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How writing scenes from your character’s past can bring your story to life

Writing flashbacks and memories into your story can add another dimension to your characters and your plot. It’s a great technique that can bring your story to life – if it’s not done well, it can be very jarring to your reader. Here’s what you need to know to make flashbacks and memories flow seamlessly in your story.

Maybe your character’s past is the key to readers understanding them and caring about their current struggles…but how do you clue in your readers without taking the momentum out of the current storyline?

There could be a scene—the scene—from your character’s past that will finally reveal the secret they’ve been keeping. How do you insert it into an otherwise present-day narrative?

Memories crowd your character’s mind, and add texture and flavour to their story. But how many is too many? How long is too long?

Key information
Key information:
This is an online self-paced seminar
Duration 1 This is an online self-paced seminar

Duration:
1.5 hours. Your 12 months’ access begins straight away

Duration:
1.5 hours. Your 12 months’ access begins straight away

Seminar presenter:
Pamela Freeman
Seminar presenter:
Pamela Freeman

$65

“I appreciated that Pamela focused first on why and when to use memories and flashbacks, and then the technical insights about tense and starting and stopping them (i.e. flagging the move to a different time and then the returning to the present). It is very helpful to be given criteria for making choices about using these devices. This is of huge practical assistance as a learner writer.”

Amanda Barnier

You’re not sure if you need a dual timeline, but you quail at the thought of juggling two different storylines. Can you get away with just a lot of flashbacks?

And how do you keep all those tenses straight when you’re playing with the past?

This Focus On online seminar will explore all those questions, and more.

Whether it’s the straightforward management of grammar when memories or flashbacks are used (if you know the rules!), or the balance between the main storyline and the POV character’s memories, this seminar will guide you through the thorny decisions that go along with exploring your character’s past.

Working backwards (and forwards)

‘It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,' says the White Queen to Alice.
― Lewis Carroll. 

The great thing about using your character’s past as a part of your story is that you are in control of which memories, how much of them is told, and what order they come in. Memories are non-linear, and that opens wonderful opportunities for controlling narrative tension, teasing the reader with glimpses of the past to create story questions, and revealing consequences before you reveal causes.

Your character’s memories, whether simply told or remembered or flashbacked, will make them and your story feel richer, more believable, and stronger. 

This seminar explores the following:

  • When should you use memories or flashbacks?
  • What’s the difference between writing a memory and a flashback?
  • How do you decide which to use?
  • Are there times when you should just tell what’s happened, rather than show it?
  • Are there rules about which tenses to use (hint: there are)?
  • If you’re using a lot of memories, do you need a dual timeline?
  • How do you transition between the past and the present without confusing readers or losing pace?
  • Do you need to keep the memories in chronological order?
  • And much more!

“This seminar exceeded my expectations. I definitely recommend attending Focus On sessions because they deliver information on writing techniques in bite-size pieces, allowing us to absorb and practise it before learning more.”

Jocelyn Watts

In this Focus On seminar

Pamela draws on her years of experience and highlights how to decide what memories you need to share with the reader and how to tell them. Each of our popular FOCUS ON seminars explores an important aspect of the art of writing – in an accessible and efficient way. The session consists of a 1 hour expert presentation plus an additional 30 minute Q&A – designed to entertain, educate and inspire you to improve your craft. 

Meet your presenter

Pamela Freeman is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 40 books and novellas, plus short stories and scripts. She writes under two names: Pamela Freeman for children’s and fantasy, and Pamela Hart for mystery novels and historical fiction.

Prolific across multiple genres, Pamela has a Doctorate in Creative Arts (Writing) and she has been the director of creative writing here at the Australian Writers' Centre for over 10 years.

“Pamela teaches difficult concepts in a way that’s succinct, accessible, easy to grasp and memorable. It gave me the confidence to include memories in my own writing. My major learning [from this seminar] was understanding the correct use of tenses in flashbacks and memories.”

Key information
Key information:
This is an online self-paced seminar
Duration 1 This is an online self-paced seminar

Duration:
1.5 hours. Your 12 months’ access begins straight away

Duration:
1.5 hours. Your 12 months’ access begins straight away

Seminar presenter:
Pamela Freeman
Seminar presenter:
Pamela Freeman

$65

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