Monday, July 28, 2008


I’m currently at work on a short story that is a strong candidate for flashbacks. I usually avoid flashbacks, perhaps because the types of stories I tend to write do not require them. I have a few thoughts on how flashbacks/non-sequential stories can be effective.

One example of good flashbacks, in movie form, is Batman Begins. (Yes, I’ve still got Batman on my mind.) The story begins with Bruce Wayne as an adult in prison in a foreign country. The main timeline continues from that point, but periodically, we are shown flashbacks of his childhood and also a time when he was old enough for college. Had the movie started with his childhood and progressed sequentially, it would have lacked a strong hook for the opening and killed the pacing of the overall plot. Takeaway #1 – good flashbacks improve the pacing of a story and allow you to start at a more interesting point that will keep readers interested.

An example of a well-done non-sequential movie is Memento. (Yes, another film by Christopher Nolan, but the Nolan brothers are really talented writers.) The entire movie comes in short spurts, without sequence. As soon as a scene blends into one that was previously shown, it cuts. I think this was done to correlate with the protagonist’s condition: he has no short-term memory. He remembers things from long ago, but no new memories are formed; after a few minutes he forgets anything he’s just learned. Takeaway #2 – if the protagonist does not think in normal patterns, it might make sense if the story’s timeline is irregular to further draw readers into the protagonist’s mentality.

Looking back at the takeaway points, bad flashbacks get in the way of the story by interfering with the pacing (almost always by slowing it to a crawl). There should also be an identifiable main timeline (in most cases), but if the flashbacks are constant, it makes it difficult for readers to anchor themselves to the story at all. A confused or bored reader will often stop reading.

I think flashbacks can be challenging but are well worth the investment for the right story. I’m ready to give them a shot.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

I watched The Dark Knight Friday afternoon. The latest Batman film is an excellent response to the previous movie, Batman Begins.

I’ve only recently seen Batman Begins, and I felt like kicking myself for not viewing it sooner. The dialog and pacing were outstanding. When I discovered that both Batman movies had the same writers, I really wanted to see the sequel.

The Dark Knight is indeed a dark movie, but I think this is a result of casting a truthful spotlight on evil. Some films glamorize villains to the point that I find myself identifying with these antagonists and sometimes secretly cheering for them. The Joker, however, isn’t the typical villain. His only purpose is causing people pain and degrading the morality of Gotham’s citizens by putting them in situations that test their convictions. Those character traits remind me of Satan, so I’m not surprised at how creepy The Joker comes across on screen.

When I first left the theater, I thought Heath Ledger (The Joker) had outperformed Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman). Clearly Ledger’s portrayal of an insidious and deranged Joker left me with chills, but Bale’s acting was subtler. I think I’ve simply gotten so used to the smooth scenes between Michael Caine (Alfred) and Bale between both Batman movies that I expect (and take for granted) the excellence of their performances. That said, if I could only nominate one of the two men for an award, I would recommend Ledger because The Joker seemed much more complicated.

For those who haven’t seen this film yet, I don’t want to oversell it (or spoil it). I really enjoyed the movie, but in the past, I’ve sometimes been disappointed when good movies become too hyped. Of course, Batman Begins had a lot of hype, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. One measure of approval that I think most everyone could agree with: if you liked Batman Begins, you should really like The Dark Knight.

Batman has seen its share of bad sequels in the past, but if the current writers and actors stay on for yet another Batman project, I wouldn’t hesitate to see it. There is something special about the group of people that is working together to make these movies. I hope their collaboration continues in the future.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This Isn’t What We’re Looking For

I’ve collected numerous rejections of various forms from editors and agents, and there’s a certain phrase that comes up often. The common form of the phrase is: “This isn’t what we’re looking for at this time.” I have some ideas as to what this response might mean:

1. Stories with poor grammar, inconsistent characters and a confusing plot don’t match up with what we’re publishing at the moment.
2. You didn’t read our guidelines, but there’s no point in telling you that.
3. I didn’t read this, but with that stupid title, do you blame me?
4. I’d rather not stain our issue with your name.
5. Five minutes ago, I’d have sent you a contract for publication. Unfortunately, it’s now the hour of rejection.
6. I’m waiting for Stephen King to submit something.
7. I can’t make any money with this crap you sent me.
8. We had fifty submissions this month, and they all looked like variants of your story, as well as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
9. I only have enough room left in this issue for 2100 words, and those words will come from me.

10. I’m trying to find stories about monkey ninjas exploring outer space. But not like the one you submitted.