Last week I read an article by the brilliant romance writer and teacher, Pat Kay, which cautioned against overuse of flashbacks. The same day I started reading a literary novel written mostly in flashbacks with only about a quarter of the interspersed action occurring in the present of the story. The premise and the setting of the book were intriguing, but I couldn’t help wondering why the author chose that structure to tell her story.
Perhaps we writers see too much craft in the books we read and miss some of the magic. Or maybe we just pick up on what it is that makes a reader respond a certain way. For me, flashbacks yank me out of the story then force me to re-engage in a past only to plop me back in a present. After a couple of those jumps, I detach from the characters and their journey. As much as I wanted to love the book, I was disappointed that I couldn’t care more about the characters. It got me thinking about what I want to accomplish with my own writing.
Although the romance genre frequently gets slashed for “bad writing,” “formulaic plots,” and “unrealistic love stories,” the writers I know work hard to perfect their craft. Over the years I’ve gone to countless workshops on everything from plotting to point-of-view to engaging the reader and on and on. Like all my writer friends, I’ve worked hard to learn how to create characters readers will care enough about to get lost in their lives for a little while, to be immersed in their struggles, mistakes, and the redemption which leads to a happily-ever-after. The learning never ends, of course, but neither does a writer’s journey. We write, rewrite and re-write again, hoping to achieve at least a part of what we aspire to. Our job is to entertain and move the reader, and unless we do that it’s unlikely an agent will want to represent us, an editor will want to publish our story or anyone will buy our books. Sure, there are plenty mediocre romances out there, but there are also brilliantly written stories that make us laugh and cry and wish they’d never end. Those are the up-lifting stories we all invest our hearts and souls to write.