood, and we constantly hear his voice over and see him in present day on the bench talking about his past.
Flashback Example 1 – Breaking Bad Season 1 Episode 1:
Again, we start in the present time where Walt is crashing the RV and already cooking meth, then we very clearly jump back after the opening credits several weeks in time to when he was a normal school teacher. The main story of this first episode is all flashback with the opening and ending being the present moments.
Flash forwards are tiny glimpses of the possible future within a story. Basically you get a glimpse of the future and then return to the present afterward. This future glimpse doesn’t have to be true, and it doesn’t HAVE to happen, it’s just a glimpse of what COULD happen and the audience has to keep watching to see if it does.
This technique is often used in stories involving anything with psychics. The key is the events haven’t happened yet, and may never happen depending on how the present continues to unfold. It’s a glimpse of the potential future, but the story is still taking place in the present day and will return to present day once the future glimpse is over.
Flash Forward Example 1 – The Dead Zone (film)
When Christopher Walken shakes Martin Sheen’s hand he gets a vision of the potential future. We see clips of what Martin Sheen may do, but we don’t know if it will happen or not because it hasn’t happened yet, all we know is that it’s possible to happen. Once the flash forward is over we return to the present moment where Christopher Walken is.
Flash Forward Example 2 – Scrooged:
When Bill Murray leaves the elevator he gets several glimpses of the possible future he will encounter if he doesn’t change his ways. Again, these are all brief flash forwards showing potential future moments. It’s a little different because it seems like Bill Murray is in the flash forwards, but he has no ability to change them while he’s there so it’s still a flash forward to a potential future if he doesn’t change his ways in the present.
Flash Forward Example 3 – Terminator 2
When she lays her head down, Sarah Connor has a dream vision of the future if machines are allowed to get out of control. This vision is a potential future and is the motivation for her to try to stop this outcome with her actions in the present.
Flash Forward Example 4 – FlashForward TV Show Season 1 Episode 1:
This episode actually has a flash forward AND a flashback in it. I’ve started this clip right before the flash forward moment where the protagonist gets a glimpse of his future and then wakes up after the accident, but if you scroll back to the very opening of the episode you’ll see that the story starts with the accident, then there is a flashback to 4 hours earlier leading up to the accident again to show what caused it (which was actually the flash forward). Are you confused? I know, it’s a lot.
The flash forward is the glimpse of the potential future that the main character may experience at some point later on, and then you return to the present moment. The opening sequence at the start that shows the accident is NOT technically a flash forward because it’s not a glimpse of the future, it’s where the story is NOW. Then we flashback to 4 hour earlier to see how we got there and how the accident happened.
Flash Forward Example 5 – Sherlock Holmes (film)
This fight scene is a type of micro flash forward because it tells us what will happen moments before it does, even though it’s in verbal form. It’s more of an abbreviated flash forward because it’s verbal and it’s similar to how flash forwards are often used in fiction. The narrator gives the reader a glimpse of what will be to come, but we’re still in the present moment of the story where it hasn’t actually happened yet.
Distinguishing Between the Two:
Most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell whether something is a flashback or a flash forward because it’s in the middle of the story and the story either jumps forward or back for a short time before returning to the present. However, the one area that seems to cause the most confusion is when the flashback or flash forward is used immediately at the opening of a story. Is the story starting in a flash forward? Is the main story all in flashback? What is happening? To figure out whether you’re seeing a flashback or a flash forward, think about where the scene is currently taking place and where the protagonist is in the present.
If you look at the openings of Forest Gump and Breaking Bad, both are happening as we watch and we’re not seeing a future possible event, we’re seeing the events as they happen to the protagonist, then we (the audience) jump back to see how the protagonist got to that present moment, but all of it has already happened and the protagonist is still in the present at that opening scene waiting for us to catch up to him.
Flash forward scenes are events that have NOT happened yet, and may not happen, and when they end we are returned to the present moment where the story is taking place and the protagonist is currently. Everything between that present moment and the future event we saw has not happened yet, and may not happen, but that is why we’re watching to find out. The present moment may eventually lead to that flash forward moment, but there’s no guarantee.
