How to Write a Flashback Scene

Filed in Ask the Editor, Writing Tips by on November 5, 2020 0 Comments

A flashback scene should be used to show crucial moments that led to a character’s present decisions and way of thinking. Here are 5 tips to successfully ...

One of the best ways to work in a backstory for a character is through a powerful flashback, but getting a flashback right requires a little more time and attention than you might think. First, know why you’re thinking about including a flashback scene in your novel. Flashbacks should be used to show crucial moments that led to a character’s present decisions and way of thinking. For characters’ memories or large jumps in time, use a flashback scene.

Here are 5 tips to successfully add a flashback scene to your writing.

1. Do a quick outline.

Writing a scene in your novel that’s happened before the present moment can make keeping track of the timeframe, characters involved, differences in appearance, and a change in setting hard to keep track of. 

2. Decide how to work it in.

Avoid dedicating extra words to a long, introductory paragraph before your flashback. Instead, dive right into it at the beginning of a chapter or scene.

3. Only focus on one event/experience.

Flashback scenes shouldn’t be too long and drawn out or cover a person’s entire backstory. For the scene to be strong, it must focus on just one moment or life event for the character. If you try to put too much into a flashback, your reader will lose track of where the present-day story is once you do finally get back to it.

4. Help move your overall story forward.

Flashbacks are only beneficial and useful to your characters—and your readers—if they help move your plot forward in some way. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, you’ll need to leave it behind.

5. Extra attention is needed for consistent verb tense.

You have a few options when it comes to verb tense in your flashback scene. You can write it in a different tense than your present-time story. If your present-day narrative is written in the past tense, you can use the present tense for your flashback scene. Or, you can keep the verb tense consistent throughout your entire novel. If you use past tense in your present-day narrative, continue that same tense in your flashback; you may, however, want to distinguish a difference in time periods by inserting the year somewhere into your flashback scene. For example, if your present-day novel is set in 2020, but your flashback scene jumps back to 1993, then mention 1993 somewhere at the beginning of your scene.

When it comes to flashback scenes, take time to decide if your novel actually needs it or not. Ask yourself: Do my readers benefit from seeing an earlier scene?

For more writing advice, visit our Ask The Editor section.

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About the Author ()

Erika Bennett has been a freelance editor for nearly half a decade. Before joining the Xulon team in 2010, she worked with several first time authors who wanted to test the waters of self-publishing. Her aim is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands.

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