Do You Use Flashbacks?

What is flashback? It’s someone remembering, in the present, what happened in the past. If you tell of bygone events in narrative summary, it’s exposition (telling). If you dramatize them as a scene, it’s a flashback. The virtue of flashbacks is that, unlike exposition, they’re showing, not telling. They have action and drama.

However, many writing experts advise not to use flashbacks, or to limit them Of course this is one of those “rules” that has exceptions. In writing, never say never.

Here are the reasons for trying to avoid using flashbacks:
1.They’re not as strong or vivid as present-time scenes, simply because they’re done with. Readers tend to take the past less seriously than the present because it’s over. We’re only hearing about it rather than seeing it happen—even though it’s presented as a scene.

2. Any flashback, no matter how well written or interesting, can distance your reader from the action. This is because flashbacks shatter the illusion that the reader is a fly on the wall, witnessing events as they happen, right now. Are you more thrilled by a kiss you experience today or one you remember from a year ago?

3. Flashbacks disrupt the story’s timeline and can stop the momentum. And if there are a lot of them, they can leech the vividness out of the whole story and invalidate the story’s present.

So, whenever you feel the need to fill in backstory, ask yourself first:
• Is this needed to move the story along?
• If the answer is yes, then ask yourself, can this be written as a real-time scene?
• If no, try to determine if you gain more in depth and clarity than you lose in immediacy.

Every story has its history or backstory. But we can’t start every one at birth and include all of the traumatic childhood or life events that shaped the character and made him what he is today. You might choose to write up this background in one or more scenes—just for your own personal knowledge of your character—and not use much or any of it in your story.

When to use Flashbacks.
This is not to say that you can NEVER use flashbacks. They can be done effectively. Like with so many writing techniques, it’s a matter of moderation.

Again, according to the experts, don’t open with a flashback. (Of course there’s an exception to that rule, too.) But the danger of opening with a flashback is that in the early stages of a story, interest is a fragile thing. Your reader is in search of entertainment, and he’s not sure yet if he’s going to find what he wants in your particular story.

Sometimes flashback might be the only way to develop your plot. But make sure to spend the largest proportion of your time in the present.

So, if you’re going to use a flashback, make sure the running plot in your story is strong, clear and well-established before splitting off to do anything else, whether following a subplot or embarking on a flashback. Make sure the flashback is vivid and interesting in itself. Connect the flashback plot with the present plot.

Next month I'll talk about how to handle flashbacks when you do use them.

The Masters Golfing Event - A Bit of History

 April Riddle

What do April, green jackets, Amen Corner, azaleas and traditions have in common?   

Answer:  The Masters.  

The Masters is magic and the one sporting event that I almost never miss.  The Masters is as close as we get to a royal event.  There is pomp and circumstance, golfing elite, ceremonial clothes and the honoring of traditions.  In this day and age of texts, tweets, instant gratification and disposable everything, tradition gives us a sense of continuity and of safety.

Players, caddies, announcers and spectators change, but the rhythm of The Masters remains the same.  We can count on first class play, immaculately groomed greens, spectacular scenery and a true display of sportsmanship.   

Tradition connects us with our history and foretells expectations of the future.  One of my favorite commercials shows a man following players at The Masters.  When no one is looking he picks up a divot, takes it home, builds a special display area and plants his piece of history.  We all want to connect with those things that are meaningful to us. 

I know this is a leap but I think this desire to connect with important things from the past is why libraries, the smell of a printed book, newspapers and family pictures hold such a powerful place in our hearts.

So, this month spend some time reflecting on those traditions that bring continuity and safety to your world…..and tune in to The Masters.

Martha Swirzinski

4 Important Character Concerns

Here are some things to consider in creating your main character. Note I don’t say “hero” or “heroine,” because sometimes the terms don’t apply at first.