One of the few times a show can open with a flash forward is if it opens with a psychic event such as a dream or prophecy where we get a glimpse of what may or may not happen before a character pops awake or something and reveals it all was a vision or dream. Then the rest of the show builds to reveal whether it is something that is going to happen or not.
Neither Flashbacks nor Flash forwards:
There are a few other story methods that some people confuse with flash forwards and flashbacks but one of the main ones I want to mention is time travel such as in the Back to the Future Series. This and other time travel stories are tricky areas because it is easy to say we’re flashing back because we’re going back in time, but that’s not true in most stories I can think of.
A flashback involves looking back at past events that have already happened exactly as the person remembers them happening, while most time travel stories involve a character physically going back to these past events such as Marty does, and having influence on those events. This makes it not a flashback because Marty has the ability to change things if he does something wrong. That means the events aren’t set and aren’t just a memory of what happened, they’re fluid and changing. Flashbacks are memories of what happened prior to the present so they can’t be changed unless someone is misremembering something or lying. Marty is physically there and it’s his present time even if he’s physically living in the past, and he can make mistakes (and does) that change the future, so it’s not a flashback.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that just because a story goes forward in time doesn’t mean it’s a flash forward. A flash forward is a glimpse into the future but it doesn’t move the story TO the future. When your story jumps forward in time to a future point, if the story continues from that point on and isn’t just a glimpse of that future time, then what you have is a forward time jump and not a flash forward.
Every now and then you’ll see someone define those opening scene moments where we start the story at a major event as a flash forward because it shows a “future” event and then immediately goes back in time after to where a huge chunk of the story takes place. But these stories that start with a major event and then go back in time almost always say something like “x time earlier” which establishes that the first scene is the present time period and everything afterward is in the past, making everything after that opening scene a flashback.
Ultimately, if you’re asking “what happened to get us here?” then you’re probably about to see a flashback to find out. However, if you’re asking “what WILL happen to get us here?” then you’re watching a flash forward and you will return to the present to find out as events unfold.
They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but we do all the time. So, when sales for Delilah was faltering, I decided to change it up. Actually, I ran into an awesome cover designer, who came up with a great cover for not only Delilah, but one for Last Call, too. Subsequently, the sales for Delilah went up some. The new cover just came out for Last Call, so it remains to be seen if it will have the same effect, but I’m anticipating some positive results. It all goes to show just how important it is to find the right cover designer for your work. If you don’t believe a book cover can make a difference, take a look at the original cover for Last Call, below and compare with the new one, above:
Today I am fortunate to be able to interview my awesome cover designer, DL Mullen of Sonoran Dawn Studios, so I can share with my readers just what a talented cover designer this lady really is. And she’s so much more. Also a writer and poet, Dawn Leslie Mullan spends a lot of time getting creative.
Kaye: In addition to being an accomplished poet, you have your own design company, Sonoran Dawn Studios. How did you get into cover art design?
Dawn: I got into cover design because I knew that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. People are attracted to book covers as well as read tag lines and brief synopses to make their decisions about purchases. Since I have had my digital art shown across the country in various exhibits and at conventions, the creation of my own cover art was a natural fit. Sonoran Dawn Studios is the intuitive progression from an artist and writer to designer and publisher.
Kaye: You’ve self-published two books of nature poetry, Effloresce, and Rain: Monsoon in the Desert and two books of dark poetry, Memoirs of a Psychotic Painting Elephant, and The Descent. Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Dawn: My publishing journey is much like many other writers’ careers. I have been writing since my formative years, but the confidence to write for publication did not happen until higher education. When I was exposed to literature and professors who understood the dynamics in literary context, my world expanded a thousand-fold. I was no longer in this cocoon of sensory deprivation. The experience allowed me to dream.
