ARTICLE: Using Flashbacks in Your Fiction Writing

“Flashbacks” are basically the telling of what happened before your story started. Most people use flashbacks to provide more information about the main character’s past – thereby using this technique as a means to explain why certain events are happening, or how / why a character is acting or responding in a particular way.

It can be very difficult to write flashbacks into a story well. Too many flashbacks become tedious and predictable, and they can drag a story backwards, slowing the pace. They can also add in an element of confusion that isn’t necessarily needed, which can put a reader off continuing with a story.

So how do you include good flashbacks into your novel?

1. Use dialogue. ‘I thought I saw Hugh in Starbucks with a girl’ provides some history about a character without being too over stated or obvious. Using diction can help improve characterisation and bring a particular character ‘to life’ a little more at the same time as helping with a flashback.

2. Get rid of the ‘hads’! Barbara Dynes suggests that one of the draw backs of the past perfect tense (which is often used when conveying a flashback) is that the word ‘had’ is overused. Instead she suggests using an initial ‘had’ to demonstrate that you are in the past, and then avoid future repetitions of the word at all costs! ‘He yelled’, ‘His voice sounded’ etc can be used, instead of ‘he had yelled’, ‘he’d sounded’, etc.

3. Time Portals. Try using objects as time portals, which can easily help the reader move from present day to the past. Using objects as symbols is a good way to do this; a blue vase seen in a shop mirror can remind a character of the vase that used to site on a grandfather’s mantel piece for example.

4. Use an opening story hook. Start the story off with a flash forward or a flash back which will really hook the reader in. Something that promises plenty of excitement!

5. Mix it up. An effective way to use flashbacks is to blend them in with the present situation. An example of this would be an individual sitting in a waiting room waiting to go into a job interview. They could be thinking about how terrible the last job interview was, or cursing their partner for forcing them into this job interview when they really didn’t want to go.

See, lots of possibilities!

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