Is your character an Insider or Outsider: are they already fully immersed in the world or is the reader becoming aware along with the character? Sometimes the best way to introduce a reader to the world of the weird is to introduce the protagonist to it, so that he or she begins at the same level of knowledge, basically, as the reader.
    In Odessa, Book One of the Seraphym Wars Series, or Harpies, Book Two, Myrna and Griffen are from Earth but find themselves suddenly and inexplicitly waking on a foreign planet fill with demon-dragons who run the place. Not only that, but the world is Steampunk instead of the contemporary Earth they know. People dress strangely and vehicles hover or sail through the sky while the world itself is primal and filled with monsters. These ambiguities create a lot of tension for the characters, but for the reader as well. The reader is taking the same journey as the characters in learning about their new world.

Alternately, it can be intriguing simply to launch your reader into the fictional world right from the beginning. In my Middle Grade story Masquerade’s Moon Madness, Masquerade is an adorable black cat who used to be a little girl but now lives with a young witch named Wendy. The reader accompanies Masquerade on her adventures throughout time and space as she and Wendy travel and learn. But it’s up to the reader to simply accept certain facts; like a little orphan girl becoming a cat after sipping the witch’s stew.

Can you character take abuse? As any writer is aware, every good character has flaws. The only character I can think of who might not is Jesus or a computer (and even then something could be devised). After all, if your character is too wimpy to withstand the conflict your story must cast their way, they really aren’t much of a character are they? So why should a reader continue reading about them? What will hold the reader’s attention? The other reason a character must be flawed is to seem realistic. How else will a reader empathize with the character’s plight?

But as important as a flaw or two may be, it is more important that the character have the guts and wherewithal to deal with the issues at hand. Just remember to ease the character into being able to solve their problems. If they seem super-human from the get-go, how will they grow and evolve through the story? Again, why should a reader continue reading about the character if they’re strong and capable from the beginning? This brings up the next point…

Hidden strengths: In a novel, characters’ actions tends to larger than life, so characters must be pushed beyond what you or I consider normal endurance. The result is they’ll either break or find hidden strengths that allow them to survive and solve their problems. Breaking is obviously the less heroic choice. How the character solves the conflict determines their hidden strengths and brings them to the surface.

How does your character best speak? POV: Narration, whether it comes from the main character, a secondary character or outside viewer, has changed significantly over the past hundred years. If you read anything written in the early 1900’s you will easily discern the author’s opinion throughout the story, even fiction, because it was common for the omniscient narrator to share their own ideas. But today’s readers don’t have the time for all of the extraneous narration and want to make up their own minds about how they feel about the characters and story.

Hence, the omniscient narrator has become passe and the popular POV is first person for younger books, although third person is still widely used everywhere.

First person, or the “I” perspective, is quite popular right now, especially in young fiction. It can feel intimate, which is what teens seem to like about it; but it can also be limiting, since it’s best (though not exclusively) used in single point of view. Word of caution: don’t allow your character to speak directly to the reader (another ancient form of narration). A reader wants to disappear into a book and live vicariously alongside the characters. Also, one person can’t ever truly know what’s going on in someone else’s head, so a writer must give the reader cues through dialogue, expression and body language.

Third person is the most commonly used POV. This is the “he” or “she” perspective. The reader remains in a particular character’s head until a new character takes over after a section break or new chapter. There are caveats here too. If you choose to write from more than one perspective, it’s important for each voice to sound truly distinctive so that the reader doesn’t forget who’s speaking/thinking. It is strongly advisable for the writer to limit the number of POVs so a reader doesn’t get confused and lose track of the main character’s conflict/resolution.

Generally, for younger readers one POV is used, sometimes a second POV can be inserted sparingly and obviously made different; Young Adult might have as many as three. Authors today are trying various techniques in search of the almighty best-seller. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they flop. I read a book, or started reading it, which changed perspective with each chapter. With four or five character POVs constantly changing like that I quickly got lost and lost interest in the book. So mind how many POVs you use and keep them obviously different enough readers don’t get lost.

