Saturday, 21 December 2013

How do flash forwards work?

Due to popular demand, I’ve been asked to revisit this subject because it seems to be causing a few headaches for quite a number of writers who are trying to grasp how to use them and where to use them in their narrative.
Firstly, flashforwards, or prolepsis, to give its proper name, are quite different from flashbacks, so writers should understand the differences and how each one works with the narrative, specifically in the way they relay information to the reader.

The flashback, or analepsis, that we are all familiar with is a narrative device that allows the character and the reader to step back into a defining moment in the character’s past; one that directly affects the situation in the present. It assists with the main story and can also help move the story forward.  Flashbacks are used for all genres.
Flashfowards, however, cannot be used in most genres. Why? Because the future has not yet happened. Common sense tells us that we cannot write about something that is yet to happen in the same way we use flashbacks, so you can’t ordinarily flash forward. You can, however, foreshadow what may come, as a way of hinting to the reader likely, significant events.

Of course, that does not mean you can’t use them at all, because you can, but unless you are specifically writing a science fiction or fantasy based story, flashforwards play no part in normal narrative.
But why can’t I use one crime love story or my crime thriller? Who says so? What’s the difference?

As with most of fiction writing, it’s not necessarily about writing rules, but rather the use of common sense.
In simple terms, the past is always accessible, because those events have already taken place, so you can flashback at any time. The story logically follows series of chronological events.

The only time you can flashforward, however, and break chronological events, is if the genre and type of story allows it – i.e. sci-fi or fantasy stories, or stories of time travel, where the realms of physics - space, time and dimensions - can be manipulated to suit the story.  They are not bound by normal conventions.
If you were to write a flashforward into your conventional genre crime novel, romance, western or historical novel etc, then you would be breaking the order of chronological events by showing a future that is yet to happen and therefore killing any sense of surprise for the reader, and plot twists would be pointless.

As already pointed out, you can allude to future events by using dream sequences or a character’s personal imaginings etc., but actual moments and events in the future for your characters haven’t taken place, therefore you can’t forward wind to those points.
So how do they work?

They work only if the conventions of the story allow it.

Flashforwards should be handled just as carefully as flashbacks. In other words, the writer needs to understand why a flashforward should take place, and why it is intrinsic to the progression of the story arc. Writers shouldn’t place flashforwards into the narrative in order to make it look good or to simply ‘pad out’ the story. 
Like flashbacks, flashforwards need careful consideration; that means they must be placed at the right moment in the story; they need to reflect what is happening in the main plot in the present, they need to somehow move the story forward and above all, they must make sense to the reader.

If the story needs a flash forward, it needs to directly relate to the main story and themes; it needs to be placed correctly, at the right moment, for the right effect. This is vital to ensure continuity within the story.  
It also needs to directly relate to the main character in the present.

Probably the most famous example of flashforward is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is transported by spirits to visit a future yet to take place. This happens because he has removed normal conventions by using ghosts and time travel to achieve this effect. This falls within the realms of the fantasy fiction genre.
So in other words, they can be used to express future events, as long as the story type or genre allows it.


·        The flashfoward needs to relate to the plot and the main character
·        It needs to move the story forward
·        It needs to be placed at the right moment within the narrative
·        It must relate to the main character in the present

Writing flashbacks can me troublesome, but flashfowards are harder to achieve, so it’s wise to give them careful consideration before you attempt any.

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for stopping by, and to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a prosperous New Year.

AllWrite will return 4th January 2014.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Creating Character Dynamics – Part 2

