How To Write Flashback Scenes

Regardless of gender, flashback scenes are common in movies, television shows, and books. This feature is used to show the story within the story and the past (recent or distant) of characters, either to reveal plot surprises or to explain specific details of the narrative's present moment.

However, if a flashback is poorly written or placed in the story, it can confuse or even bore readers, who will be confused as to why they are reading that scene.

Do you want to know how to write flashbacks? Check out the rest of the guide:

Know the reason for the flashback

Before writing the flashback, you should ask yourself, "What will this scene add to the plot?"

This question applies to any scene you write; however, it is especially important for flashbacks because you will create a "break" in the story's rhythm. So you must decide whether it is worthwhile to create this rupture — or whether it is preferable to narrate this event to the reader in the present rather than transporting it to the past.

Here are some questions to help you figure it out:

  • Does this event in the past have any impact, either on the story's universe or the emotional one of any character?
  • Will this event help you reveal or explain something important?
  • What will be the advantage of showing this event from your character's point of view in the past?

By defining these items, you will better understand ​​your scene's purpose and where to start writing.

Create the trigger

When a memory arises, it is usually due to something in the environment "triggering" that change - a smell, a conversation, a sound, an object...

So, to make a more realistic scene, invest in showing what will cause your character to remember that moment in the past and prepare the start of the flashback.

Make it clear it's a flashback.

It is also critical that your audience understands what they are about to read. Because the flashback interrupts the story's pacing, a transition is required so that readers are not confused.

Another tip is to choose a limited period to depict in the flashback. Readers can become distracted and lose the "thread" of your story if the scene is too long or covers an extended period.

Make your reader care first.

This is especially important if the scene is in the middle of the story: readers will only care about the flashback if they are interested in what is happening now.

If your story begins with a flashback, the effect can be similar to a dream: a false start, in which readers become invested in that section of the narrative only to discover that it restarts from the beginning. A fact later — and I discuss it briefly in this post here.

Is it then forbidden to begin the story with flashbacks? Of course not; you can begin whenever you like! However, ensure that what follows is equally intriguing to keep the reader interested.

Be consistent with the timeline.

It is crucial that the author, when starting the flashback, stay in that past moment and avoid narrating later events. On the contrary, you can create an effect similar to the movie “Inception,” where the characters access dreams within dreams, creating layers within the plot.

For example, let's say you write a scene in which a character remembers something that happened ten years before the story began. Now imagine that, during this scene, you make the same character mention something that happened fifteen years before, something that happens to be narrated in the story as if it were present but is the past exposed in the flashback, which, respectively, in the past within the present time of history…

Show The Differences

What has changed in the story since the events of the flashback? What was the impact 

of that moment in the past on your character? How were things then, and how are they now? All these details help to give the idea of ​​the passage of time within the narrative.

Could you bring it back to the present?

As immersive as the memory writer is, history needs to get back on its course at some point. After writing the scene, proofread 

to cut any excess and bring the character back to the present with yet another transition.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.

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