Need to give your antagonist (or maybe even your protagonist) an antagonizing tactic. Consider one (or more) of these…
Speaking at the Hay literary festival, the Irish novelist said modern writers should emulate Jane Austen and stop overdoing the backstory
By Mark Brown
Colm Tóibín has issued a rallying call against what he sees as the scourge of modern literature: flashbacks.
The Irish novelist said the narrative device was infuriating, with too many writers skipping back and forward in time to fill in all the gaps in a story.
“We are living in the most terrible age,” Tóibín told the Hay literary festival in Wales. “I know people are worried about Brexit and I know people worry about Donald Trump. But I worry about the flashback.
“You can’t read any book now – any book – without suddenly, on chapter 2, [the writer] taking you back to where everybody was 20 years ago. How their parents met, how their grandparents met.”
Tóibín was taking part in a panel discussion on Jane Austen, who, he said, wrote complex, layered characters without ever contemplating a flashback.
For example, he said, Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is a number of different characters, with the reader feeling less on his side as the novel progresses. Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, meanwhile, is not very bright and then she is. “That lack of being obvious gives her a depth, especially her stubborn feelings.”
Tóibín urged writers to leave it to readers to figure out a person’s character. “I like the business of: we don’t know, it is left out, just imagine it yourself… you do it! I do not want to know how Mr Bennet met Mrs Bennet.” Having said that, how they met is a complete mystery, he said. “What happened that night?”
Tóibín said that although Mr and Mrs Bennet are not physically described in Pride and Prejudice’s first chapter, you know how to read both of them straight away from the things they say.
The panel was one of a number of Austen-themed events taking place in the run-up to the 200th anniversary of her death on 18 July. Tóibín was also launching his new book House of Names, a retelling of the classical Greek tales of the house of Atreus, including the stories of Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra, their son Orestes and daughters Iphigenia and Electra.
My Top Tips For Writing a Time Slip Novel By Kim Fleet
A time-slip novel contains two or more stories, each set in a different time period, told in parallel with each other. In my latest novel, Holy Blood, one story line is in contemporary Cheltenham, the other in the Elizabethan Cotswolds. Writing time-slip brings its own joys (exploring new characters and situations) and challenges (double the research), so here are some tips to keep you time travelling painlessly.
Decide which is the main story: it helps you to plan your story arc and focus on the main themes of the novel. It also helps to keep characters under control – especially the bolshy ones who think it’s all about them.
Question everything. First ideas aren’t always best, and I rely on my secret weapon, the question, ‘What if?’ when I’m planning and writing a book to ensure I’ve explored all possibilities and chosen the ones that I think will work best. I ask myself, ‘What if this was set in the war? What if this character was a girl, not a boy?’
Use at least three sources for your research. I use the internet for initial research, but I always cross-check using reputable books. It’s a great excuse to get absorbed in the past. Visiting locations can help you pick up details you wouldn’t get from books.
Don’t overdo the historical details by shoehorning everything you’ve researched into the book as it makes the narrative stodgy. If you can keep the sense of the time in your mind while you write, somehow it comes out on the page.
Ensure the stories in the two time periods link up by having situations, objects or places that appear in each. Ideally, both story lines should resolve each other, even better!
Mind your language. Slightly more formal speech and the occasional thee or thou is enough to remind the reader we’re in the past. Under no circumstances use ‘Hey nonny’.
Avoid anachronisms by checking your facts rigorously and remember that not everyone uses an invention the moment it comes out. Words change their meaning, fall out of fashion, and new words come in.
Use coloured pens and index cards, allocating one card for each scene in the book, and different colours to indicate time periods. When you set them out in order you can easily see where you spend too long in one time period and need to break things up.
Use cliff hangers. One of the joys of writing time-slip is that you get a double whammy by ending a chapter on a cliff hanger and by changing time period. It makes the pace very fast.
Get your crayons out and map the connections between all your characters. A character with only one link needs to be given more to do, or be amalgamated with another ‘thin’ character. The density of connections shows where you need an extra sub-plot.
Emerging Writer’s Contest
Deadline is May 22, 2017
The Emerging Writer’s Contest is open to writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry who have yet to publish or self-publish a book. The winner in each genre will be awarded $2,000. Read past winners of the contest here. To submit to the Emerging Writer’s Contest, please visit our submission manager.
The 2017 contest judges are Garth Greenwell (fiction), Meghan Daum (nonfiction), and Natalie Diaz (poetry).
The winning story, essay, and poems from the 2017 contest will be published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Ploughshares, and each writer will receive $2,000 and two copies of the issue in which their work appears.
You are eligible if you:
The contest opens March 1, 2017 at noon EST and has been extended to May 22, 2017 at noon EST. We will announce winners in mid-September, 2017.
Fiction and Nonfiction: Under 6,000 words
Poetry: 3-5 pages
Submit one entry per year via our online submission manager.
Entry to the contest requires a $24 fee, which is waived if the submitter is a current subscriber. The fee is:
Current subscribers—through the Winter 2017-18 issue—may submit for free.*
*If you are a current subscriber, you will still be prompted to checkout, but you will not be required to enter your credit card information and will not be charged.
To submit to the Emerging Writer’s Contest, please visit our submission manager.
Source: Guidelines | Ploughshares