Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Flashbacks – 4 Commandments of Writing One

In my years as a writer I’ve read many a flashback, I’ve written a few, and I’ve been asked a whole lot of questions about them.  Mostly things like, ‘how do I do a flashback’, ‘how do I make the flashback clear’, ‘how can I make the reader/audience understand the flashback’? It doesn’t seem like anyone ever asks, ‘should I put a flashback in my story?”

Well, most questions can be answered by, “don’t do it.” Seriously, don’t use a flashback in your story UNLESS –

1.  The flashback reveals something VERY important in the story. Don’t use a flashback to just pave over the cracks so to speak, to fill in story details to explain why someone did something or why the universe is as it is. Flashbacks are not fillers. Don’t try to turn them into that.

2. Any flashback you use must move the story forward significantly.  Whatever backstory the flashback may convey must be crucial to your story. If that’s not the case you’re simply boring your reader (or in the case of a screenplay, your audience after you’ve bored the reader that for some inexplicable reason put your script through).

3.  Think about your timing. Why do you want to put a flashback wherever it is you want to put it?  Is it necessary? If so, create suspense. Build up to it. Make your readers crave that reveal when you inject the flashback that gives your story that jolt.

4.  Finally, keep it tight, even short, get in and get out. Don’t go rambling off on storytelling not directly related to what you’re conveying. No loose ends, no flab. Give it punch, fill it with action (whether physical, mental, emotional) and make sure it gives a huge impact to the scene you’re working on, the emotions of characters in your story, readers reading it, and the story overall. And when it’s done, edit the heck out of it. Maybe even dump it if it doesn’t serve its purpose well.

Okay, those are the basic commandments. Now, my other advice is don’t do a flashback unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary to the story. I mean really necessary.

That said, if you still want/need one in your novel or script these couple of sites could be helpful in helping you learn HOW to do a good flashback.

You might hop over to Larry Brody’s TV Writer for TV writing advice. He offers lots of great info and I write a fairly regular post for the site.

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