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The writer's job is to weave in subplots, flashbacks, and foreshadowing, so the reader sees them for what they are, necessary information, rather than what they are not, deadly digressions. Here are questions to ask of your story to be sure you've done just that. First, does each subplot or flashback in some way affect the main storyline? What specific information does it give that the reader needs to know? It might be factual information, it might give us insight into the protagonist, or both, but whatever it is, it must be relevant. Second, does the reader need to know the information at this very moment? Make sure the logic is on the page and not just in your head.
When you leave the main storyline, you want the reader to follow you willingly, not kicking and screaming. Third, when you return to the main storyline, will your readers see things with new eyes from that moment on? You want readers to come back to the main storyline feeling as though they have new insight. Ask yourself, what has the reader learned that changes how they'll see things from here on out? The only wrong answer is nothing. Fourth, if a protagonist does something out of character, have you foreshadowed it? This is a bona fide get out of jail free card.
Otherwise, when the protagonist does something out of the blue that he or she would never do, it's to groaner, but if you set it up in advance, it's a delight because you've surprised us with something you've allowed us to suspect. Now you try, the example in your exercise files is about Mona, a young woman who's just earned her first paycheck. Your job is to choose where to stop the scene and write a flashback that gives it meaning.
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