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Flashbacks

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, Nov. 22, 2019
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A flashback is when the story is interrupted or placed on hold to present an event that occurred prior to the events of the narrative. They are used to explain a character’s history with another character or explore a particular relationship with a place and/or object. Using a flashback is not inherently bad and can serve to expand an important point but that doesn’t mean it should always been employed, particularly when there are other devices that might serve the narrative better.

Flashbacks can be replaced by prologues
If you have a flashback near the beginning of your story, it might be worth making the scene into a prologue. Given that prologues introduce and set up events and themes prior to the main story, you might find that the flashback is better served here.

If you want to use flashback, be consistent with it
Once you’ve determined that a flashback is necessary for your plot, do your best to ensure that you use the device for more than just a one off situation. It should relate directly to the character and/or the plot and it is something that comes up again and again as it is an integral part of the character’s current development.

Install a trigger
A flashback is a memory and most memories occur as a result of a trigger. Say there is a core event that affects your character such as a painful break up. That character is going to experience different aspects or “flashbacks” of that memory based on different triggers. This could be a smell, a location, object or what someone says. By installing a trigger your linking the flashback directly to the story and character and thus, it will look less like a crutch and more like an integral part of the story.

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hushicho at 11:41PM, Nov. 23, 2019

Great points touching on the flashback. It's often poorly-used, unfortunately, and that's usually due to overuse. If you look at a recent example, AHS Apocalypse spent most of the series in flashback, which is a terrible way to use that narrative tool. If you spend too long in flashback, the audience will either have tuned out because they wanted to see what happened next in the contemporary story and don't want to lose their place, or they'll forget about it due to the overly long flashback and you'll disrupt their immersion. Flashbacks are best used sparingly, but that's like most of these tricks and treasures writers have in their magic bag!

usedbooks at 6:42AM, Nov. 22, 2019

I use a lot of flashbacks. I probably don't do them well, but I do them anyway. Sometimes, it's framed as a character telling a story, sometimes as a dream or personal recollection. Actually, my next arc has flashbacks. I even have a gag planned because the storyteller is a bit of a comedian.

Banes at 5:52AM, Nov. 22, 2019

*flashing back to previous comments in this thread* Good times, good times.

Banes at 5:51AM, Nov. 22, 2019

Mindhunter does a flash forward, I think in every episode, showing a serial killer in the making (the BTK killer I think). Totally separate from the main story but also connected-in-the-future.

Banes at 5:49AM, Nov. 22, 2019

I like the flashbacks and flash forwards in Better Call Saul (and Breaking Bad before it). They will sometimes show motivations for the characters or reveal moments from the past that were contrasts to the ‘present’. Saul starts every season with a flash-forward to Saul’s life after the series AND after Breaking Bad. Really cool. I look forward to those once-a-year glimpses greatly!

Banes at 5:45AM, Nov. 22, 2019

I’ve done a couple here and there in my comic - usually to set up a joke. I did a whole-issue flashback once, and another issue that went back and forth to show how a character had changed between ‘then’ and ‘now’.

bravo1102 at 5:11AM, Nov. 22, 2019

Often my scripts are assembled out of order. You can tell right? Ideas and scenes get written down and then linked into a narrative. The flashbacks in Mask of the Aryans were the last things written. Was I going to have some long explanatory monologue or just a handful of prologue/flashbacks sprinkled through to set up some relationships and recurring characters. Sword of Kings was to have a series of fragmented dreams that finally put together the backstory of the MC that would finally come together as a narrative flashback just before the story climax. And the next Revenge of the Robofemoids starts halfway through the story then goes back to show how they got there. I rewrote it because I thought the opening scenes were dull and the ending too much action. So I split it up by starting in the middle and then having another writer double check it to make sure it flowed.

bravo1102 at 4:52AM, Nov. 22, 2019

Rather than weigh down a narrative with an intrusive and baffling prologue which often has the reader going, "what does that have to do with anything?" You have a slow series of hints in flashbacks throughout the story leading to a reveal in context so you don't have to have a flashback to your prologue to hit the reader over the head with what it all meant. Then there's also starting the story at the climax and then using flashback to show the events leading up to it. But don't take it too far. Too many nested flashbacks destroy any narrative structure. Though it can be fun as an exercise. Some can pull it off and others just can't. Write it logical order then mix it up, but not like you threw it into a box and pulled at random.

marcorossi at 1:51AM, Nov. 22, 2019

In my case, I mostly use flashbacks when I have to explain something about some charachters. I think that there are some points in a story structure where you more or less are forced to use a flashback to explain why a charachter thinks or acts that way. On the other hand I dislike those stories wherte the author just uses a lot of flashbacks just to make the narration seem less linear and weirder.

bravo1102 at 1:39AM, Nov. 22, 2019

Spring ahead and fall back. Flashbacks and flash forwards are your friends. But you have to know how to use them.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:15AM, Nov. 22, 2019

I'm currently producing a webcomic that has flashbacks as an integral part of its storytelling. This was very helpful for me to read. Thank you so much.


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