Bending Time

I was reading and enjoying Melissa Marr’s spooky novel Graveminder when I came across several flashbacks. I had an idea that these events were in the past but to help that along the author chose to set them off by using italics. I have I already posted in here about my dislike of the overuse of italics in recent works. Well, I really did not enjoy reading 4 pages of italics. Flashbacks I like. They provide back-story and context for our characters in a way straight narrative sometimes cannot. I just do not want to have to read four pages of italics. I am enjoying the book so far and think the writer is more than capable of indicating to the reader that the next part is something that happened in the past. So I am hoping the italics thing was just an experiment.

It did get me thinking about how many ways there are to set off flashbacks. I don’t like to think of any technique in writing as wrong or right but for flashbacks I have come across one way that pretty much works all the time. Basically it involves the use of three, “had,” verbs. The technical term is the past perfect form of the verb. You use two to start the flashback, sending the reader back in time. The third one is used at the end of the flashback to pull the reader back into the present time. Like so.

Marc paused. He knew what he wanted to do, what he could do, but not what he should do. Flynn told him about the buckling in the hull a week ago. He had made his first mistake as commander then. He had looked into her eyes and saw fear. “What do you want me to do?”
I’m sorry but you are supposed to know what to do, you wear the gold bars on your sleeve.”
“I just can’t take a whole deck off line. That’s home to our most expensive suites, all the big wigs stay on that deck.”
“Inconvenience them or expose them to space. It’s still your call.” The way Flynn had said it left little room for debate.

Simple and direct with just a few extra words. To me, this is just a more natural way to read. That is not to say the italics would not work.

Marc paused. He knew what he wanted to do, what he could do, but not what he should do. Flynn told him about the buckling in the hull a week ago.
“What do you want me to do?”
I’m sorry but you are supposed to know what to do, you wear the gold bars on your sleeve.”
“I just can’t take a whole deck off line. That’s home to our most expensive suites, all the big wigs stay on that deck.”
“Inconvenience them or expose them to space. It’s still your call.” The way Flynn had said it left little room for debate.

Like I said it isn’t necessarily wrong. I don’t like it. I hate the thought that writers have come to use typesetting instead of writing to tell their stories now. If you have any thoughts let me know in the comment section. Is this a coming trend that I should just get used to? Do we as writers have a responsibility to maintain a certain integrity and level of craft at the risk of being old fashioned? And do pick up Graveminder it is an awesome story with great characters.

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About Vincent A. Alascia

Vincent is the author of, "In the Presence of Gods," "Xristos: Chosen of God," and coming soon, "Undead Heart," available on Kindle and paperback, as well as works that have appeared in anthologies and online. Originally an East Coast native, he makes his home in the Phoenix area of Arizona with his wife and three attention grabbing felines. Vincent is an active member of the West Valley Writers' Workshop and an Adult Services librarian at the Maricopa County Library District Northwest Regional Library in Surprise, Arizona.
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