Harpies, Book Two Seraphym Wars Series for YA Readers
Transported to a planet he'd never heard of was the least of fifteen-year-old Griffen's problems. Learning to control his suddenly increasing strength and new ability to pull lightning from the sky takes some getting used to.  Angry preteen Seth joins the quest; meanwhile discovering his combusting ability as a fire-starter. Driven to find the last Vigorio, a young girl able to experience others' emotions, they journey together toward their destinies as warriors against Narciss, Ruler of Tartarus and his Legio of demon-dragons. Narciss’s Harpy henchmen have other ideas, however.

Rebecca Ryals Russell is author of Seraphym Wars Series for YA readers and Stardust Warriors Series for MG readers. She also has several MG chapter books in the works as well as a YA Dystopian. See more about her and her WIPs at Under the Hat of MG/YA Dark Fantasy Author Rebecca Ryals Russell or Tween Word Quest.

Never Throw Away a Word!

When I was very young, my grandfather brought home a huge dictionary. It was about two feet thick—the kind they put on pedestals in libraries in the old days. Everyone in the family thought he was nuts but me. I was awarded it by default, put it in the basket of my blue and white Schwinn, and pedaled it home. It was a bit unwieldy so eventually it was stowed in the rafters of a basement room. Then when I was in New York learning the ropes of publicity, my mom and dad sold the house. “Oh, no! My dictionary!” I asked them to try to retrieve it from the new owners but the story hadn’t changed much. They thought I was crazy.

So a couple years later when I went home to visit, I stopped by our old home on a whim. It took chutzpah! “Hello, I used to live here and there may be something in your basement that belongs to me—that is, if you don’t have a need for it.”

Now this was not yesterday. In those days people actually let strangers into their homes occasionally, but there was still a chance they’d consider an ax-murder possibiity. I trailed behind the new owners to the basement and there it was. It hadn’t been moved an inch but it was covered with cobwebs and dust. I was ecstatic and the new owners were either happy to let me have it or eager to get rid of me.

I still have that dictionary. It has those little thumbprint cutouts for the different letters of the alphabet and the edges of each page are gilded. It has a linen cover. It can’t really be used because it has none of the new words in it.
Ahhh, yes. But it does have four color plates of the flags of countries that existed then. There are even a few that still exist. Most of the changes have been in Africa. There are other pages that illustrate flowers and the human skeleton. Stuff like that. I mean, this is a real dictionary. So I kept it for the smell (however smudgey—that’s my own word for moldy-but-I-don’t-care-how-bad-it-stinks!), the memories, the feel of the silky thin but still substantial pages. And because I kept reading that dictionaries discarded old words to make room for the new. And, naturally, I couldn’t discard any words, right? Fiction writers can find old words valuable.

By the time computers came along, I was attached to this volume, this tome, this giant doorstop! And now the kicker!

National Geographic tells me that the words in the Oxford English Dictionary never disappear. Once a word has been very carefully vetted, it stays there. “The OED is unique,” says the new words editor of the book, “in that we never remove a word once it has been included.”

Just in case you’re interested, they add some 4,000 words of 6,000 considered each year. Including the new meaning of the word “unplugged.” It now also means the “state of living without electronic devices.”

Now wouldn’t that be awful! Almost as bad as living without my near-ancient dictionary!

PS: Can’t resist another just-added word. You know when you put your Coke bottle on a manuscript and it leaves a caramel-colored ring that can’t be erased? Rejoice. You have made a “dringle.”

PS: My articles, essays—even my rants—are available for reprint in your blog or Web site. Just let me know what article you like and I’ll supply you with an appropriate credit line with links. HoJoNews @ aol (dot) com.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second ediction of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog.

