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  1. #1
    Shaun .
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    Flip-flopping flashbacks (10X fast)

    I have a chapter that jumps in and out of flashbacks, but through 2 POVs. I've heard, flashbacks should be italicized to help readers follow the transitions. I've also heard, inner thoughts should be italicized. So what of flashbacks containing inner thoughts? Should there be some sort of extra separation? Should I not combine the two? And should I have an extra return between a present para and a flashback para?

    Any advice would be great.



  2. #2
    Senior Member
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    Shaun, italics generally aren't used for long sections; it just gets hard to read. Letters within the text are a noted example of an exception, but even these often aren't italicized because of the readabilty issue. Flashbacks are usually just clearly delinated with your standard past perfect for a couple sentences as the beginning and ending transitions. If they're longish flashbacks, you may consider a chapter break. You can even stick in dates as part of the chapter head if you need/want.

    There's no rule on whether a character's thoughts are italized. I tend to think doing so is often overkill. If you're in tight with a character's POV, the reader will get that little statements are the character's thoughts.

    For example:

    Sally pulled hair out of the dog's eyes. Her first dog had looked much like this mutt, if she gave it a bath and a good brushing. What a little hairball. She smiled and lifted it out of the garbage dump.

    If you do italize thoughts, you don't do it when you write: What a hairball of a dog, she thought.

  3. #3
    Shaun .
    Guest
    CK - As always, I'm grateful for your reply. Formatting is a big issue of mine. I've also been told to separate my dialog from everything, but I haven't seen it done that way in any books I've read. Would you know if that bit is just a style preference or just wrong?

    For example

    How I write
    The room was dim. The curtains waved as winter's wind blew through the open windows. She shivered, as did her voice. “Dad, I didn’t do anything wrong.” He reached for a six-pack placed on the dresser. The night promised to be a long one.

    How I was told to write (I think)
    The room was dim. The curtains waved as winter's wind blew through the open windows. She shivered, as did her voice.

    “Dad, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    He reached for a six-pack placed on the dresser. The night promised to be a long one.

  4. #4
    Senior Member
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    Shaun,

    That's a weird one for me because one of my favorite genre writers -- Robert Parker, whose dialog I love -- usually separates his dialog lines like you said you were told to do. It always irks me a bit. But there's no rule against it.

    There's no rule FOR it either.

    The only "rule" here is readability/speaker confusion. Neither of your examples are confusing. In the first example, you keep the dialog in the same graph with a description of the speaker's voice, which makes it pretty clear. In the second example, it's still clear because the sentence preceding your dialog refers to the speaker's voice.

    Here's how it could get confusing though if you were to follow this advice to always break your dialog into a separate graph.

    The room was dim. The curtains waved as winter's wind blew through the open windows. She shivered.

    “Dad, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    He reached for a six-pack on the dresser.

    The night promised to be a long one.


    See? A reader could think the "he" is speaking.

    But...if you make this same change without breaking graphs you get:

    The room was dim. The curtains waved as winter's wind blew through the open windows. She shivered. “Dad, I didn’t do anything wrong.” He reached for a six-pack on the dresser. The night promised to be a long one.

    There's just no chance of confusing the reader here.

    I wouldn't think of these things so much as formating. These things are choices you make within the context of your story to make the most of all the little black marks and white spaces available to you. White space (graph breaks) communicates something. As does italics and choosing to use a semicolon to hook up two sentences rather than a comma/conjunction.

    Ah, the power! Think about these things in terms of using your power well rather than as rules.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    If you want to be sure the reader knows who's talking in that example, you could put the paragraph break one sentence earlier, to put her action and dialogue together.

  6. #6
    Shaun .
    Guest
    C K - Thanks for being so helpful. I'll make some little tweeks and post in critique. Just wanted to get the formatting right so all the advice I receive will be on how to improve the writing. I appreciate all the attention.

  7. #7
    Shaun .
    Guest
    Joe - It does look like a tag.

  8. #8
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    Generally with inner thoughts, if you use a tag, i.e. Blah-blah-blah, he thought, you don't need to italicize the thought. If you do italicize the thought, then leave the tag off.

  9. #9
    Shaun .
    Guest
    Jena - Thanks. I'll make those changes.

    When I did the whole copy & paste of a portion of the chapter in question, the italics didn't go through.

    too late to edit

  10. #10
    Senior Member Zoe Saadia's Avatar
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    I like tagging the inner thoughts and no italics (and my MC is thinking, like, all the time, lol)


    CK, thank you so much for the information on italics!
    I have a few questions:
    what do you mean by a "chapter break"?
    Is it ***?
    Most of my chapters have several *** anyway. Wouldn't it be confusing to have more for the flashbacks?
    Is there another way to avoid italics but high-lighten a flashback?
    I loved your suggestion to use the past perfect, but as my flashbacks are long I'm afraid it might still be confusing. Or am I not giving a reader enough credit?

    Another question: is there an explanation for this rule John mentioned?
    I thought those flashbacks were spread nicely along the first five chapters, but I didn't plan it that way.
    Originally the MS developed orderly from the beginning to the end,
    but then someone who read it (and didn't like it for several reasons) told me that the beginning is heavy and not engaging enough. So I came up with the idea to start from the chapter 5 and tuck the first 4 chapters as flashbacks. Then I've become very fond of this version, as it added a certain degree of suspense, as if two plots were developing simultaneously right up to the major turning point of the story.
    Why am I blabbering about all this?
    I got scared by what John said about a general no-no for flashbacking the beginning of the story
    Last edited by Zoe Saadia; 06-21-2011 at 11:52 PM.

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