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Past, Present and Future

Sometimes a writer forgets that their characters have pasts and futures, just like all of us do. There’s not an hour goes by that I don’t, personally, think about something in either the past or the future. It can be something mundane or something huge that I’ve either lived through or am dreaming about.

A lot of the time, especially when I’m writing a first draft or an early revision, I forget that my characters must be like this, too.

Every character must feel the weight of the past, present and future at every moment.

Not in an overbearing or obvious way, of course. Please don’t take this as free license to write something like:

Just sitting in chem lab, Judy felt ready to explode: not only was her embarrassment at the audition yesterday still fresh in mind but the callbacks would be tomorrow! To top it all off, her stomach rumbled so loudly that people all the way across campus could probably hear it.

But there is something compelling about keeping all three of these balls in the air at the same time. A lot of manuscripts suffer from a lack of tension. There’s not a very clear feeling of what is at stake in the moment. Sometimes, adding a past and mixing it with over the future just might be the ticket to increasing tension.

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  1. Lynn Rush’s avatar

    Great post. I often get caught up in their pasts and how nuts it makes them in the present, but the future…great point. Need that to bring depth to the character. Nicely said!

  2. loretta kapinos’s avatar

    I like to write short stories involving the past of my characters. It helps me when I am blocked, out of character or need some inspiration to keep writing. The stories never make it into my novel, but one day I hope to add them to the book’s website as an interactive feature.

  3. Laura Diamond’s avatar

    What a great way to build tension–great post! :D

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