Grammatical Memory

I wanted to write a post about parts of speech, subjects, objects and all that. One of the reasons is my annoyance over misuse of pronouns, especially two cases: after prepositions, and as subjects of an implied phrase, but I quickly fell into the mire of memory. You see, I remember all this stuff, the grammar, the parts of speech, the rules of usage, because my father drummed the rules relentlessly into my head. Almost every night at dinner featured discussions about some point of grammar.

In French, the rules are simple: if the pronoun is the subject of the verb, AND it comes right before the verb, it's the subjective form.
But in English, what is a subject is a little more complicated:

Jack is taller than I.

Why? Because "I" is the subject of the implied phrase, "than I am."


It's I, or was, when I was in school.

Here are two old poem of mine. I give them to you unedited, in its original form, in spite of my itch to revise them.

This is why I remember my grammar.

If You Were Still Alive

In spite of what I know everyone says
About each successive generation

Being deficient,
Not as able,
Morally superior
Or grammatically correct

As the one before,

I am privately convinced
Of the truth of the proposition
That today's youth's knowledge
Of the English language

Is sadly lacking,

And that even those
Who should know better,

To wit,

Those writing for the local paper,
Do not know how to properly use pronouns

Or, indeed,

That English has a subjunctive,
A fact that you revealed to me
When I came home and told you
That French had a subjunctive but that

English didn't

So I just wanted to say that I still remember
All that stuff and that in spite of my

Extreme annoyance

At your continual repetition of the entire rule
And its complete explanation,
Every time I said,

"It's me"

I want you to know that every time
I hear someone misuse a pronoun
I not only mutter under my breath,
But I think of you and think,

"If you were still alive..."


You took out the garbage
and got lost outside your apartment,
unable to recognize your front door.

That night you wandered naked
down the hall. I waited for you to flinch
as you recognized me, your daughter.

You never noticed me,
instead continued to the bathroom,
where you attempted, fruitlessly, to pee.

Your pubic hair was gray. When had
you gotten so old?

Where was the father who taught
me to make scrambled eggs,
pledging me never to add milk?

Where was the father who argued
about gerunds over dinner?

In the morning I took you to
Mount Sinai hospital, where
they diagnosed prostate trouble,
admitted you.

When we took your grandsons to see you;
you barely remembered their names:
your mind, once so sharp, now rusted.

We moved you to the nursing home
near Trinity Church. When we came to visit
we would go across to the church
and pray.

I had to take care of you.

It was my time.

Young Adult Author Visits

To foster instant creativity with the young adult age group you must give them activities that assure success without the pressure of judgment or harsh criticism. Just like the little ones they love games and short writing exercises.


Give each student ten random words, with one bonus word. Use each word to write an original poem or short story (flash fiction—one page or less in length) and then share each with each another.

1)      Give each student this list of words and sample poem.

1.      Window
2.      Atlas
3.      Wire
4.      Opaque
5.      Casserole
6.      Figurine
7.      Thistle
8.      Storage
9.      Chink
10.  hackney
Plus: snorkel
Example of a poem:
Gazing out the grubby window
At the opaque day,
I strain to see a reflection
the figurine staring back at me.
This is a hackneyed life wrapped
and trapped in wire?
  1. Be sure to leave time to analyze the words on the list themselves. What do students notice about the words on the list? What parts of speech–noun, verb, adjective–are they? What makes a “good”/creative/juicy/inspiring word for such an exercise?
  2. Have kids choose 5 words to use in an original poem. You can ask them to slant the poem toward your book in some way.
  3. Give them 5-10 minutes.
  4. Ask for volunteers to read their poem.
  5. What have they learned about writing and poetry from this lesson?
  6. Another approach is to put them in small groups to work on the poem together.
  1. Warm students up by asking what they thought about your reading excerpt: What did they like about it? What was it about? Follow up with “why” questions, and ask that students support their answers with specific words and phrases from the story. Write their thoughts on the chalkboard.
  2. Give each student a handout with a story excerpt that covers the topic or topics you are covering.
  3. Segue into questions that are more directly about the aspect of playing with language on which you want to focus (action words, dialogue, metaphors, etc). How does the author use specific words?
Action words: Underline specific word choices that bring the action to life. Describe how the imagery is crafted by action words?

