Flashbacks are an effective way to share background information about your characters and the story as it’s playing out. It’s more interesting than a linear timeline alone, and keeps readers engaged when written well. When writing flashbacks for your stories, take the following elements into account to execute them successfully.
Is Your Flashback Following a Strong Scene?
One element of a powerful flashback is that it follows a strong opening scene. Don’t open your story or chapter with the flashback itself, as readers will be instantly confused. Instead, guide them into this memory within the storyline after showing the outcome or part of the outcome in a strong way.
For example, if you’re telling a love story that starts out with your protagonist in the hospital with his beloved, worried about whether she is going to come out of her coma or not, set the scene accordingly. Then mark the beginning of the recollection:
Watching her eyes struggle under their lids, I can only pray that I will get to see those ice blue galaxies staring back at me once again. The last time she looked at me was the morning of the outbreak…
In this example, the scene would have been set in the preceding paragraphs, describing the conditions inside the room, the other characters present, and the feelings that the narrator was experiencing. Only after you’ve set a strong scene will the flashback make sense to the reader.
Does Your Flashback Relate to the Opening Scene?
If your flashback has nothing to do with the scene you’ve just written, now is not the time to share it. The opening scene and the memory must directly relate to each other somehow. In the example above, the sentence, “The last time she looked at me was the morning of the outbreak,” would tie the two together. It doesn’t matter if your characters are sitting in a modern hospital, or lying damp and muddy in a secluded cave, they now have something tying what is happening with the events preceding.
If you can effectively tie the two together, there is no need to explain everything about the situation right away. Here’s how that could go:
…We were arguing that day. She wanted to get tickets to the Motley Crue concert next Saturday, and I insisted that we couldn’t afford it. Looks like none of that matters now. It would have been worth so much more than $180 to be able to say that the last time I looked into her eyes, she was loving me…
You still haven’t explained what caused the situation, but you’re enhancing the current scene with valuable background information. These two characters are closely related somehow, they share decision making responsibility, and at least one of them is a fan of rock and roll. All of this can be used later.
Have You Indicated When The Flashback Took Place?
In relation to the opening scene, the reader will want to know when the flashback took place. This is important, and can keep your reader from getting lost in time:
…I can’t believe the world has changed so much in just under two weeks…
Used in this way, the above indicates a time from which to base the story in relation to the flashback and indicates that it is a flashback through the verb tense. You will need to pay extra attention to verb tense conventions as you guide your protagonist into and out of a flashback. Without this, the execution will be a failure.
Weigh the Cost of Setting a Flashback in Your Scene With the Value it Provides
As a writer, flashbacks always come at a cost: Your reader gets taken away from the action of the present moment. If you are going to lead someone away from what’s going on in the current scene, make sure that there is a reason. In the examples provided, the information is obviously emotional, indicative of the bond between the narrator and the girl lying with her eyes closed. And, in the best situation, there could be more to come.
Perhaps the girl will die, and the narrator will find himself in a situation with another duo arguing over a trivial issue, and will choose to intervene. Maybe he will need to make a decision whether to trust someone new later in the story, and sees a Motley Crue bumper sticker on their vehicle. We don’t know yet. But, the value has been weighed, and has presented opportunities.
So, when creating flashbacks, remember the three elements of success. The memory should follow a strong opening scene, relate to the present moment, and have a concrete time whence it took place. Additionally, writers should weigh the value of the recollection in comparison to the cost of taking the reader away from the action of the present moment before proceeding. Save this guide and start using it to write and update your scenes that are set in a time earlier than the main story.
Marry McAleavey is a content writer at the essay service writing company. She is a fiction adorer and a beginner author currently working on her first novel.