Why is the protagonist acting like that? How did the sidekick suddenly realize the answer to the plot puzzle? The answer can be found in a flashback scene. Whether you want to show a character’s memories of a certain event or reveal the backstory of a character, flashback scenes will keep your readers informed and entertained. But it’s not always easy to move seamlessly between time periods. The experts at Writer’s Relief have some tips for writing an effective flashback scene.
5 Tips For Writing A Great Flashback Scene
One: Have A Reason
Flashback scenes can be helpful, but they’re not always necessary. Ask yourself why you want to include a flashback. What triggers the memory? Is it important for the story? The flashback shouldn’t be a diversion—it should provide necessary information that will move the story forward.
Two: Choose The Time Frame
The time frame covered by the flashback should be brief: a single event or moment. The scene could be a memory from your character’s childhood, complete with a schoolyard bully, or a sudden recollection of another character casually pocketing something during a conversation that took place earlier today at the coffee shop.
If you’re going back in time, you can note the change from present to past by describing the seasons or how the characters are dressed. Your protagonist sipping a frosty drink on a hot, sunny beach might be contemplating a painful breakup that happened the past winter, complete with mittens, boots, and snow-covered sidewalks.
Three: Determine How You’ll Transition
Switching verb tenses can signal to your readers that they’re entering a scene that’s not in chronological order. You could also break to the scene by simply stating something like “three years earlier” at the beginning of the section. A scene that moves from the present to the past might also be written in italics. Keep in mind, you’ll also need to transition smoothly back to the present.
Four: Make The Flashback Relevant
A flashback can provide important backstory information or vital revelations. Knowing a character was cheated on in a past relationship will explain a current reluctance for romance. Revealing that the hero met the villain years ago under very different circumstances will offer readers new insights into the ongoing power struggle between them.
Five: Don’t Get Carried Away
Too many flashbacks can detract from your story and become confusing for your readers. Remember, a flashback scene is a good way to provide information—but it’s not the only way. Some stories can be told without a single flashback.
If you choose to include a flashback in your story, use these five tips to ensure it doesn’t distract readers from your main plotline. With a well-written flashback scene, your story will effectively move forward by offering a quick look back. And when you’re ready to submit your proofread, edited, and polished manuscript to literary agents, our research experts can help you find the best markets for your work. Learn more about our services and submit your work to our Review Board today!
Question: What part of your story would benefit from a flashback scene?