Every now and then I'll get all meta-y and write about writing. I can stop now, because someone has said it a thousand times better than I ever could. This is an excellent book; I highly recommend it:
"Elements of Writing Fiction - Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)" by Nancy Kress
Example on flashbacks: "A writer always pays a price for flashbacks. Any flashback, no matter how well written or interesting, will distance your reader from the action. This is because flashbacks shatter the illusion that the reader is a fly on the wall, witnessing events as they happen, right now. The flashback is not happening right now--it is , by definition, already over."
OMG! YES! Thank you. Of course, she's not saying never use flashbacks, but you pay a price for this technique and it will slow down the action. If you're at a point in your story where you can spend a little tension capital, then it's worth it if it acts as a critical plot dump or characterization dump. She has a great bit on tension and how you can't have every chapter or section be crazy with tension because then it no longer functions as tension. You need peaks and valleys.
This book is filled with a host of wonderful nuggets of how writing works mechanically. Yes, I believe there are people who are gifted writers. They just know how to throw words together. But I also firmly believe that anyone can write a decent story that will satisfy the reader. Writing is a lot about mechanics. It's about thinking REALLY CAREFULLY about how you are saying something.
It took me years to get to the place in my writing where I am now. Most of what she presents in this book I gleaned through trial and error (mostly error, still error). I don't know if this book would have cut out a year or two of frustration, but it's nice to see someone articulate why a paragraph works and why it doesn't. Why I will read the first 1000 words of a book and I will say, okay, this writer has a map, a concept, and I will keep on reading. And why with another author I will say, no, this is someone who is without a map, and I'll put it down never to be picked up again. This is not to say they won't find a map. That's the great thing about writing maps. They aren't proprietary. There isn't a secret "map" store. An idea is the first step in making your own map. A map you'll share. I liken an author to being like big game hunter without all the awful killing of animals bit. I'm leading you into the bush. There's danger and beauty and drama and humor. Hopefully, neither of us will get lost. No worries! Here is my map! Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!