As I grew older my dreams also grew, but some obstacles were thrown in my way. I became disabled by Environmental Illness, so the future book tour I had envisioned for myself was replaced by severe reactions to an array of chemicals and molds. A collapsed immune system does not a national book tour make. With the help of natural doctors, nutrition, and lots of bed rest, I have been able to balance my disabilities with my goals. I began my website, Undawnted, to feature my writing. Later, I created Sonoran Dawn Studios to publish what I produced with the dream of helping other writers accomplish their goals of publications in the future.
Just because life happened while I was making other plans does not mean I still cannot fulfill my life’s purpose. Creativity is more than a hobby; creativity also brings about choices through true authentic problem-solving. As a testament to my originality and perseverance, my publishing journey has become a triumph over adversity.
Kaye: Would you publish through Lulu again? Why or why not?
Dawn: Yes, I love publishing through Lulu. The ebooks I can disseminate are endless. I am researching beyond Lulu for other Print on Demand services to see what the best modality for my print books may be. I want to make sure my readers are taken care of, while not being intrusive or creating confusion. I do foresee my ebooks finding their way into print sometime in 2019.
Kaye: What is the single most important quality in a poem for you?
Dawn: The most important quality in a poem is based in the five W’s of journalism. What, where, why, when, and how. What image is the reader left with at the end? Where has the poem taken the reader? Why would this poem be important to the reader later on in life? When will the poem reoccur in the memory of the reader long after the poem is read? How does the poem leave an indelible mark in the emotions of its audience?
Anyone can write a poem. The best poems are the ones that linger in the recesses of a reader’s mind. To stir there, be forgotten until an emotion brings up images of the poem that can only be satisfied by reading the poem again. Poetry is more than words and rhymes; poetry is the exercise in conveying emotions through imagery.
So, what do you see when you write?
Kaye: Where do your poetic inspirations come from?
Dawn: Everywhere. That is where my inspiration comes from. I am in awe of this world and our universe. I keep a child’s naïveté and wonderment lurking around every corner of my imagination. I view circumstances with that innocence as if I am seeing lightning, touching a cat, hearing a siren, or feeling the sun for the first time. Every time.
That juxtaposition allows me to combine youthful honesty, integrity, and virtue with the aged heartbreak, candor, and wisdom. No emotion is off limits to experience inside my soul. Every creative dimension is then available to express whether that would be in the forms of poetry or prose.
Inspiration is everywhere… you just have to feel it.
Kaye: What’s your favorite social media site for promotion? Why?
Dawn: None of them really are my favorites for any kind of promotion but I go where my audience travels. Social media is the ghetto harbors of the internet. Our creativity and objectivity are trapped in programmed cages that reverberate and sometimes crescendo our own confirmation bias. Social ghettos like their city namesakes limit opportunities for those individuals seeking advancement and relegate people into an inferior stasis with poor resources and tyrannical mismanagement.
I’d rather own my own website away from social media, but finances impede that dream at this moment. So I am stuck in the ghettos of Facebook, Google plus, and Blogger. I hope someday people realize how confining social media is so we can return to a time of free expression.
Won’t you join me?
Kaye: You are a creative person, writing award winning poetry and designing some pretty awesome cover art, etc… Were you creative as a child?
Dawn: Thank you. I have always had an active imagination. My formative years began in solitude, but after my family moved to the west coast, we ran a daycare, and so there was no shortage of company.
The lack of companionship, however, is a different matter. I knew I was atypical from other children of my age. I observed. I understood far beyond my years. I intellectualized, but I also empathized.
Creative maturity has given me the ability to recognize those evocative reactions and morph the feelings into a seasoned response. Empathy is a strong connection to other people and their plight, the trick is to find a positive way to express myself through art, writing, and problem-solving to avoid the pitfalls of negativity.
That is why so many creative people are depressed and feel rejected by society: improper context of sensory stimuli. Creative people need to step outside of a given situation and see all the moving parts. The ability to walk in another’s shoes is a gift, but when that gift creates blinders to the other parts of life, that is where creativity can destroy instead of uplift.
