Tip from What I'm Reading: The Infinitesimal Flashback

So how are you doing with your To-Be-Read pile? I'm sure you're reading widely in your genre and others, right? Daily? Poring over new releases and historic heavy-hitters alike? I try to get through 3-4 horror/dark novels a week (though sometimes it's only 1-2, since I can read ponderously slow, especially if I'm studying the book as I go.) This week, I've been working over a 2003 Straub - LOST BOY LOST GIRL and a much older Ramsey Campbell, THE INFLUENCE (1988). 

As usually happens, I ran across sections of these books that sloshed with great tides of awesomesauce or writerly devices that made me think. So in the spirit of sharing, I'd like to maybe introduce a regular blog feature (which the disorganized blog-pantzer part of me will probably come to regret) called Tips from What I'm Reading. So this week's tip is from:

(And even if you don't read horror, you should check Straub out. Literary and resonant and supremely character-driven, Straub also knows how to pull taut that string of tension.)

Anyway, one tactic from this book that wowed me was what I'll call The Infinitesimal Flashback. During the beginning of the novel, Straub gets you all comfortable in one person's POV and time-slot. Then you realize he's nipped into another time-slot and POV, but it's not a huge, far-away flashback. He just plucks you from the now and drops you back, say, a few weeks ago. Or a few months ahead. And this isn't info-dump stuff, y'all.

These tiny time-jumps are full of tension and action and brilliance. And just when you're all caught up in that moment - he drops you abruptly back into the initial timeslot, so you're all but eating the pages in agony over WHAT THE HELL'S HAPPENING back in the other. Brillz, y'all. Freakin brilliant. (Not to mention Straub's vigorous-as-hell prose. One of my favorites? "Mark raked him with a glance." Nice.)

I did successfully deploy the infinitesimal flashback in my current WIP (once in the same chapter, using itals to note the different time-slots) - and it's no back-story info-dump either. It solved a minor plot problem for me, while adding some interest, and allowed me to drop in a necessary fact or two while also hinting at newer, fresher problems to come in future chapters - and ALL couched within action and tension, not simple exposition. It was great fun.

So what about you? Read something lately that inspired you, device-wise? Share!


JustineDell | April 14, 2010 at 9:51 AM

Whoa! 3-4 a week? I would love to get one done per week! I'm totally envious of you!

I love to read, but sometimes I don't because when I do then all I can think is, "Man, I'll never be as good as this!"


Zoe C. Courtman | April 14, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Thanks for stopping by, Justine! Aw, don't not read because you might feel discouraged! Look at the good ones as teachers! Maybe read outside of your genre if you feel too daunted - or read IN your genre and learn what tools the authors are using to make the books so good - and then totally crib them for your own use! :D

Lydia Kang | April 14, 2010 at 10:02 AM

I'm totally into analyzing author's flashbacks right now. Big ones, little ones, obvious ones, hidden ones.
they're everywhere!

Zoe C. Courtman | April 14, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Hey, Lydia! Man, me, too! I think what tripped me out about Straub's were his delicate touch with them, and the teeny nature of them! Man, he's so good.

Creepy Query Girl | April 14, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Ugh, I wish! I'm so behind on reading it's not even funny. It doesn't help that I live in france and newly released books in english are few and far between. I usually have to order them from amazon.uk or download them. So I'm always on the lookout for great reviews. My tastes are insanely ecclectic.

Zoe C. Courtman | April 14, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Thanks, Creepy Query Girl! What kind of genres do you find yourself picking up the most?

Lola Sharp | April 14, 2010 at 10:49 PM

I read a lot as well. Mostly because I enjoy it so much, but also to study the craft. I am a literary omnivore, and gobble up books in every genre. I go through phases.

I enjoyed this post!


Stina Lindenblatt | April 14, 2010 at 11:37 PM

I love getting ideas from books that I might not have previously considered. I reviewed such a book on my blog the other day. It made me want to use metaphors I hadn't thought about doing until I saw how beautifully the author did them. Of course she made it appear easy. Now that's talent.

Zoe C. Courtman | April 15, 2010 at 9:05 AM

Thanks, Lola! I'm right there with you. My library wall shelves have spilled over onto piles that just chase me around the house, lol. But I wouldn't have it any other way!! Your "sappy" post was gorgeous, by the way...

Hey, Stina! Thanks so much for popping by! I love finding cool writer devices in books. And a good metaphor--! Makes a book, man. Just makes it :D

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