A nice little aside

Just wrote this little aside that I liked and wanted to share. It’s from book two in the series, in rewrites as I type, and occurs almost entirely in Portia’s head. Let me know what you think?

The next morning was a Saturday, and found me on the floor of my living room with several maps of London spread in front of me. I was circling and marking areas that I still needed to explore, some in the poorer areas of the city that my grandmother had grown up in.

A knock at the door caused me to pause in my work, but not taking my eyes from the papers, I called from the floor, “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Miss. Adams,” returned the voice of Brian Dawes.

I frowned. We had not really spoken since that awkward moment at Jenkin’s and he had since began a relationship with Annie Coleson. For almost two decades in Toronto, I had been a very solitary child and then teenager, used to being on the periphery of my schoolmates lives. I observed their relationships from the outside, in an almost clinical way, watching the young women of my class grow from bratty children who made fun of me to refined ladies who disdained me. Brian Dawes was one of the first true friends I had ever had, and now, now he was spending his time with a young woman who reminded me of those downtown ladies, who had looked at me aslant under long eyelashes with whispered condescension.

Maybe that wasn’t fair. Annie had never ignored me, she in fact had extended the hand of partnership if not friendship towards me. Brian knocked again. She had extended that hand to both of us, and one of us had taken her up on it.

PS: This is one of those scenes where initially I had written: “Portia feels left out” and decided that was another example of me ‘telling’ not ‘showing’ and fixed it.

From Scotland Yard to 10 Downing Street

I was writing a scene where Portia hops in a cab to get from Scotland Yard to Downing Street, but it occurred to me that those locations might not be far apart – glad I checked!

The borough of Stepney

Photo taken by John Gay. "On a cold day a woman walks past the Chevrah Shass Synagogue, which is tucked away down an alley. The carriage archway from the street is flanked by local shops."
Photo taken by John Gay.
“On a cold day a woman walks past the Chevrah Shass Synagogue, which is tucked away down an alley. The carriage archway from the street is flanked by local shops.”
For my latest villain (she’s not so bad, but she does tend to blow things up poor dear) I was looking for an area of London where she could set up a home base.

Stepney is the borough I chose because it was a friendly place for immigrants, which my villain is.

It’s in East London, on the North side of the Thames.

Stepney Station

Scene stealers

Nailed it!

Oh yes,that scene is lovely, yes it is.

I don’t know if this is your experience as well friends, but there are times when I write a scene in my handy-dandy Moleskin and it’s… well, for lack of a better word, kind of meh.

It hits all the points it was supposed to, sure, and might even have some nice dialogue in it, but there’s nothing memorable in it. Nothing that makes you want to turn the page if you know what I mean.

I find that when I am transcribing from notebook to laptop I create much more visual and packaged scenes. The kind of scenes that not only paint a picture but frame it, hang it on the wall and get bid on in an auction.

That was what happened this morning in my first all-important scene between Portia and Dr. Olsen – my magical laptop took it to the next level, and if my readers are not asking themselves  ‘Holy crap, I wonder what Portia is going to do with THAT?’ at the end of it, I’ll eat my Moleskin. Or a new moleskin (not the one I’ve written in ’cause that’s just crazy-talk).

How to write an effective ‘flashback’ (and bring your reader with you!)

I promised my friend Rami over at ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com a post about writing effective flashback scenes (something I don’t think I’ve nailed), so after some research, here are my findings.

First a wikipedia definition in case not everyone uses the same term:

Flashback (narrative), in literature and dramatic media, an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point

The Writers Digest has a great post about this issue in which they offer 3 tips:

  1. Your flashback should follow a strong scene. (so the flashback should not be your FIRST scene, though lots of TV shows start that way, with a scene from the future that makes no sense, and then a black screen that says ’72 hours earlier’ or something like that)
  2. Orient us at the start of the flashback in time and space (in other words, don’t just give a time reference for the flash back, also set the scene in terms of characters and where they are).
  3. Use verb tense conventions to guide your reader in and out of the flashback (tricky, but it depends on what tense your ‘current’ timeline is written in and from what voice)

In case ‘past perfect’ is only known to you because you studied French in school, Hallie Ephron has written a useful table to use for tenses and flashbacks:


If the main story is written in… Write the flashback in…
Present Tense Past Tense
He runs He ran
Past Tense Past Perfect Tense
He ran He had run

On Quora, where there is a question open on this subject, Mark Hughes (Screenwriter, Forbes Blogger) had an interesting suggestion:

In novel or other literary form, I personally believe the best flashback method is to alternate chapters/sections of the writing, so that (just for example) Chapter One is set in the present, and ends by leading us into a scene that links to the past. Then Chapter Two is all flashback, related to the concept/theme/actual events of the final scene in the previous chapter. And so on.

I also liked Dan Goodswen’s answer in the same Quora question where he says he writes flashbacks in a different voice, so no one is confused.
Read Quote of Dan Goodswen’s answer to Writing: What are the best ways to write flashback scenes? on Quora

For example, my main story is often written in the first person. To borrow the opening line from the novel I’m currently writing;

I’m carrying her in my arms when I feel the first blow.

But if I wanted to make this a flashback, I might use the second person, to differentiate the voice between chapters, and help the reader understand that this isn’t part of the main story.

A second person flashback might look like this;

You’re carrying her in your arms when you feel the first blow.

The same sentence, but given an immediate difference by the change from first to second person.

I’m going to apply most of this (the past-perfect stuff I still find confusing but I’m game to try) on my flashback scene in Principessa.

Let me know if you find this useful, and please, let me know if you have other ideas on this!