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Flashbacks in Books

Verb tense is already complicated. Throw some flashbacks in your book and it gets even worse. Here are some examples to help you manage flashbacks and verb tense in fiction.

By
Neal Whitman, Writing for
6-minute read
Episode #363

Style Plays a Role in Flashbacks and Verb Tense

So to answer Joy’s question, to some degree it’s a matter of personal writing style whether you use the past perfect for your entire flashback, or look for an opportunity to ease into the simple past tense. If your flashback takes up an entire chapter, or section of a book, you’ll definitely want to slip into the more comfortable past tense, but for flashbacks of several paragraphs or several pages, styles differ. Even so, there are a couple of areas where our sample authors (and other authors I’ve read) agree. First, if you need to do a flashback within a flashback, it’s easier to do this if you’ve managed to shift to the past tense in the main flashback. And second, when it’s time to exit a flashback and return to the main narrative, insert a break in your text, and help your readers out by giving context clues to remind them of where you’re picking up the story again.

This podcast was written by Neal Whitman, who blogs about linguistics at literalminded.wordpress.com and is a regular columnist for the online resource Visual Thesaurus.

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About the Author

Neal Whitman, Writing for Grammar Girl

Neal Whitman PhD is an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can find him at literalminded.wordpress.com.

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