Question 27: Flashbacks

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Prima_Voltera asks: How do you appropriately use a flashback? I'm in the process of writing my story and one of the characters (off screen per say) has a conversation with another character about the MC. I didn't want the conversation to be "on screen" because it would've taken away from the main point in the story at that time. I knew that I wanted the conversation to be in the story though because it gave insight into the MC's actions. I just don't know exactly where to put it, or if it's even appropriate to use it.

Flashbacks are useful for providing information when things have happened in the past or "off screen". The tricky part is working them seamlessly into the story. There are different approaches, depending on how much information needs to be given.

A Short Mention

Sometimes we don't need to include an entire scene from a past event. We could simply relay the end result of that conversation. For example, "My sister was pretty mad. She stormed into my room last night and told me to get the book back from you."

Drifting into Space

People space out all the time. They think about things that happened, replaying conversations and memories in their heads. All we need is a little reminder to nudge us in that direction. Here's how a sample flashback could be worked into a space-out:

"That football game was intense, right? Especially that one tackle." Ryan smashed a fist into his other hand, making a slapping sound. "Pow!"


I blinked, trying to focus on Ryan, but I saw the oncoming car like it was right in front of me. Like I was there again. [insert flashback scene of the car crash]

"Hello?" Ryan waved a hand in front of my face. "Are you even listening?"

Part of the Narration

In my story, Siena, the main character talks about her life in the tribe. She goes on to relay a specific incident when she was little. It feels like a natural extension of the story, because it's adding to the reader's perception of her life in the tribe. When she's done with the flashback, she goes back to narrating the present.

It's like when you're chatting with a friend. You might be talking about how tragic it was that the neighbor's dog died, and then the friend might, in turn, relay a story about when he saw a dog get run over by a car. The flashback gets worked naturally into the conversation.

The Dream

This is my least favorite method, because it pretty much removes you from the existing story, and then you're off into the cliche of dreaming about the tragic past. There's not really any seamless way to work a dream into a story, because in order to dream, everything else has to stop. But I still see it done, because sometimes there isn't a natural way to bring it up.

The Prologue

If you read my chapter on prologues, you know that it's ideally used to relay a past incident that kicks off a series of events, leading to the beginning of your story. This is probably the most important flashback of the entire story, because without it, your story wouldn't happen. Because it's the very first chapter, it doesn't need to seamlessly fit into anything. It stands alone, as The Important Event.

Do any of you have other ways you like to work in flashbacks?

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