I had to find that balance. I had to find my own wisdom. Meditation and energy work are beneficial. A balanced perspective is everything. I had to learn that being a creative child did not mean I had to be an explosive, renegade adult… that is what my characters are for!
Let your imagination work for you. Be calm, cool, and collected with your interactions with the world. Allow your creativity be the solution.
Make your characters say and do what society frowns upon. In creativity, you are free. In living imagination, you are the creator.
So design a better reality to inspire change: one person can make a difference.
Kaye: How would you describe yourself in three words?
Dawn: Innovative. Dynamic. Trendsetter.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Dawn: I really have no idea. Maybe it was: don’t play in traffic? Or, don’t stick your fingers in the light socket? I do not believe I have ever been given a lot of advice.
I have always been a self-starter. I am a person who walks forward in life. There have been some obvious setbacks, but I set short- and long- term goals. Whatever is attainable, I achieve. Whatever does not work for me, I change to fit my new timeline.
So I do not believe my life has been about being advised as much as it has been about who can keep up with me.
Kaye: You’ve had many poems published and won awards for quite a few. What is the biggest challenge in being a poet?
Dawn: The biggest challenge in being a poet, or an artist in general, is discovering new ways to compete with myself. How can I outdo my last creation? Achieve a better response? Create something thought-provoking or truly distinctive?
As a writer, I challenge my own status quo. I am in competition with no other person but myself. So the creative balance I endeavor to maintain has helped me restructure my point of view. I strive for self-betterment to take my writing to the next level.
This fresh perspective allows me to mature as a writer as well as be a cheerleader for other authors. When I removed the ego-driven, quantity over quality focus from my writing career, I discovered how the release from those negative aspects took my creativity to new heights.
I spent more time creating than worry about the industry, agents, publishing houses, and other writers. I could then help others without feeling jealous or anxious or petty. I could be happy for other writer’s successes because those writers were never in direct competition with me. That is an illusion I had to shed.
Once I realized that each person has their own goals and life path to fulfill, then I understood the dynamics with which creativity really springs: inside my own internal genesis.
People on a parallel career path weave branches from the same tree on which my creativity sprouts. Each branch is different from the others and reflects the health of the common root. If we do not tend to our roots, fertilize the soil, and water regularly, then the tree will falter in a coming storm. Angst ruins everyone’s creative efforts. So why bother with it?
That is a summation of the writing craft and our individual responsibility within our community. We must become the best writer we can be and also give a helping hand to another writer regardless of his or her success. Wisdom is in the balance.
Of course that also frees me from the cookie cutter manufactured industry standards I see dominating the writing craft. So watch out world! I don’t have a compass. I don’t have a quota system. I am following my own branch that is reaching for the stars.
And, everyone can change their stars.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring writers and poets?
Dawn: Writers need about ten years to season well, marinate in their own juices. Raw writers tend to give their hearts but when constructively critiqued, lose their minds. So I advise aspiring writers to go in search of criticism, negative criticism. Take courses for a community college certificate or degree in creative writing. Go out and join your local Professional Writer’s Group. Seek out people who will guide and help you without sparing your feelings. Those people are gems.
When you receive constructive advice, use it. Correct your writing and erode your ego. Writing is not about dissecting words and mincing phrases, but about dismantling your hubris.
Once a writer can get out of their own way, their writing takes on a profound quality. Stillness. Wisdom. Maturity.
One should always know and understand their craft through hard work and education. One should also write from the heart. Writing from the ego only speaks to other egos. When a writer writes from the heart, their story resonates at varying degrees within their audience and their writing is called: literature. Then a writer can build a loyal readership and just not simply have hapless followers.
On that same note: never believe your own press. I have had forum critique comments like: that was the best poem I have ever read! Only to look a few comments down and read: I really didn’t think your poem was all that great.
You just have to laugh.
When a writer has been through the crucible of their own development, then a writer can discover their weaknesses and strengths. Until that level of discernment is achieved, a writer is not ready to meet the world. The world is full of wolves ready to take your money and tell you whatever you want to hear.
