Verb Tense, Flashbacks, and Fiction: The Past of the Past in Creative Writing


An important topic. Really difficult for most beginning authors.

Creative Writing with the Crimson League

looking backward looking backward

Today, I want to explore one of the trickier aspects of writing mechanics: verb tense and the past, especially where flashback scenes are concerned. I was asked by one of the blog’s followers to write this, and I thought it was a great idea!

Levels of Temporality

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are levels of temporality, or time, within your average text. Assuming you’re writing a standard text using past tense verbs instead of the present tense, you have:

  • THE PRESENT. This is the level where your narrator is located, looking back at past events.
  • PAST 1. This is the basic level of your action, where the major events of your plot occur and where your characters are. As this level is in the past in comparison to the narration, the basic past tense of verbs is used. Said, yelled, ran…

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