Continuing our look at character dynamics (and not dynamic characters), we’ll explore the many ways of creating such dynamics so that the narrative gains greater dimension and depth.
As explained in Part 1, remember that real life supports much of what writers learn from and incorporate within their writing. And clever writers will exploit it for all its worth. That means conversations, movements, interactions, reactions, behaviours and many varied perspectives all come into play.
Character dynamics revolves around how characters interact with each other, and there are many factors that help create it:-
·        Dialogue – what characters say to each other and how they say it.
·        Conflicts between characters also creates dynamics - the reader gets to see how characters act with and around each other
·        Show a psychological perspective – what characters think and how their thoughts might affect others or impact the story arc and what emotions he or she might have.
·        Show a physical perspective – a character’s movements made in reaction to others, or acting against other influences.
·        Show actions and reactions – whether this is through dialogue, thoughts or physical actions, every action must have a reaction.
·        Show the surrounding environment – what’s happening around the characters that influence all of the above?
Let’s look at these in more detail.
What characters say to each other says a lot about who they are, but even more so by the way they say it, to whoever they say it to. Intonation and pitch are great aspects of conversation, especially so with characters. It’s one of the simplest ways to create character dynamics.
Writers can use the tone and resonance of dialogue, and what is said, to get the characters to spark off each other. They could be arguing passionately, they could be screaming in hatred at each other, they could be whispering sweet things…whatever it is, dialogue is a great way to get character dynamics into the narrative.
Conflict creates emotions, mostly negative ones. We all know it is bread and butter to any storyteller because the potential for character dynamics is endless. And it’s all down to emotions. 
Conflict creates emotion, such as dislike, hatred, loathing, unhappiness; fear etc., and is usually between protagonist and antagonist, so the potential for getting your characters to create ‘sparks’ is high.
Like dialogue, conflict is a great way for characters to interact, and a great way to produce lots of emotion.
A Psychological Perspective
As narrator, you need to let your readers know what your characters are really thinking, the emotions they feel when interacting with other characters, because insight is a wonderful thing for readers. It gets them closer to the characters, because they’re sharing the character’s intimate thoughts; their inner behaviour.
How character thoughts might affect their behaviour, and therefore those around them, is yet another way of creating character dynamics.  A character may say one thing, but they could be thinking another thing entirely.  This is great for creating subtle undercurrents between characters.
A Physical Perspective
Similar to a psychological perspective, the physicality of a character’s movements made in reaction to others, or acting against other influences, also conveys character dynamics.
The physicality doesn’t have to be overt. You can make it as subtle as you like. Either way, the reader will pick up on it.  It could be as simple as where your characters are standing in proximity to each other.  Are they close enough for eye contact, or are they standing apart?  Perhaps one character’s height means he or she is able to establish dominance over the other?  Are they gesturing, like real people do, or just standing there like statues?
Gestures and movements play an important part of creating character dynamics, so try not to overlook them.
Actions and Reactions
Remember that actions reveal character, therefore so do reactions. Every action must have a reaction; this is the whole point to character interaction. Without either, there is no character dynamics.
It’s the same in real life, when people react to others – whether it’s a reaction to something said or implied, or a reaction to something physical, like aggression or a physical attack, it’s about how that person responds.
It’s therefore important to show character reactions, responses and reflexes etc., because it enables momentum with the characters you’re working with, it reveals character and it also helps move the story forward.
The Environment
You might ask what the surrounding environment has to do with creating character dynamics, and it’s a relevant question, but it has more to do with dynamics than writers realise. 
Our environments form a background to life.  Whatever we do, wherever we go, the surrounding environment is always there. So, in our character’s case, the environs form a backdrop to the story.  It provides the reader with location, atmosphere and background.  
Of course, the environment can be part of the story, for instance it could be about a giant storm, or a major flood, or an apocalyptic, searing heat, turning everything to desert.
In a nutshell, the right environment should support the dynamics of the story and the characters.  It helps them interact. And when they interact, you get all of the above – dialogue, conflict, psychological and physical perspectives, actions and reactions.
There is more to character dynamics than meets the eye, but when you think about how and why your characters interact with each other, then you begin to understand the dynamic forces that help create great characters.  
Next week: How does a flash forward work?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Creating Character Dynamics – Part 1

This isn’t about creating dynamic characters, but rather how writers create character dynamics.
In other words, it’s the way characters work with and against each other within the story. It’s the dynamics of characters and their relationships with each other that interest the reader and keep them engaged.

It’s about setting up the conflicts with and between characters; it’s about ways that characters actually interact with each other, their actions and reactions, their thoughts and emotions. It’s about ways of bringing the characters to life for your reader through in-depth characterisation.
But how do you get your characters to spark off one another in the first place?  How do you get them to simmer together, for instance, or to antagonise each other or fight one another? 

Writers should first understand the mechanics of character dynamics if they want to create it within their stories. A writer has to enable the subtle undercurrents of complex character relationships to affect their personalities in such a way that it impacts on their actions and emotions and what they say to each other.
But how does a writer achieve that?

The answer to that lies in real life. Some people easily ‘click or gel’ with other people, even those they have only just met. There is affinity. Their personalities complement each other; they may share the same traits or interests, they may form an instant bond etc.  It directly affects our personalities when we’re with such people; we generally have a positive and happy outlook, we’re at ease with them. 
Conversely, there are also people we simply cannot get along with. Personalities ‘clash’, because there is zero affinity or interest. This has a negative effect on our personality, and generally we’re unhappy with these people and feel uncomfortable in their presence.

The same is true for fiction, and that’s what creates the working dynamics between characters. Think about how you act, react and behave with people, whether friends, family or people you don’t like, think about what you say to them.
Not all people will agree. Not all people will get along – this is where conflict plays an important role within character dynamics, whether in real life of fiction.

The high and low points that you create in your stories will directly affect how characters behave with each other.
Here’s a simple example: you have a group of characters caught up in a disaster. (It could be a fire, a storm, an earthquake…anything). The thread of the story already dictates they must act together to help each other survive because of the environment they’re in. It also creates the perfect cauldron of conflict because not every character will agree, not every character will like each other. One will think he’s better than another. One will be more frightened than the others and so on.

Already there is tension and conflict, which will create arguments and clashes. The environment is adding to that tension. Emotions will be high. The characters will each act and react differently.
In simple terms, a character’s responses to various conflicts – their thoughts, emotions, actions and reactions, their behaviours – have a direct impact on those around them.  This is what character dynamics is about.

It’s these underlying forces which create interest, tone and atmosphere for readers, because they are sharing everything that goes on with each character.
In fact, they are sharing the character dynamics that you, as a writer, have created for them.

