Day: April 7, 2015

#A-Z Challenge: F is for Flashbacks

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

F is for Flashbacks

download (1)

A flashback is a scene interjected in the narrative that takes the story back to a previous time from the current point in the story. The use of flashbacks can be fraught with problems, but if done properly they can be very useful and effective for providing background information and bringing your reader closer to your characters.

So how do you get them right?

  • Make sure a flashback follows a strong scene. Flashbacks can be problematic in that they remove your character and therefore your reader from the action in your narrative. A strong preceding scene can ensure that the narrative is sustained.
  • Ensure your reader knows exactly where and when they are. Make the transition into the past clear.
  • Use the correct verb tense. If your main narrative is written in past tense, then the first few sentences of the flashback should be in past perfect. You can then continue in simple past.
  • When the flashback is over, make sure the transition to the ‘present’ of the narrative is smooth and clear, so that your reader isn’t confused or disorientated.
  • Acknowledge the flashback. It should have an effect on the character who experienced it and on the narrative.

If you are going to use flashbacks in your novel, then do your research. Read lots of novels that use the device and use it well. For example, J.K. Rowling uses a ‘Penseive’ in the Harry Potter novels – a stone basin in which a viewer can be immersed in memories. In Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’, the plot is largely told through flashbacks, mostly using storytelling. In Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, the primary narrator is eighty-three when we meet her, but we hear about her younger self through flashbacks.

How do you feel about flashbacks in novels? Do you love them or hate them? Do let me know by leaving a comment below.