Dialogue: Identify the characters in the story excerpt: their roles, status, age and relationship to each other. Discuss how the writer plays with the characters’ dialogue (distinct tone and word choices) to reveal information about each character.
4.      Write a poem or short story in which you play with language in the manner of one of the author’s discussion.
Metaphors: Underline the metaphors in the passage. Why does it work or not work for you?
5.      With their answers on the board, ask some synthesizing questions: What have they learned about playing with language from this lesson? How might they experiment with specific word choices and meanings in their own writing, in your class and in others they might be taking that semester?

Directions:  Give students a heads up about the board game they will be playing after your reading. Use index cards to create game cards with questions about your book on one side and the answers on the other side.  Print game boards on card stock paper. Break the group up into groups of 4 or 5 students. You can use buttons as player pieces.

Roll die to see who goes first. Others follow in a clockwise direction. They roll the die, take a card, answer the question correctly and move the number of dots on ONE die.  First player to reach the end of the game wins.  Continue playing to find out who comes in second, third, and fourth place.

Draw the map of an island on a crinkled up paper bag.  This will show that the map is old. 
Now add some features like mountains, caves, volcanoes, rivers, swamps, or lakes.  (This is a great way to give your kids a geography lesson!)  How about adding an old, deserted pirate town?   Remember that islands don't have to be tropical.  There are also rocky islands, jungle islands, and since this is an imaginary story, how about rainbow islands, candy islands, islands made of toys, or any combination of elements you want.
Decide who lives on the island. Maybe it’s a clan of long-lost Vikings, rock people, wacky animals, or talking birds.

Finally, start the story by bringing to the island a main character or two. What would happen when two kids get shipwrecked there, or a time-traveler shows up?  They need to have a goal as well.  It could be as simple as trying to get home, or finding an object that's needed to save the world.
Because you have a picture of your island it is easy to create a plot as your characters move from one part of the island to the other.  Create a problem to overcome at each feature.
Line1: Your first name
Line 2: Who is...(Descriptive words that describe you)
Line 3: Who is brother or sister of...
Line 4: Who loves...(three ideas or preople)
Line 5: Who feels...(three ideas )
Line 6: Who needs...(three ideas)
Line 7: Who gives...(three ideas)
Line 8: Who fears...(three ideas)
Line 9: Who would like to see...
Line 10: Who shares...
Line 11: Who is...
Line 12: Who is a resident of...
Line 13: Your last name

Example Bio-Poem
Allison Nicole

Creative, intelligent, fun, responsible, self-disciplined, and enthusiastic

Sister of Meghan Darby, Melinda, Chris and Harrison
Loves to create art, make up plays and commercials, ride Daddy's Harley, and run track
Who needs the telephone, her hair brush, macaroni and cheese, her friends and family

Who gives her MeMaw much joy, her father and mother much pride; brother and sister love
Who feels joy with her friends, creating art work, running, watching movies and eating

Who fears going from one room to another, not doing well on tests, zits and coming in last

Who would like to own a Harley, win the 880, see her room neat and tidy, win the lottery

Who shares her secrets, her worries, and her love with MeMaw

Who is an honor roll student, a typical 13-year old, a friend to Amber, Melissa and Christy

Who is a resident of Jacksonville, Florida

Author/educator Kathy Stemke

Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour:

Eighth Day of Trouble on earth Day Book Tour

Seventh Day of Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour:


Sixth Day of Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour-book Review
Fifth Day of Trouble on Earth Day Tour- Book Review
Fourth day of Trouble on Earth Day Tour- Fun Squirrel Facts
Visit third day of Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour

Please Visit the Second Day of my book Tour for Trouble on Earth Day
Celebrate Earth Day with Pictures First day of book tour for Trouble on Earth Day


Walking Through Walls Honored with the Children's Literary Classics Seal of Approval

As a 4RV Publishing author, I'm thrilled and honored to announce that Walking Through Walls has been awarded the Children's Literary Classics Seal of Approval! But, this post will also talk a bit about contests.