Next week: Creating Character Dynamics Part 2.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Self Confidence and Writing

I’ve covered this subject in previous articles, but lots of you have been in touch asking about it, so it’s time for another visit to a common subject that clearly affects a lot of writers.
Self-confidence is a bit of an enigma. Outside of writing, most people are confident about many things in their daily lives, but the psychology behind what goes on when that confidence does an about-turn goes much deeper for writers, because often they go from confident and assured about their work, to doubtful and uncertain in the space of days.

But why?  Well, it usually happens the moment they have to submit their work for scrutiny by their peers, i.e. sending a MSS to an agent or publisher. The ‘jitters’ set in and they turn on their heels and run for the hills (metaphorically speaking).
This isn’t uncommon, however. Plenty of writers lose confidence in themselves (and their ability) when the moment comes to send off their masterpiece to the big bad agents and publishers. Suddenly they are confronted with the prospect of criticism and possible rejection (the two things writers dread most). The natural reaction to this is that they delay sending their novel out – sometimes for a long while, in order to avoid the inevitable.

All writers have, at some point, stuttered at the thought of letting go of their work and subjecting it critique (whether that criticism is positive or negative). Even long-established and experienced writers have had a confidence wobble or two in their careers.  And many more writers will approach that point. 
But what really makes otherwise ordinarily, confident writers refrain from sending out their work? What other reasons are there for a confidence meltdown?

Here’s a few you might recognise.
Just a few more changes…

The writer thinks that a few more tweaks to the story can make it absolutely 100% perfect. Because a submission needs to be the best it can possibly be, after all, right? 
Well, to a degree, yes.  It should be the best you can make it. It can’t be perfect, because perfection doesn’t exist, but the only drawback to this is that it creates a self-perpetuating circle of hopelessness. The writer will keep tweaking and changing and editing tinkering. The result? Nothing will ever get sent out.

Underneath this desire for perfection is a writer who actually lacks the confidence in what they’ve created, because fear of anything other than perfection will, in their minds, lead to failure.
Of course, this really isn’t true.  Success or failure cannot be measured by fear. Writers cannot let lack of confidence and fear of failure hold them hostage. 

The novel/story just isn’t good enough
Whether the story is good enough or not, in the writer’s mind, all confidence up to that point flies out the window. The shutters come down and the writer becomes blinkered, totally convinced that the story just isn’t good enough.  And if it isn’t any good, no publisher or agent will think it’s any good either.

This irrational thought process comes from the writer’s confidence in the mechanics of the story. Whether the story is really good or bad is irrelevant. It’s about the ability to have faith in the story and the characters, the themes and the plot etc, to have enough of that confidence to send it out to prospective agents and to learn from whatever might come back.
This sudden fall in confidence might come about for a number of reasons – the writer compares him or herself to famous, successful writers and realises the story just isn’t anywhere as good.  Another reason might be that the writer has read a similar great story by another author.  Again, the comparison is automatically made – in the writer’s mind his or her story isn’t good enough.

I’m not a good enough writer
Similar to not having enough confidence in the story they’ve created, this one centres wholly on the lack of confidence with their ability and skill.

Again, it doesn’t actually matter how good or experienced the writer is, it is really about the level of confidence that can let them down. This type of insecurity usually stems from writers directly comparing themselves to other authors and making the assumption that they will never be as good as they are.
What they don’t realise, however, is that many famous authors had to fight hard to be published in the first place. Not only that, but every writer is different; the way they write is different, their tones and styles might be different. The way some approach writing is quite different. No writer is the same.

Sometimes we lack the confidence to just jump into the deep end and swim for it.  But that’s how to get on with writing and the publishing world. Yes, rejections will happen, but more often than not, writers learn from them and become better. And yes, stories may not be that good, but again, writers will learn to make them better and stronger. And just because you are not Stephen King, Shakespeare or Salman Rushdie, you should not compare yourself with them.  Every writer is individual; therefore every piece of work is, too.
Of course, where there are those who turn into a quivering wreck at the thought of sending of their work, there are also those with an abundance of confidence. So much, in fact, that it becomes detrimental.

Having a quiet, balanced confidence is one thing, but having too much confidence that it borders arrogance will get a writer noticed for all the wrong reasons.  Over the last 25 years I’ve learned to spot these easily while critiquing. When someone tells me how great their story is; how fantastic the characters are, how it was written so easily and with little effort and how everyone who has ever read the story says how good the story is, I know that it will be a car crash. And sadly, I’ve always been proved right. 
Why? Because over-confidence is nature’s way of hiding the reality of truth.  And no one wants to admit their own shortcomings and inadequacies. We would rather lie to ourselves and bolster such failings instead. Overconfidence becomes a by-product of that process.

And sadly, these kinds of writers will never find true success.
Think of confidence as a fluid entity – it can move and change in depth and breadth. It can grow and become stronger.  It can also shrink and become weak and vanish.

Lack of confidence is all about fear.  Confidence can be bolstered or broken in an instant by circumstances, ourselves or our peers.  But it’s how a writer deals with it that makes the difference.
Jump in at the deep end, take a chance. Be quietly confident.

Next week: Creating character dynamics