An educated, informed, and mature writer can espy the wolves, escape the traps, and only do what is right for their needs.
So become the writer you have always wanted to become. No one else can do it but you. What are you waiting for?
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Dawn: Any time is fine. I write during the day or night. I do like night though when I really have to concentrate and do not want to be disturbed. No phones. No television. No distractions.
I do write when the muse descends. When I first began writing as a hobby, I would wake up from a dead sleep to jot down notes or a poem. My mind was active during my dream state. Now with my own creative structure, I find myself less inclined to be so impulsive. I write until I am done with that scene and I move on to another activity.
I also rotate from art to poetry to nonfiction, and then fiction writing. It is very noticeable trend on my personal social media status. Those breaks help avoid creative lulls and downright boredom. Writing for me is a metamorphosis of the psyche more than it is a time and place.
Kaye: You’ve had to face some huge obstacles to get to where you are now. Would you like to talk about them?
Dawn: Which obstacles? Chronic illness, abandonment, or near death experiences? My life has run the gambit, but direct participation in life events is what writing is all about. When I go through a challenge, I meet the impediment head on. There is no sense in hiding from life.
Do whatever you have to do short of hurting yourself or others; I do not abide by those types of negative expressions, but if you must throw your shoes or scream out the window, then do it. Then learn from your interaction with the world so you can check your emotions to respond with a healthy regard to life instead of having meltdown reactions to it.
The more you deal with life’s ills; the more those issues become underwhelming. Oh, the car broke down in triple digit heat… that problem interfered with my day but not unexpected given the circumstances. If you structure your life with good planning, sensible organization, and attainable goals, then you can respond to the world from a point of important but not urgent. So when the car breaks down, everything else takes care of itself, and you do not feel overwhelmed… just slightly irked.
With my brain inflammation and neurological issues, I have had some unflattering behavioral repercussions. In a short amount of time, I have learned what my body needs to combat this inflammation so I can deal with life as it comes. For my emotions, I write to express my discontent with research, citations, and good ole-fashioned sarcasm. My awareness blog for my neighborhood news can be incendiary at times, educational and informative at others, but entertaining to thousands of people a month.
So huge obstacles are what you make out of them. I find that I must navigate in a sea of challenges that most people would just give up and let a shark eat them. I am not like most people. I will take your shark, fry him up for dinner, and raise you: writing and publishing careers!
It comes down to simplicity: you can spend your life saying: oh crap, not again. Or, looking at challenges from a different point of view: at least my toaster oven still works.
Well what did you expect? I react to microwaves.
Kaye: Which poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?
Dawn: Just one? I kind of do this exercise with my poetry. I call my brand of talking with the creative masters as response poetry. I take a poem from Poe, Dickinson, and then write a response. Upon Reading Edgar Allan Poe is a literary take on many of his works. Death Responds to Emily Dickinson is the Grim Reaper’s rebuttal to her I Could Not Stop for Death.
If I had to pick between the two, I would like to sit down with Poe. Not because it’s “Poe,” but because Edgar was a literary critic in his time and quite combative with his contemporaries, which I find entertaining as well as educational.
What were Edgar’s pet peeves in writing? How did his critics respond to his opinions? Did his critics give constructive criticism to Edgar’s work or did they just attack out of ego-driven defensiveness?
As writers and critics, we can learn from the advice, mistakes, and behaviors from our forefathers, and foremothers. If you do not know the past, you are doomed to repeat it. Art and writing, much like society, cannot go forward always repaving the roads of the past. We must create new exits onto the roads less traveled by. The best way is to learn from the master artists, poets, and writers from their works to their own personal views of the craft itself.
On your journey, is your road already built or are you walking in a forest that has no name?
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Dawn: I am overeducated.
Seriously, I have never met a topic I did not like or want to know more about. I do have six college degrees including a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology. I have degrees ranging from general studies, foci in biology and geology, emphasis and focus in history and biology, and organizational management. I was also working on creative writing, marketing, computer science, and publication creation before I became disabled.
