How to Skillfully Use Flashbacks in Your Novels

Reunion Loew Cover NookMy day today got off to the best start ever. My latest novel, The Reunion, just got another five-star review on Amazon. One comment made so far by all of the reviewers is how well the flashback scenes were done.

If used properly, flashback scenes can greatly enhance the story, and can be a terrific tool for telling the back-story. Poorly done, however, they can be a distraction or a hindrance, blocking your story flow and annoying the reader. Here are my suggestions on how to apply flashback scenes.

Use flashbacks sparinglyThe Reunion has fifty chapters, but only four are flashbacks, and the flashbacks end after Chapter Six.  The story is set in the present time with the characters in the here and now. Therefore I didn’t want to spend too much time with the flashbacks.

Make sure your flashbacks are relevant to the present time. Since The Reunion is about two lovers having a second chance later in life, the purpose of the flashbacks was so readers could see them meet for the first time, consummate their relationship for the first time, and get a general feel for their earlier relationship. Interestingly enough, I decided not to show their original break up as a flashback. That back-story is instead told in dialogue when leading lady Gillian describes their break up to a friend. Dialogue, by the way, is another great tool for telling the back-story.

Watch where you insert a flashback. Never drop a flashback in the middle of a cliffhanger. This will upset and annoy your reader to no end. I lead up to the flashback at the ending of a chapter, with the flashback starting at the next chapter. This way my reader is prepared for the flashback scene.

The following is an example of how I set up one of the flashback scenes from The Reunion. It includes the end of Chapter One, with the last paragraph setting up the flashback scene, which immediately begins with Chapter Two.

* * *

Gillian looked a good ten years younger than her actual age. Despite all the time that had passed, she still looked much the same. About the only noticeable difference between then and now was that her long blonde hair was now a shoulder length pageboy. She started to reminisce about the past and her mind suddenly filled with a whirlwind of images of all they had shared, the good times as well as the bad. It was like watching a movie, but the scenes were spliced together out of sequence.

“Calm down, Gillian,” she told her reflection. “You’ve got to pull yourself together.”

 She took a few more deep breaths, and as she did the events of one particular day began playing back in her mind with crystal clarity. It was the day she first laid eyes on Ian Palmer.


Gillian jammed her paintbrush into her palette and glanced at the wall clock. It was almost four twenty-five. Class would be over at four-thirty.

“Damn it,” she muttered to herself as she tried to work more white paint into the canvas.

This particular painting was one of those projects that simply wasn’t coming together, and the more she worked with it the worse it got. It happened to every artist from time to time, but it was never good when it happened in a university art class the day before the project was due, and the painting in question would count toward the final grade.

“So what’s up, Miss Hanson?”

The voice behind her was that of her professor, Dr. Kinney. Kinney was a good instructor, but he could be hard-nosed when he wanted to be.

“I just can’t seem to get the lighting right on this one, Dr. Kinney.”

“Obviously. So now you’ve overworked it to the point that it’s turned into mud. A half hour ago this painting wasn’t that bad. You should have quit while you were ahead.”

“Should I come back later tonight and try to fix it?”

The university kept the art studio doors unlocked until ten o’clock every night so students could comeback and put in extra time, if it was needed.

“At this point, Miss Hanson, it would be a complete waste of time. As it stands right now, you have a few aspects that are still working. As I just said, if I were in your shoes I’d quit while I was ahead, especially if I had any aspirations of passing this class. You’ll get your new assignment next week. Perhaps you’ll have better luck then.”

As her professor turned away to announce that class was dismissed, Gillian let out a frustrated sigh…


So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part 3

wtf graphicThere are time when I get a little weary trying to explain to newbie authors why they need to have their manuscripts professionally edited.  Sometimes they get it, other times they don’t. (Sigh.)  So, if for no other reason, have your manuscript professionally edited and proofread so your readers won’t go onto forums and rip your book to shreds.

Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. They’ve just paid good money for your book. They’re used to reading well edited books, and they expect your book to be well edited too. If it isn’t, they will be disappointed at best. At worst they’ll feel like they’ve been ripped-off. They may write you a bad review, or they may go on-line to reader’s forums and point out your mistakes. Either way, your dirty laundry just got hung out to dry, and your career as an author may have just come to an untimely end. That said, I’m going to paraphrase some of the avoidable errors I’ve seen mentioned in online forums. (Please note that if you are reading this in a language other than English some of the errors I’ve listed below may not apply in your language.)

  • A leading lady gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
  • The leading man is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners.  No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
  • He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual with that one. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
  • During a sex scene he’s having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After his tryst is over he’ll need to see a doctor.)
  • He would gather her up in his arts. What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures?  Sounds like that old Vincent Price movie about the wax museum. I’d much prefer that he’d gathered her in his arms.)

What do all these faux paus have in common? According to the forum I was reading, they all came out of self-published books. Yes, it’s funny to us, but not so much to the authors who wrote them.  What’s sad is that these are just a few of the kind of mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.

Still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you’d better find yourself a good editor.

My tip for the day.


So Who is Responsible for Marketing Your Book?

dollarsignThe other day I had an interesting telephone conversation with a prospective author who was lamenting that his current book just isn’t selling, and he wondered if it would even be worth his time to bother publishing his next book. I asked him what he had been doing to market his book. He told me he hadn’t done any marketing. He honestly believed that all he had to do was list his book on Amazon, and people would come along to buy it.

“Build it and they will come,” may have worked in the movie Field of Dreams, but that mindset simply doesn’t apply in the business of selling books. Nor is it up to your publisher to go out and sell your book for you. They can distribute it, but unless you, the author, go out there and start marketing, it will not sell.

There are a number of things that you, as an author can and should do in order to effectively market your book. These would include:

  • Getting your book reviewed.
  • Having a website or a blog, or both, about your book.
  • Promoting your book on social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Listing your book on websites such as Goodreads, Author’s Den and Red Room.
  • Doing some speaking gigs.
  • Having book signings.

All that I have listed above are either free or would cost very little. There are also a number of books on Amazon about how to market your book. Likewise if you do a Google search you’ll find websites about book marketing, some of which offer free newsletters.

If you have the means you can hire a publicist, but be sure that he or she has experience in book promotion, as book promotion is different from other kinds of public relations. Also be sure to talk to them about the cost. Some firms may charge as much as $3000 a month for their services. Others charge much less, and they may do just as good of a job as the higher-priced publicists.

No one ever said marketing a book would be easy, especially now that we’re living in a time when anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can upload a Word file onto Amazon Kindle and call him or herself an author. However, unless your name is Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, don’t expect people bust down the doors to buy your book just because you’ve listed it on Amazon. You’ll have to get off your fanny and do some work.

My tip for the day