The Fridays – Introduction (to the introduction)

Do not start with solutions, but start with the problem...
Do not start with solutions, but start with the problem…

Lets call is appligeddon, the writing of the EU grant application is taking up a lot of time. So that is why I have not written anything for / on Friday. Last time I discussed the purpose and necessity of a good good abstract. Now I would like to address the introduction of a grant application.

Granted, not every grant application starts with an introduction in the classic sense as we know it from a written article or how we write it in a thesis. However, when you start discussing what you want to do (your aim(s)) how you going to do what you want to do you  (your methods) you need to warm up the readers. In regards to many grant applications this means you are explaining why you need the money more than someone else. Typically the review will have a means to score the application given a set of guidelines. If you tick off all the boxes, your application is better than one that does not. Some systems include scoring, and sometimes a few sets of scores need to meet a threshold (like the one we are working on now). However, in general you need to break the ice fast and be clear and precise in explaining what the problem is and why it is so important to solve this problem. Later you will have to convince that you and your methods are the only ones and for sure the best ones in the world to solve this problem, which is so important in the first place.

So this is where you introduction starts. Often I see a long three-four paragraph build-up leading to the problem. This clarifies the problem when you first see it, but it is not a good hook. What do you rather read: a page introduction on the early life of Charles Foster Kane, how he reflects his position in his family when he was a child, or that memorable opening scenes that makes you want to followed his life’s story to the end?

A grant application is not a classic story in that sense, but grab the attention from the beginning. In stead of starting like this:

A  promising new family of more complex protein based therapeutic agents, known as biologics is coming to light. [MORE BACKGROUND]. Resources spent in drug research increase exponentially, while the number of new drugs that come to the market remain constant.

Here we start with providing an answer to a problem that follows later. The reader did not know yet what the problem was, so the solution is not very evident. So lets start like this:

Resources spent in drug research increase exponentially, while the number of new drugs that come to the market remain constant, a phenomenon known as “Eroom’s law” coined as the reverse of Moore’s law in computer technology: the exponential increase in transistor density. To drastically revert this trend a new methodological approach is required. One of the most promising approaches is a new family of more complex protein based therapeutic agents, known as biologics.

Problem, naming the problem so we can refer to is later on without having to fully spell it out again, we need a solution! The answer is: biologics!

Now the reviewer can appreciate from the first paragraph what will come. Surely this is to brief for the full introduction, but now there is room to expand. Next time I will talk about the introduction some more. Maybe about a funnel…

The Mondays – Iteration

Do it, do it again, keep doing it until the deadline (or you are sick of this final draft):
Do it, do it again, keep doing it until the deadline (or you are sick of this final draft):

An attempt thwarted by bad spelling perhaps. In any case I was one day late and even though the editor said they carefully considered it another short story got rejected for publication. Its is ok, as an academic where in peer-review publications seldom there are comments, or in grant application where 1 out 10 applications (or less) gets funded, rejection is a continuous process. It is a constant in the formula.

On Saturday scenes my “following” is not big, but the opinions I do value. Fellow writers with more experience and mostly native English speakers may read and comment. This particular short was not shot down, so it gives hope to polish it up and send it out again.

The iterative cycles of draft to the final version (whatever that may mean) are important. I surely understand the power of the long, slow push and hope I have the stamina to get through my own manuscript several times to call it done and done. One good practice I keep forgetting to implement is to read my stories out loud, record them and listen back to them. I guess because it is not natural to do so.

Us writers* are also readers. Of course we are. We start young and read many years before we really start writing. When we are very young we listen to stories, and via the media we still watch and listen a lot. I say it is not natural to listen to a story only (at least for me, there a many book-on-tape addict out there I am sure), because when we read we get so lost in the words and the story. We add our own imagination to it. We read between the lines. The words get their own identity. From that place I write. Word come as a flow, and even though I look up once in a while to see where I am going, my eyes are on the few meters ahead of me. I never forget the total picture, but the scene and the moment-of-the-words is the now. So I should break that mold and listen to the words I think. At least as a researcher I should explore the method.

I am curious about others and their methods**, so I will wait for comments while I sip my Monday morning coffee and stare over the fields of my imagination…

*) Hear me oh others, with my puffed up breast and my tail feathers blazing. I am a writer! (It felt a little pompous to include me in the “Us writers” thing. Maybe I misspelled Us, yeah lets leave it at that…)

**) And I will ask as well, a guest post blog is coming up. Very exciting stuff!

The Tuesdays – Keep applying pressure

Sisyphys (1548–49) by Titian
Sisyphys (1548–49) by Titian

Wait a minute! Did this guy not promise to write blogs on Mondays and Fridays? Geez! Yep I did.

