Thursday, 26 January 2012

How to Signal a Flashback

Paddy sent in the following email: I'm reading a Jennifer Johnston novel at the moment.  I notice that whenever she goes into flashback, she uses italics. Is this necessary, desirable or purely at the discretion of the author?

The important point is to avoid confusing your readers. The author has to signal that the writing is moving into a flashback scene. You can do this by using italics, as Jennifer Johnston does, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

Leaving a clear line of space and not indenting the opening paragraph signals to the reader that you have moved to a new scene. As long as your opening sentence shows clearly that we are now reliving a moment from the past, you don’t need to use italics.

Having said that, lots of writers prefer to show the entire flashback in italics – it’s up to the individual author and also the publisher’s house style.

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Comma, pause, comma, eek!

Georgia from Durban, South Africa, cries: Help! I am totally defeated by commas. I never know when to use them and spend more time putting them in and taking them out again than I do writing. Is there a simple rule to follow?

Hmm, wouldn’t it be wonderful if uses of the comma could be explained in one simple rule? Unfortunately, that isn’t possible, but maybe the list below will help to make its usage clearer.

  • A comma is used to separate items in a list: Mary carried books, pens, files and paper to the desk. (In some countries there will be a comma before the ‘and’ as well as the ones after books and pens, but not in UK usage.)
  • It is also used to emphasise a noun: he was a tall, heavy-set man.
  • Use a comma when there are two sentences that are linked together by a preposition: Mary had the hots for George, but he wasn’t interested in her.
  • When affirming or negating, you need a comma after the yes or no: no, I don’t like you. Yes, I think your bum looks fat in that dress.
  • You need a comma after ‘therefore’, ‘furthermore’, ‘however’ and ‘but’, when those words are used as modifiers.
  • When there is an interruption in a sentence, you need commas either side of it to separate it from the rest of the sentence: the music teacher, short-tempered as always, told us to keep quiet.
  • The same rule applies if you have an additional clause in the sentence: the pianist finished with a Chopin sonata, which my husband loves, and the audience stood as one to applaud.
  • Use a comma to separate phrases: he knew how I felt, so I tried to avoid him.
  • If you have a clause that precedes a subject (provided the sentence isn’t very short) you need a comma: when George and Mary get that look on their faces, we all know they are going to start fighting.
  •  Let’s say you want to show that someone or something is not what has been assumed, you would need a comma then, too: I’m trying to lose weight, not gain it.

I hope the above examples make it easier to know what to do with those pesky commas, but you might like to know that you’re in good company. Apparently Oscar Wilde once said:  I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Positively Productive Writer

A great guest post from writer friend Simon Whaley on how to be, as he says in the title, a positively productive writer.

Twitter is terrible, Facebook is ferocious and Google just gobbles up all of our potential writing time. To be proper writers we have to throw away these distractions and lock ourselves up in some primitive garret somewhere and start squeezing the creative muse from whichever little grey cell it appears to be hiding in.

Actually, no. Twitter, Facebook and Google can be good … if you use them correctly.

As a positively, productive kind of writer, I’m forever setting myself writing goals. I have various projects on the go at any one time: a novel, a non-fiction book, a short story, a couple of articles, and even the odd letter and filler. I do think variety helps to keep me motivated, but so do my goals. Or rather … the rewards I give myself for meeting those goals.

As writers, we tend to look at the bigger picture. We know about goals: to write a novel, to get a book published, to win a prestigious creative writing competition. And they are admirable goals. However, to stay motivated and productive, we don’t just need those whacking great big New-Year-resolution-type goals. We also need smaller goals. Your long-term goal may be to write a novel, but your medium-term goal could be to write the next chapter. Your short-term goal could be to write the first 1,000-words of that chapter.

Meet your short-term goals, and you will achieve your medium-term goals. Meet your medium-term goals and you will achieve your long-term goals. The benefit of having short-term goals is that these are easier to achieve. They are less daunting. Which of the following is psychologically easier to sit down and tackle:

·         Writing a 100,000-word novel
·         Writing the first 1,000-words of a 100,000-word novel?

Breaking our goals down into smaller, more manageable steps is vital to staying positive. And this is where those little nasties like Twitter, Facebook and Google come in. Because, whenever you achieve one of your short-term goals you MUST reward yourself. If you treat yourself every time you reach one of your goals, then when you next come to sit down and tackle your next short-term goal, you’ll remember the pleasure you felt the last time you achieved your goal. Which will help to spur you on.

Rewards need to be appropriate. If you’ve drafted a 1500-word short story, today, then you deserve a short ten-minute break catching up on Twitter or Facebook. Meet a medium-term goal and reward yourself with lunch out with a friend. If you achieve a long-term goal then treat yourself to weekend away, or buy that new toy or gift you’ve hankered after for so long. You deserve it!

So, next time you get an urge to check out Facebook or Twitter, tell yourself that you can only do so when you’ve met your next short-term goal. And then when you do, you can then enjoy your reward. Because rewards will help you to become a positively productive writer.

Good luck!

Twitter: @simonwhaley

The Positively Productive Writer, by Simon Whaley, shows writers how to reject rejection and enjoy positive steps to publication.

ISBN: 9781846948510
UK: £11.99
US: $19.99
Available now on Amazon

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