Literary Classics is an organization dedicated to promoting excellence in literature. Through AWARDS, BOOK REVIEWS, and SEAL OF APPROVAL PROGRAM, the committee helps you sort through the many books in circulation today. It is the CLC’s goal to help you select the finest books available. Additionally, the programs offer opportunities for publishers, authors and illustrators to receive recognition for providing excellence in literature.

This is the second award for my fantasy adventure based on and set in ancient China.In January 2012, Walking Through Walls won 1st Place in the Editors and Predators Readers Poll, in the Children's Novel category!

Walking Through Walls is a middle grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China. Wang longs to be rich…and powerful. At twelve-years-old, he already knows more about the Eternals and their way of life than many of the adults in his village. Learning about these mystics takes his thoughts away from the possibility of working in the wheat fields all his life, like his father. Wang has far grander goals.

To check out the amazing illustrations done by Aidana WillowRaven, reviews and more information on Walking Through Walls go to:


If you'd like to get your own copy for home or in the classroom (ISBN: 978-0-9826594-7-2), click the link:

4RV Publishing Book Store
Barnes and Noble

You can view the Children's Literary Classics Review of Walking Through Walls at:

Contests and Exposure

I recently had a guest post on my site by award-winning and multi-published (80+) author Nancy Sanders. Working with her publicists and publishers, she learned a thing or two about generating exposure for her books, and one great way to do this is through contests.

Obviously, each author will need to determine their individual marketing budget and see if contests can have an allotted amount, but even if you’re on a tight budget, there are things you can do to generate visibility.

Nancy suggests first making a list of those award sites you’d like to submit to, keeping the free ones up first. Then, follow the guidelines of each and enter you book.

Try to keep in mind that it’s not necessarily about winning. Nancy advises that just getting your book “in the hands of judges” is important in itself. Many of the judges are important people in their own literary circles.

To find out more of what Nancy has to say on entering contests go to:

You can also check out Nancy’s site for even more information:

Since, I think contests are an important promotional and visibility tool, I allotted as much as I could to enter those contests I thought would make a difference. Contests I entered the end of last year include:

Boston Globe Horn Books Award (No fee, 3 books)

SCBWI Golden Kite Awards (No fee, 4 books)

Newbery Medal (No fee, 2 books)

IRA Children’s and Young Adult’s Book Awards (No fee, 1 book)
International Reading Association

The Eric Hoffer Award ($50, 1 book)

USA 2012 Book Awards ($69, 1 book)

Children’s Literary Classics ($95, 3 books)

Notice that the first four award contests have NO fee. You can definitely be a cost-conscious marketer. And, again, whether you win no awards, one, two, or three awards, it’s the exposure and having the book seen by influential people that’s as important as winning.

Just a side note: I recently spoke with a librarian and she mentioned that the Newbery award is one of the ‘biggies.’ After that would come the state awards. So, take a bit of time and look into these awards . . . you never know.

Additional Reading:

Writing Children’s Books – Genre Differences
Keep Your Writing Goals Front and Center 
Children’s Writing and Publishing: The Traditional Path PART 1
Writing a Fiction Story: Walking Through Walls Backstory

Until next time,

Karen Cioffi
Award Winning Author, Freelance/Ghostwriter, Editor, Marketer

Check out Karen’s eBooks at:

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing
DKV Writing 4 U (children’s author site)


How to Sell Your Book in Bulk

  by Suzanne Lieurance Did you know that studies have shown that most self-published authors sell fewer than 200 copies of their book?   Tha...