Yesterday, and actually all weekend was full of writing. As I mentioned many times already, two EU grant applications (one with the deadline this month, the other one was due last week Tuesday) take up some time, and I really wanted to make progress in a short story that I am writing: “Jumpers” for a competition due the end of this month as well. It is only maximum 2500 words, but I want to put some serious effort in.

In addition, the short story will be expanded upon to be a chapter in my work in progress: The death of an Emperor. Some snippets of that in its most raw form I posted already on G+. I may have to take it down at some point before publishing, maybe not, I have not decided yet. I feel right now that if the characters come alive enough  in this short story, I may follow up ‘Death of an Emperor’ with a book about the rebels on Ganymede in the wake of the Emperor’s death (no spoilers here, the Emperor dies).

So basically despite the busy week I managed to push something out and made progress. Sometimes that is all you need, some progress. Once in a while I  see posts that remind me of the proverbial pissing contest: “I wrote 6000 word today!” Well congratulations, I managed to do 300. I will crawl in the corner now and whither away with my unwritten literary thoughts. Of course the person is not at the moment a full time researcher, with 3 young & magical children, a heroic wife, 2 EU grant applications (‘oh shut up already, one is even already submitted!’), and trying to write a book, short stories, blogs and is not suffering from a mild addition to Renaissance  kingdoms. Oh and Opaque Dreams has to be finish some time as well (I started those poems in 1997). But we will get there, slowly we push in one direction and things will move.

I noticed this in my daily work as well, just keep applying pressure in one direction and in time things move. Sometimes fast, and then keep up, some times slow, and then keep applying pressure. Breath in between. Ask for help, collaborate where you can, but push all the time.

So I managed to ramble something. Yes it is Tuesday, but any day just writing something is more than thinking about writing something. Remember that not everything you write is good, but it is better than no writing at all.

See you Friday when I try to address the Introduction. It is all about hooks and cliff-hangers is it not?

The Mondays – its monday

7010758-cup-of-coffee-splash-cityIt is really Monday. Deadlines are crushing my brain so I need to get some words down here, just of release the brain of the pressure of not writing here. Funny is it not? We write because we like it, yet for a lot of people, writing a story or a book is not yet bound to publisher’s dead-lines. We are not all hounded like George R. R. Martin for not being faster.

So in our professional world we all have things to do. Where do you find time to write you stories? I am writing 2 EU grant applications now, and a short story “needs” to be finished today so I can submit it to a magazine, which has a deadline. For me I find it hard to push me to write if there are not these time crunches heading my way. Though I am not as productive as I feel I should be I, having a weekly scene for G+ #saturdayscenes helps my story get along nicely. I tried last year #NaNoMoWrite, but that seemed to much pressure. I will try again this year, we will see. So am am off to my 5th cup of coffee of the morning, outline a lecture, finish a EU grant application by tomorrow and I will submit a short story by the end of the day. Even from the bus if I have to.

Because we write and it is so much fun! It is just a typical Monday morning today (yes the power went out as well for a while ;o) I wish you all happy writing this week!

(Credit goes to Jenna Sun for the image!)

The Fridays – the Abstract

title-too-longHé this guy can’t write, he put a capital in the middle of a title! Yes, I did. On purpose. Last week I hinted at the abstract. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on it.

The abstract of an article is basically just a 250 word or so summary of the article you are about to read. The abstract is a tool for the reader to see if they are interested in reading the whole article. They found your abstract via search, or via referencing of another article. Often they find your abstract via your title. Now I am not skipping the art of writing a title, I will leave it for another day, but Research is indicating* that with a shorter title the reader is more engaged, reads more of the article and that articles with shorter titles are more likely to be cited than articles with longer titles. Why? Clarity in writing and nothing else. If you can express your self in a few words regarding the title, you are inclined to be more clear throughout the article.  I spoke about clarity before, and again we can see the importance of it. I am writing this blog for several reasons; one of them is to ‘stretch my leg’ so to say. To practice my writing, to apply myself to be more clear in my wording. It is important.

Now, lets say you got a great title and a crappy abstract. You will disappoint people right away; they will not read the rest of you awesome message in your article or grant application. This applies to books as well; if you give the reader a most engaging hook in the start of the story you will lose them quickly if you never deliver on that promise. Good introduction, best application ever, super exciting conclusions of your work will not get read if your abstract is bad.