I was an active community member. I have lectured and had speaking engagements about technology, art, and the role of girls in our technotronic era. I have paneled at science fiction conventions. I have exhibited and won awards for my digital art. I have ghost hunted as a history major and aspiring medium. I have experience in film and stage. In addition, I have a background in medicine for about a decade as a family member’s caretaker.
My greatest achievements have not been the cords, ribbons, or degrees. Although I am grateful for the honors I have earned in their formation of my character as well as giving me the skills to navigate our ever-changing, technological world, I am interested in more intangible achievements at present. I am on a spiritual path to investigate the human condition. I seek to answer the mysteries of our universe and impart that wisdom onto others.
With that said, I feel my greatest achievement is leaving a creative and educational legacy. My illness precludes me from having offspring, but with management of my health, I have endeavored to become the person I have always wanted to be. I am a work in progress. I can be grumpy and irritable at times, but I am more patient and charitable than anything else.
I guess that comes from living a life less traveled by. I have shrugged off convention for a spiritual road on the superhighway of life. I may be in the slow lane, but I am not obsessed with the destination. The journey is my classroom and I am an enthusiastic student.
Will you like to hitch a ride?
Kaye: What is the one thing that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Dawn: Strange is what I do. I combine real life scenarios in my creative works to give the contrived a reality check. When a reader experiences my characters and their challenges some of those obstacles may be rooted in my own life. I will not tell which is which, what fun is that?, but I will say that creative writing allows me the indulgence to work out some past issues in a positive and productive manner.
So the most unusual or unique quality to my writing is that I use creative fiction and nonfiction as my camp counselors.
Have a problem? Fantasy about justice? Do not have the energy to bury a body in a remote location? Then you need to become a writer. You have innovative ideas, a spark of madness, and a tinge of laziness that comes with sitting down at a computer to let your fingers do the trash talking.
Thank you Dawn, for joining us today and sharing your unique take on life, and writing, and shoveling. And thank you for allowing me to use you for the purposes of illustrating the important role cover art is in the sale of your book. You could write a masterpiece, but no one will ever know it if they never crack the cover to read the words inside.
We Need Your Help!
This post came at a good time, because today Dawn and I have some exciting news to share. The cover art for Delilah has made it to round two in the Joandisalovebooks Summer Loving Book Cover EVENT 2017. This is great news because it is a really great cover, but we can’t do it alone. The winner in each genre category will receive a great marketing package, which would be great for the promotion of Delilah.
We need your votes, so we can win first prize in the western genre category. You can find more information on how to place your vote at Sonoran Dawn Studios, where Dawn has been kind enough to lay out step by step instructions for you. So, if you are a follower of Writing to be Read, a fan of Delilah, or someone who has just discovered Kaye Lynne Booth author, please take a few moments to clink on the link and cast your votes for us. It will be greatly appreciated.
Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.
Flashbacks are something that go in and out of style as time passes. For a time you’ll see them used left and right in books and films, and it’ll feel like they’re everywhere. Then someone, somewhere, decides they’re forbidden and amateurish and you’ll hear whispers about how you should never use a flashback and they’re “lazy writing.”
In reality, what happens is the same thing that happens with any other writing technique. Someone uses it incredibly well and then a crop of other writers pop up and use the same technique with a hit or miss result. Eventually it becomes overused, and often poorly used, and people begin dreading seeing the writing technique because they’ve seen it done so poorly so often. Then someone uses it amazingly well again and the cycle starts over.
So when it comes to flashbacks, when can you use them, and more importantly, how can you use them well?
If your story has a lot of groundwork to lay such as character development or world development, it can often be useful to open with a flashback scenario. If your story really starts with a key event sometime in the past, but then nothing happens for 20 years, then again, starting with a flashback might be useful. A recent example of this is “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. It starts with a flashback on Earth. It’s not a particularly eventful scene, but it lays the foundation for a huge plot reveal later on and sets the tone for what this movie will be about – Quill’s dad. If you’re going to start with a flashback, or start in the present and then use a flashback for the crux of the story, then there are a few key reasons to do so.
