Monthly Archives October 2013

Critique Technique, Part 26—Tangents

Lines tangent to circles and ellipses

Image courtesy Wikimedia

If you look up “tangent” in the dictionary, it takes a while to get to the definition like this one from Webster’s Universal College Dictionary: “digressing suddenly from one course of action or thought and turning to another.”

Tangents share a characteristic with excessive backstory and flashbacks: they start from the current story moment and then shift in time, place, point of view, or topic. As with a flashback, the author may mean to provide some kind of amplifying information, but then he forgets to stop after providing it and wanders not only off the beaten path, but off any path at all.

Sometimes that can be intentional, for example if she’s trying to produce a piece of stream-of-consciousness writing...

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Critique Technique, Part 25—Misused Backstory or Flashback

A twisted, two-ended red pencil

Image courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Backstory and its kissing cousin flashback are techniques authors use to provide amplifying information about a situation, a location, or a character. Flashbacks and backstory differ from “front story” in that the author jumps away from the story’s current timeline to relate them, then jumps back (but not backwards) to the story’s present to continue.

Jumping forward in time—a “flash forward”—can have the same purpose, and everything below also applies.

Flashing back is in fact a technique for relating backstory. A brief interruption of the story’s flow, it can be:

  • Initiated by the narrator to provide information not available to the characters;
  • A character’s memory; or
  • A conversation between two or more characters (“You remember w...
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Critique Technique, Part 24—Unclear Transitions

Blank directional signs

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post begins a series on flashbacks, flash-forwards, and backstory: that ancillary material that fills out a story and its characters by introducing information that doesn’t fit into the piece’s main flow. As with so much of the other subjects I’ve discussed, this topic applies to non-fiction as well as fiction.

Before I get to flashbacks, etc., though, I need a transition: this post on transitions.

A transition is a bridge, a connection between two pieces of a story, such as when the story changes:

  • Time, that is, moves into the future or past relative to the current moment;
  • Location;
  • Point-of-view or focus character, in other words, whose eyes the story is being told through or whom it is focused on;
  • Mood or tone;
  • Topic (particularl...
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