A summary of the contents of a book, article, or formal speech.

Consider the definition of an abstract, presented here as a quote. Yes it needs to be a summary of things to come, but especially in grant writing if you cannot capture the imagination of the reader here, you will lose them forever. In the case of a grant application this is the difference between the application getting read in full or not. I know which application is getting funded in this scenario. So what else does the abstract need?

It needs to activate the reader in wanting to read more. Clarity is one, getting you vision across is another. I will try to give an example:

” The Biopharmaceutical optimization and New Biological Entity facility would be part of [NAME]. The facility would extend the service of the platform to evaluation of engineered libraries of mRNA and proteins.
Currently 1/6 of the total volume of the pharmaceutical industry comprises of bio-therapeutics. The predicted market growth of bio-therapeutics is 7 – 15% per year and it is expected that the pharmaceutical importance of protein therapeutics will increase in the future. Several academic research groups are carry out ground breaking research in finding new endogenous proteins with biological functions. For therapeutic purposes, however, the proteins should be optimized, and for this, protein engineering and screening of protein libraries are needed. This unit would facilitate maturation of the original protein findings towards functional therapy.
Through this application we aim at establish a high throughput facility that focuses on screening pharmaceutically interesting proteins and mRNA species. The proteins and mRNA will be engineered based on the goals and end-points of the customers. For example, we can look for reduced immunogenicity, affinity improvements, or altered intracellular distribution or pharmacokinetics of the proteins. We will develop cell free expression systems, methods to investigate glycosylation patterns, and provide preliminary information about proteins that show promise as potential drug candidates, biochemical tools or as drug delivery vehicles.
Related equipments in the pipeline for protein engineering and expression, or as accessories, will include automated liquid handling, protein purification (for a small selection of altered proteins), characterization, and methods to investigate protein stability and aggregation. These parameters are of utmost importance for early protein drug formulations. The proposed infrastructure would facilitate a high throughput protein optimization platform towards lead molecules and their characterization in terms of stability, solubility, aggregation and delivery.
The total sum applied for is XXX XXX €. This application is not part of any network , but it has obvious links to ‘Translational technologies’, ‘Structural biology’, and ‘Stem cells and biomaterials’.”

I was involved late at the writing this application and I think it summarizes the application well. We did not get the funding though and I feel now thinking about the impact we thought we could have in the long run we may have been too modest. So on the fly** I will try to rewrite this abstract with that in mind:

“In order to transcend ‘Eroom’s’ law and break the barrier of the diminishing returns in drug development despite exponential increase in research and development a radical new approach is needed. Ground breaking research in finding new endogenous proteins with biological functions is not considering the therapeutic purpose. Only optimized proteins have a chance to meet the though quality requirements of clinical testing to find the patient to provide proper treatment. After discovery of a protein with potential, i.e. a lead molecule, several rounds of engineering and screening of protein libraries are needed. A dedicated research unit would facilitate maturation of the original discovery towards functional therapy.

Our aims are to invest the funds to establish a facility that focuses on the screening of lead-molecules, such as proteins and RNA, and to engineer them in high throughput based on the goals and end-points of the customers. The funding will provide us with better and faster methods to reduce immunogenicity, to improve affinity, to alter intracellular distribution or pharmacokinetics of the new biological drugs. Novel tool such as cell free expression systems will be at the core of the technological platform. We envision that the long-term impact of the pre-clinical data we will generate will overcome the stringent quality controls at a much earlier stage.

We propose a structural investment of XXX XXX € to acquire dedicated equipment needed for protein engineering and protein expression. The platform will include an automated liquid handling station, protein purification equipment, and equipment to investigate protein stability and aggregation. The proposed infrastructure and research methods would be unique in [PLACE] and  would facilitate a high throughput protein optimization platform towards lead molecules and their characterization in terms of stability, solubility, aggregation and delivery for the whole of [Country].”

I tried to follow the order proposed from these guidelines. So with clearly stating the problem and motivation at the beginning first, to then be more indicating the impact the money would make, without too much detail about the method I hope I am enticing you to read on. To see the whole application. To get from “Mêh” to “Wow”. Let me know if the comments if I succeeded? I may use it then for a future application!

*) This image in this article is made by the authors of this articles and are under (c) of the article. If just borrowed it. Please contact me via the comments if you it is not allowed in any form.