- You have a slow opening and need to create tension to buy yourself time with the audience and create suspense. A lot of horror movies do this option to build suspense. Start with a big murder and then everything is calm for 20 minutes until the murderer returns. It creates suspense and puts the audience on edge, waiting for the next attack that could come at any moment.
- A major event happens far in the past and you need to establish it in order to set the tone or plot for the story to come. A lot of fantasy and science fiction stories do something like this for world building to show how we got to the world we have today. Sometimes it comes in flashback with a voice over summary (like “Lord of the Rings” talking about the Ring’s history in the beginning).
- A character defining moment happened in the past and it directly ties to what your story is about. A lot of these kinds of flashbacks are used in dramas where something major happens when the protagonist is a kid – maybe a key phrase is said to them – and then as an adult they are learning the truth of that phrase.
Another common use of flashbacks is to reveal memories of the protagonist. These can be recent or distant memories, but they usually have some relation to the plot or character development the protagonist is dealing with. Some examples include:
- The character meets someone they knew in the past and had a major event or experience with. An example of this is when a grown up individual meets their childhood bully and we see a scene of how the two interacted. Another could be if you have a protagonist gathering a group together. You might see flashbacks that establish the relationship with each of the group or their skills (like in many military or action movies when a group is brought together). The purpose of this type of memory flashback is to establish the new person’s character quickly, as well as often to establish that character’s relationship with the protagonist.
- A major event from the present connects with a major event from the past for the protagonist. An example of this is, let’s say, if a character discovers a family secret they might see flashbacks of all the things they saw as a child that didn’t make sense suddenly be given new meaning with this secret revealed. If you’ve seen those short YouTube videos going around Facebook where the son discovers the father he thought was lazy and poor was doing something special all those years that the son didn’t know about, it’s a great example of this. Once the son discovers the father’s secret, we see flashbacks that put everything the son saw in context.
- Another example of the memory from the past connecting to the present can be if something from the past is the foundation for a character – such as life advice they were told or something. Many times you’ll find in films and movies the character hears a phrase when they’re young that they didn’t completely understand and then during the film while they’re older something happens that makes them understand this. Often you’ll see a flashback in the film or story showing you the character receiving this advice.
One of the most common uses for flashbacks is in mystery or suspense type movie and stories. In these stories it is imperative to create suspense and leave questions unanswered for a time. There are numerous ways flashbacks are used in mystery stories, but a few include:
- Evidence reveals where the protagonist or another character finds the evidence that is involved in the crime and the audience gets a flashback of how the evidence is related to the crime.
- The bad guy reveal. Often times once the bad guy is discovered there is a reveal that shows him committing the crime and how he got away with it, as well as numerous dishonest or secretive things the bad guy has done since then.
- The detective reveal. This is a common trick used in stories like the TV show “Leverage” or many Sherlock Holmes stories where there is a reveal to show how the con artist or Detective pieced everything together. In “Leverage” it is used to show how the team managed to make the bad guy think he was winning when the crew had the upper hand the whole time. In Detective stories it’s used to show the moment the detective found each key piece of evidence that led them to their brilliant conclusion at the end, which solved the crime.
The key with any flashback used is that it’s 100% necessary for the story. If you could remove the flashback and the tone, character, and plot doesn’t change in the story, then it’s probably unnecessary. If you can show the events that span between the flashback and present in the story, and they add to the story, then it probably shouldn’t be a flashback and should just be part of the story.
