Flashbacks: When They’re Not Appropriate & Tips for When They Are

by | Writing | 1 comment

image by 304cina62

image by 304cina62

While researching whether or not to use flashbacks, I received warnings from, “Don’t,” to “If you must.”

Reasons to resist flashbacks.

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

They often:

  • stem from the author’s wish to explain everything – info dumps of old news.
  • tell information that can be shown through current scenes and dialogue.
  • may indicate, if especially long, that the main story should’ve started earlier.
  • beg that a prologue may be a better vehicle.
  • halt the story, distract the reader, and cause a reader to lose interest.
  • remove suspense, ending the reader’s desire to know a secret.
  • are unnecessary if they don’t advance the present plot, or exist for no good reason.

Reasons to include flashbacks.

 

They:

  • image by geralt

    image by geralt

    assist a dual-story – chapters alternate between a past time and a present time
  • provide crucial information when there’s no other way to include it.
  • provide backstory in a more dramatic, immediate way than a character in the present telling it.
  • may work for a prologue to reveal something essential to the story that happens several years earlier in the character’s life or in the story world.
  • provide a device to tell the story of a character with memory loss.

Tips for Writing Necessary Flashbacks

 

General:

  • Don’t use flashbacks as a cop-out to avoid writing difficult present story.
  • Don’t include more than one or two flashbacks.
  • Let go of a merely interesting flashback from a character’s biography.
  • Use flashbacks only after the reader’s engaged in the story and knows the character (after several scenes).
  • Make sure a flashback advances the main story.
  • Make sure a flashback scene, like a main-story scene, has goals, motivations, and resolutions.
  • Give long flashbacks their own chapter or scene.
  • Hold back flashbacks until the reader must know the information – keep the suspense going.
  • Have flashbacks follow exciting scenes so the reader will want to return to the main story.

Specifics:

image by venturaartist

image by venturaartist

Tip 1: Make it clear the character is going back in time.

  • Give the character a trigger – he sees an object, smells a scent, or experiences an action.
  • For stories written in past tense, use past perfect tense a few times when entering the flashback. Once in, switch to past tense until near the end of the flashback, then switch to past perfect a few times. After leaving the flashback, return to past tense. (Limits cumbersome past perfect.)

For stories written in present tense, use the simple past in the flashback.

Tip 2: Write the flashback so it:

  • Serves a purpose – shows what shaped characters into who they are now or shows past story world.
  • Engages the reader.
  • Is limited to key moments.

Tip 3: Write ending sentences that transition the reader and character from the flashback.

  • Use another trigger – abrupt or easing.
  • Change verb tense as mentioned above.

Tip 4: After the flashback, the reader must see the character or story world in a new light as they read forward in the present.

Flashbacks: dangers, benefits & tips for writing necessary ones. Click to tweet.

For what other reasons should we use or not use flashbacks?

Newsletter Signup

Please subscribe to my newsletter, Zoe’s Zigzags, and receive a free short story.”

Author Zoe M. McCarthy Newsletter Signup

Follow Blog Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,849 other subscribers

-162Days -18Hours -2Mins -35Secs

American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

You may also like

1 Comment

  1. Vikash Singh

    Thanks for sharing about Tips for Writing Necessary Flashbacks…………

Pin It on Pinterest