**) I mean here I did this while writing this blog, not at an earlier stage nor with prior feed-back.

The Monday’s – on the road to blurbs

800px-BlurbingFirst there is the word count. Then there is the woods of publishing to get lost in, and if you are brave enough (like David Simpson and his Post-Human project) even bring it forward into a script and movie. But wait there is more: type set, cover art, bio, social media, promotion. So much to deliver a story.

I just want to tell my stories. They are in my head, they talk to me. I like stories. I see them on TV, I read them in books, I like to share stories, so it makes sense to me (with the risk of being insane) that you want to hear my stories.

So then I need to make time to get it to paper and it should all make sense. Even that is fun. I like to write, wish I had more time for it, yet it is fun.

I mentioned in my Friday blog about grant writing and that this Friday I will discuss the abstract, so I thought in the bus this morning I want to discuss the dreaded Blurb with you.

Summary, abstract or marketing tool?

On wikipedia it is listed as a promotional tool, so I guess it could be a t-shirt. Lets say you are browsing the book store and pick up the book* (yeah the cover worked!), then read the back and put it back (NOOOO! the blurb is wrong). Why? Please comment to let me know. Remember I love for you to share the stuff from my head, but now you did not want to read the book. Is it personal? Is it something I did? Can we talk about it? Should I put my phone number on the back so you can call me to ask questions?

It all sounds very silly, because I have put books down. Not my genre, more for young adults, mêh sounds dull. So if the cover did not screen me out for genre, then why does the book appear to be dull? An abstract is just that. Kind of dull, but a good summary of what is going to happen. On the other hand, if the story is a lot dialogue and scenery, but the blurb makes you feel like you going to read Die Hard 7, chances are you loose the audience quickly and reviews will be bad.

The art of writing blurbs is lost on me. Consider the first draft of probably many to come of my WIP:

“It is the year of the Rabbit, 341 years after battle-weary warriors gave us peace through a senseless war when a selfish choice endangers the fragile balance.

Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes melancholic, sometimes embedded with deceit – this is the story of the assassination of the emperor told through the eyes of his subjects. Follow along to piece together the connections of that mournful day.”

I sort of like it. I had some help due to feed-back, so let call it draft 0.85 or something. My WIP is not done yet, so this will change. The “battle-weary warriors” may be a bit much. More for the 3 prequel books I have planned in my head. The rest is ok, but is it a good abstract or a good ‘promotional’ piece. Is it a blurb, will it catch your imagination?

I guess that is what it is intending to do: to catch your imagination. That is hard to know without knowing you. I just want to tell my story…

So in the realm of trying to tell stories and not being part of a team that is put in place to sell your story, it is up to the author do so. It may not be part of our skill set, but as an author you better learn. Or do have a guy/girl? do to this for you? Please comment your thought blow.

Maybe I should stick with the t-shirt idea…

*) Same for ebooks: recommended because you like this, or you see the cover, etc…

The Fridays – Clarity

clarityThe quality of coherence and intelligibility. Yes, this is very important. First of all, in scientific writing we need to be understood. This is important if your peers read your text, but maybe even more so if others read it. In other words: the reader needs to understand what you mean.

Of course the text needs to be written following the proper grammar rules, spelling should be perfect and writing hooks to draw the reader in and through the article or grant proposal are a given.

However, scientific writing is often taught at school and universities for a reason. Poetic freedom in the phrasing does not convey coherence and intelligibility, or clarity. Side by side the two next sentences are trying to convince the reader about a trend in the data:

  1. We [the authors] feel that deriving from graph 1 we can conclude that no trend is apparent.
  2. Analysis of graph 1 showed no trend [evaluated by method X].

We  can clearly see the difference, the graph should not be open for interpretation if it is used to make a statement or an argument. In science presenting any data for the public eye is definitely an invitation to interpret the data from the reader’s perspective. The text is there to weight it, agree, or counter with scientifically sound arguments. Scientific ‘truths’ change all the time due to better understanding of the underlying phenomena.

But,

the message of any give scientific text is to make a clear what has happened, or in case of a grant application, how things will be done in the future. There should be no room for opinion nor should is be a slideshow of the data produced. The reader should ‘get’ what the author(s) message is.

The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication – George Gopen, Judith Swan*.

From the quote above we may get a hint in the difference of a novel and a scientific article. A bit more difficult is an article written about a scientific article. Most often this is a statement or opinion about its message. I would argue that most articles about science news are not scientific in nature, but I am open for the discussion.