Whenever you’re considering using a flashback, just ask yourself what it adds to the plot, character, and tone of the story and make your decision from there. Does it add tension? Does it put your audience in suspense so you can slow things down before a big event? Does it develop your character in a way that can’t be done otherwise? Does it lay foundation for the plot to come? Or does the flashback add unnecessary length and detail to the story? As long as you’ve analyzed your use of the flashback properly, and you’re positive it serves a purpose, then you should be okay to use one. But as with anything else, use them sparingly and deliberately.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice in her Monthly Memo on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
Social media is great. Or is it? From a writer’s perspective, maybe a little of both. On the one hand, promotion on social media can and often does bring readers to your blog, or book, or article, or whatever you are promoting. Some sites are more helpful than others in this regard. There is no doubt that social media promotion draws attention, but then you have to figure out the other side of the equation.
Promotion on social media takes a lot of time. And I mean a lot of time. Think about it. First you have to share a link on your timeline, or page, or wall, or whatever. That doesn’t take long. But then you have to share it in groups, and for me, there are a lot of groups to share in. Okay, so after you’ve spent between thirty to forty-five minutes or even up to two hours, (depending on how fast your internet connection is operating, how fast the site you’re sharing on is operating, and how many groups you are sharing the post with), and the post is shared everywhere you wish to share it, you’re still not done.
No. Because you see, social media is set up for social networking. You don’t want to drop into each group and post your promotion, then go about your business. No. When you join a group, you are expected to participate, rather than just promote. If you want people to like, comment, or share your posts, you’ve got to do the same for them. That’s how social networking works. And let me tell you, it is easy to get caught up thanking folks for liking or sharing your posts, responding to comments on your posts and liking, commenting on and sharing the posts of others, and before you know it, several hours have elapsed. This part of networking needs to be done each day, even when you don’t have any promotional posts to make.
So, now consider that I spend up to two hours promotion, two or three times a week, which is what I do for Writing to be Read. You need to socialize daily. I try limiting myself to one hour of socializing online on days I’m not promoting, so I can promote my work, but not appear to be a self-absorbed spammer. Just doing that adds up to ten hours a week.
Most recently, I participated in a Book Release Event on Facebook for the promotion of my recently released western, Delilah. I was one of many authors who did either half-hour or hour long takeover slots in a two night event. In a takeover slot, the author makes posts aimed at both promotion of their own book and entertainment in the form of silly, but fun, party games and giveaways. My investment was several hours in planning and preparation, plus one evening and a partial, and another afternoon responding to comments and contest wrap-up, and it’s yet to be seen if there will be a significant rise in sales which might be attributed to the event.
Of course, it isn’t just Delilah I must promote. I also promote my short story that I have on Amazon, Last Call, and writing that I have in online publications such as Across the Margin and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. And of course, I spend a good deal of time promoting this blog, Writing to be Read. It’s not that I don’t like social media promotion. It allows me to interact with my readers others in the business, and I truly do enjoy that, but it takes a lot of time. That’s time that is not spent writing.
Promotion is a necessary evil to me, and it must be done on top of writing queries and cover letters and submitting completed novels to publishers or agents, and articles, stories and poetry to the publications they might appear in, checking and responding to emails, searching the web and applying for freelance jobs, in addition to holding’s down a full-time day job. And then, I have to find time to live some resemblance of a life. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there, I have to actually sit down and write, both for my freelance jobs and my own stuff, for blog and for sale. And I must find time to read the books I review. So, you see than ten hours a week can be tough.
This isn’t the first time I’ve brought this subject up. In Today’s Authors Wear Many Hats, which I posted back in October, I wrote about the different roles an author must play and how they’ve expanded because of the digital age and the rising trends in self-publishing. Promotion and marketing are just two of those hats, but they’re important ones. Most of us are among the starving artists, and can’t afford to hire someone to do it for us, or spend a lot of money boosting posts to reach more people, and social media is an avenue of promotion which is free, or at least fairly inexpensive.
Bottom line – Promotion and marketing do require that we spend at least a minimal amount of time on them, but as writers, it’s a necessary part of the job. Like the artist, who must sell her own paintings, or convince a gallery owner to display her wares, we must peddle our creations, whether we publish them ourselves, or are picked up by a small press or traditional publisher. And social media is a big part of that in today’s market. Social media drives traffic, and we need traffic, because traffic leads to sales, at least theoretically.