When used correctly, a flashback can be a powerful storytelling element. In prose, flashbacks are more than just narrated memories — they’re active scenes taking place in the past. Well-written flashbacks will engage your readers and deepen their understanding of your characters’ motivations and their actions. But because they have the potential to affect the momentum of your short story or novel, creating an effective flashback can be tricky. The experts have some writing tips and advice on how to write a flashback scene that makes sense and works in your story.
The Right Ways To Use A Flashback In Your Story
Convey important exposition. One of the biggest mistakes creative writers make is bogging down their story with long passages of “telling.” If there’s a past event that’s extremely important to your story, consider using a flashback to show it to the audience, rather than telling them about it through blocks of narrative text.
Add drama to a pivotal scene. Because flashbacks are seen from a character’s point of view, they tend to be more visceral and immediate than memories that are simply recounted for the audience. Though you don’t want to use flashbacks for every memory, they can be very effective for showing readers recollections that are especially emotional.
Explain a character’s emotions. Sometimes, flawed characters develop their imperfections due to past trauma. Showing that formative event through the character’s eyes will help readers better understand the motivation.
Jump between time periods. Does your story span multiple generations? Is a past event that took place at your setting especially important to the plot? If so, flashbacks can help you convey that history in a way that grabs attention.
In a prologue. Though not every book needs a prologue, it can be a valuable tool when written well! Is there a single scene that’s crucial for readers to understand before they dive into the main action of your story? Did a vital scene take place long before the main action? If so, a flashback scene in your prologue will set the stage for the story that follows.
How To Write A Flashback Scene