Now,  a scientific text is typically divided in following sections:

  • (an abstract)
  • The introduction – Background, state of the art, statement of what was done/aims.
  • Methods – How did we do this thingy/how will we do this thingy
  • Results – This is what we have observed and how much the data is worth within the context.
  • Discussion – (Sometimes mixed with the Result section) reflects the quality of the results and how the results compare to the state of the art and beyond.
  • Conclusion – This is what we found and this is what it means.
  • References

Grant applications may follow a similar scheme or more likely are presented in the form of a project plan/project work-flow. Of course you do not have results yet, but you will tell how you expect the future results will impact society/your research field/your aims/teaching/etc… There is also a tiny bit of room for your opinion, but be careful! It should be a logical statement that flows from the presentation, not your personal feeling about the topic: “give me money, because I think it is the most important research ever!” does not work. A discussion of a topic A, described in reference of problem B, which can be solved with a novel method C is a better argument, but I will get back to that another day.

I want to discuss from my point of view each section mentioned in the bullet-list above from a grant proposal point-of-view in the next blog posts. The reason for this is twofold: (a) I am writing a grant right now. It may clear my head and help in the writing, and (b) before you present data that you have done, you need money to do the work. So logically the article comes later. Also I need to get back to the lab…

*) Please find an excellent article by George Gopen and Judith Swan on the The Science of Scientific Writing to find more details on how to write more clearly if you are interested.

The Mondays – Editing

http://blog.kbuuk.com/2014/05/14/8-tips-for-self-editing-your-novel/
The red pen. So feared, so crushing my hopes. Stifled is my voice by hurdles of grammar…

Edeting. Editing is a necessity for a non native English speaker. However, I understand that it is also hard for English natives. I understand, I am horrible in (or at) Dutch grammar.

You see it took me 3 Google searches and several minutes of my time to look thing up in the above paragraph and if further grammar errors are present in this text please send me you suggestions.

I used to write by hand, mainly for the poetry and short stories and I frequently got annoyed by not knowing the English word, a suitable synonym or just the correct spelling that I switched to computer based writing. When Firefox introduced the spell check in the browser life got again a bit easier. Though annoying, as if tripping over a stone, at least the major spelling mistakes are filtered out. Well that is what I thought. Then you share some text with other writers, some of them editors and apparently ‘tow doves on a wire’ does not make any sense. Frustrating.

So then back to older texts and re-reading them; sure enough many grammar mistakes and errors in spelling. Typos in most cases. I can recommend to read this book: The Well-Presented Manuscript by Mike Reeves-McMillan and must admit that I am not good at the clean writing from the get-go. I need to polish afterwards. I have never had my text proof-read by a professional editor, my wife is American and experienced proof-reader, so I ask for her opinion. However, where some of my doubts slip in are if the order of chapters is correct. Or if I should break up the chapters or leave them as they are. Maybe I should delete the whole thing? Like a painter at one point it is done (enough) to move to something else.

While I looked for the image for this blog, I came across some other useful tips (I am sure there are numerous blogs of respectable and capable editors out there, but I just stumble here). You can find the 8 tips here. I found them useful. Never thought about tip 1: reading my text out loud. I will start doing this, and putting it on Soundcloud so I can listen back to it myself.

What do you do to get past the editing stage and evoking the feeling within that the manuscript is super awesome and ready for the world? I would love to hear you comments so I can learn. Or if you are an editor I can afford, that too (or to?)…

The Fridays – the hard 2%

keep-calm-tomorrow-is-friday-Deadlines. A fearful word since it has the word ‘dead’ in it. Lines can be scary too for some. In academia it often means a day most things are sort of done. We can push the deadline away a bit.

However, when I see it in my colleagues’ eyes: the tired, frantic look.

“I have no time right now”

Then I know: an application deadline is coming up. Application deadlines are strict and dangerous. We all had the servers of the grant institution crash on us those last minutes before the deadline, because everybody submits their ‘final_final_v3.1.pdf’ document 2 minutes before the deadline. So everything must be ready and done.

Unlike writing a story or a book, writing an application is (most often) a collaborative effort. Even if the full text is only from your hand you do need feed-back on the budget, feed-back from your boss or ask your students to write some small parts for you. A more likely scenario for larger applications is a chain of events that need to happen: (1) Idea, (2) formulate idea, (3) find research partners, (3) find/know/discover where to get money, (4) write sciency bits (yeah!), (5) find the right template for the application, (6) fill all that is needed, (7) the last 2%.

