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NaNo 2006 Winner
Exercise #210

Exercise #210: Craft
Posted 5/4/07

Flashbacks are an important part of many stories. The reader may need some explanation for what’s happening now, or the author may want to expand some of the character’s personality traits. One of the best ways to do this is with a flashback.

A flashback starts in past perfect tense (had been instead of was, had started instead of started, etc.). It then eases into past tense, where readers are more comfortable. It may use the past perfect tense occasionally within it if it’s a longer “scene,” and then use it again at the end to emphasize the shift back to the present. Once the flashback ends, the reader should be again in the present action with the character, even if the story is written in past tense.

Say what?

Yes, the “present” action can be in past tense. The important thing is that your reader not be confused over when the action is taking place.

For this exercise, your character runs into someone from their past. In a grocery store, for instance, she meets her first love. Or at a flea market, your character reaches for an item at the same time as another customer, and when their eyes meet, your character realizes the other person is his third-grade teacher. Show us the two meeting, then flash us back to the last time your character saw this person. To wrap up, return us to the meeting in the present.

Critiquers, note whether you were clear on whether events were happening “now” or “then.” Pick out lines that clarify it for you, or note where you got lost.

Note the increased word limit.

Word limit: 1500
Please use the subject line
    SUB: Exercise #210/yourname

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