Flashbacks can either be a tremendous asset to your story... or a tremendous burden on the reader. It’s up to you to craft tight, informative scenes that depict your characters’ backstory.
There are several methods you can use to insure that your novel benefits from flashbacks:
1. Be brief.
The biggest problem with flashbacks is that they remove the reader from the action of the story. No matter how interesting they are, chances are the main story is better.
2. Write them “in the moment.”
Do you remember Tip #1 from my other book? It applies to flashbacks too. Don’t just TELL us about flashbacks, SHOW them to us. Readers want dialogue and description, just like any other scene.
3. Inform the present.
The reader should learn new insights about the present during their reflection on the past. If Kimmy is distraught over her father’s death, try jumping back to the fatal car crash so we understand the pain that Kimmy is experiencing.
4. Juxtapose mood.
Another fun trick is to position happy flashbacks during tense scenes to underscore the pain of the current situation. If Mike and Justine are going through a divorce, now might be a good time for a flashback to the first time they made love.
5. Create suspense.
By introducing a flashback after a cliffhanger in the present, you can add tension to your scene. But remember the first rule of flashbacks: be brief! You can only push the suspense so far before a reader gets bored. And there’s nothing worse for your story than a bored reader!
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