Yes I know it looks like I cannot count. Truth of the matter is that in order to do the research we need the money, and in order to truly work on your long-term vision you need a certain critical mass. That critical mass comes from obtaining results with a long and deep impact. I know that sounds vague. Lets just say I am not there yet. So for me this means I need to apply where ever I can. I swear I almost talk to strangers on the street to see if they have something in common with me so we can write and application together so I can get some money to do the research I want to do. By applying to “whatever” you do need to bend you previous results and ideas into the scope of the application. I think this is how the term “creative writing” was invented. If you have to bend to far, it gets broken. Reviewers see broken things, and have a magical wand to detect cracks, so be aware of that.

Sometimes you need to find new partners because the grant call requires a certain expertise you do not have and you do not know anybody in your network who does. That is hard, and cold-calling even in Academia is hard. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Sometimes it does not even work after you get the money. Most of the times your collaborators that are sharing a grant and the grant writing with you want the same as you: money for their research.

So back to the writing of a collaborative piece. Now a few sciency bits (yeah!) are stuck together and from the general idea/grant-call come the aims of the project. Oh **** it is a project. Maybe do some project management courses later in the year? Then fill the template(s). Aims funnel into work-packages, which funnel into tasks. It is going great! Gantt chart made! Budget. Mmmm, better have some email/Skype with the others. Meetings with grant writing specialist (often called Research Managers or something similar): ok we have numbers on the page. Done!

Oh wait, tomorrow is Friday (the deadline is often on a Friday) and we need to still write about Societal Impact/Measuring Societal Impact/Management Structure/Project Management/Do we have all the signatures?/Something else not Sciency*. Ofter it is something you cannot decide alone, you have only a paragraph left for it, so you make the figures a bit smaller/outline a bit broader/go to font 11*. It is crunch time (your family hates you now): the last 2% are often the hardest and take the most time.

This is what makes writing applications hard and a skill you need to train. How are you clear to the reviewers? How do you get them to read the full application, because you know their time is limited as well. Reviewers are researchers like you, with deadlines and applications to write. How to get them past the abstract? The writing hook(s) we put in our stories and books apply here as well. Despite the mandatory bits and the hard parts like project management, budgets and other non-sciency bits, the text needs to be clear and well written. That takes practice as well. These almost marketing-like skills to sell your ideas in word and written text I do like, however I fully agree with some of my fellow scientist (most of whom are much better scientists than me) it should not be such a big part of the Science.

Luckily I like to write. For most is as fearful as the word deadline, I just do not like the last 2%…

*) take your pick

The Mondays – about flash-backs

filepicker_Zrrws6IxR0GItZA4dei2_Every_Flashback_Has_A_Silver_LiningEditing. I thought last week I wanted to write about editing today. However, I just submitted a scene to #saturdayscenes on Google+ where I start with a conversation and then right after that a flash-back. I like saturdayscenes in that respect because it forces you to get something written which is half decent, while you get feed-back from other writers, luckily many more experienced than I am.

One critique I got was that, especially inexperienced writers, use flash-backs a lot. It felt personal at that point, simply because I am an inexperienced writer. I then read  some articles about flash-backs and writing tips. I will not copy the ideas and advice here, but you can check them out here and here. I think the articles offered me some good insight in what I do wrong and how to address these issues. One comment to my scenes was: “short flashbacks are a part of your writing style…” In the critique that I got the majority of the commenters thought that the short flashback worked for the scene. I did not get the feeling people loved the scenes (to be fair, not much happened).

My intent for that chapter is to give the reader a window in the relationship she was in just one day before she has to meet her former lover again. The meeting will be very formal and very public. I want to have the reader carry her baggage with her. Now that I read more about flashbacks I am happy I did not finish the chapter yet. It would have been a sinus-wave of past and present, while the present would have no flow. I already have a chapter like that, but there a father is re-reading the journal of his long, lost daughter. To make it even worse, some chapters are in the past, some now and some later. ‘Now’ is the defined by the event that binds all vignettes.

I think I need to sharpen the writing tools and learn how to bring in short bits of information to the reader via conversations, comments by others or short memories of the character to bring out the tension for the meeting.

Or

Split the chapter in two: past and present in two different sections. I cannot put it somewhere else (I think) for the book will be a set of vignettes. Now how I will present the vignettes is topic of research I will leave for another day.

So what are you thoughts on flash-backs in books? Do or don’t? And how to do it best?