A Song for the Crowds

by Marianne Su

They start calling my name as the lights dim.  The others run up the stairs ahead of me.  Their appearance triggers the familiar chant and flood of lights.  It’s a ritual that repeats itself, punctuating my life, night after night.  An outstretched hand slaps me on the back as I step onto the stairs and force my reluctant legs to carry me into the spotlight.

The noise erupts as the band starts up.  The bouncing bodies and waving hands are anonymous until the floodlights reveal their faces.  I scan the front row.  Night after night they all look the same.  Wide eyed with expectation and admiration, they shout out to me, indistinct and meaningless.    

With the first chords of the guitar, darkness swallows them whole again, leaving me with the brutal allusion that I’m alone on stage with the music.  I grab the microphone and yell out the words the way they like.  Erupting screams compete with a chorus of voices singing lyrics.  I close my eyes to focus on the night I wrote that song, the night the words meant something, before they were claimed by the voices of thousands. 

As their song comes to an end, I ease my eyes open to face the crowd.  With a mental swift kick, I remind myself that this is the wish of every dreamer with a guitar.  I had a good thing.  If only I hadn’t lost the music along the way.


So you’re into a story, feeling the characters, loving the plot…and then you’re thrown into a chunk of a flashback.  First reaction?  Most people just want to read through them so they can get back to the real story. 

So what does a writer do when they’re crucial to the plot and characters?  Lately I’ve been struggling with that question.  A lot of what I hear is that flashbacks don’t work but then again I’ve read writers who do them well.  My WIP has a strong backstory that can only be told through flashbacks so I’ve been spending countless hours working and reworking them and this is what I’ve discovered so far:

1)      Keep the Crucial:  Once finished, the reader should be able to pinpoint the reason for the flashback and feel empowered with that new knowledge as the main storyline continues.  Remember that their purpose is to provide information crucial to the story in a way that’s as compelling as the rest of your story. 

2)      Keep them Short:  The flashback has a purpose, right?  So get to the point.  Make them only as long as they need to be and no longer.  Similarly, they should be used sparingly as they can slow down the story (I’m still working on this). 

3)      Make them Clear:  Flashbacks can be jarring and confusing (not to mention annoying) if it’s not clear what’s happening.  If you’re going back in time, the reader should be aware of it.  Sometimes starting a flashback at the beginning of a new chapter or using section breaks can be helpful.  Some people have suggested using italics for the whole flashback but this just makes it hard to read.  I prefer to use the narrative to show the reader they are going back in time.

4)      Make us Care: The placement and timing of the flashback is key.  It took me a while to figure this out but now I know that at the time of the flashback, the reader has to really care about what happened in this character’s past.  In other words, the flashback must be built up so the reader is left with a hole that needs to be filled, a “why” question that needs an answer.  This gives the flashback some weight and immediacy.    

I don’t generally believe in writing rules so these I use more as guidelines for myself.  I will continue to experiment with this so if you have any tips or opinions on writing flashbacks, I invite you to offer them here.

One Lovely Blog Award

It was an otherwise uneventful afternoon when Dianne notified me of the news.  I’m one of the latest recipients of the One Lovely Blog Award.  Thanks, Dianne.  I accept and comply with the request to provide seven facts about myself.  So here I go…seven facts about myself?  For the next few moments, pretend that you’ve been wishing lately that you know more about me.  I hope I don’t disappoint you…

One: I love music.  But avoid radio.  I prefer to find my own music through the internet and friend referrals.  Although I’m a writer and appreciate lyrics in songs, some of my favourite songs are not examples of lyrical genius.  “School” by Nirvana has just four lines of lyrics “No Recess, No Recess..” everyone now…

Two: I can touch my tongue to my nose.  (I’m getting desperate here)  Doesn’t sound like much but only a small portion of people can actually do this.  I’m proud to say that thanks to my strong genes, my daughter has inherited this talent and proudly boasts this fact.  (Got you trying this, didn’t I?)

Three: I never wear socks.  I live in Toronto and winters can get cold but I don’t wear socks on a daily basis.  If I’m out in the cold all day, I’ll reluctantly bend this rule.

Four: I’ve always wanted to paint.  When I win the lottery (or retire) I plan to spend my time wasting away with a brush and canvas (just like a certain mc of mine).

Five: I have an interest, bordering on obsession, in bracelets.  I wear the same earrings most of the time, don’t like necklaces, sometimes do chunky rings, but bracelets…love them.

Six: Once had a psychic tell me I’d marry into royalty…Kate Middleton must have been sitting nearby.

Seven: According to my three kids, I am the best mother in the world.  This wasn’t determined through scientific survey but I thought I’d mention it since despite the above fascinating facts, this one is most important to me.

Now for the next step in this honour, here is my (short) list of nominees, both very lovely bloggers:

Natalie Westgate (who is busy moving and may not be able to respond to this for a few weeks)