How to Write Effective Flashback Scenes

Flashbacks are some of the most difficult scenes to write.

When effective, flashback scenes relay vital backstory that cuts straight to the emotional core of a narrative. They exist because they must, because there is no better way to reveal the information on which the story hinges. But like the infamous prologue, flashback scenes are all too easy to get wrong.

An ineffective flashback will jar readers out of a story as quickly as a successful one will grip them by the heartstrings. How can you ensure your own flashbacks serve a powerful purpose within your stories? Let’s discuss…

Why are effective flashbacks so difficult to write?

A flashback is not a moment in which your point-of-view character considers the past. It is a scene set in the past that disrupts the chronological flow of a story. That disruption is what makes effective flashbacks so difficult to write.

Effective stories immerse readers, encouraging them to fly through the pages to discover what will happen next. Flashback scenes disrupt that suspense to reveal a past event. If that event isn’t vital to readers’ understanding of the present story, it will spoil the immersive narrative you’ve worked so hard to craft.

Several years ago, I tackled the subject of prologues here on the blog, explaining how they disrupt the opening pages of a book by forcing the reader to start the story twice. In comparison, flashbacks force readers to leave — and then re-enter — a story. If not handled with extreme care and consideration, that flashback can encourage readers to leave and never return.

How can you write an effective flashback scene?

When crafting a flashback, the most important factor to consider is purpose. Flashbacks exist to reveal vital context that strikes at the emotional core of a story. What really happened on that fateful day? What caused the rift between the former lovers? Why did that character’s personality change so drastically?

An effective flashback is a pivotal moment revealed most powerfully as its own scene. If you’re considering a flashback that would hold the same weight if worked into your story via dialogue, inner narrative, or some other means, choose the latter option. The possibility of jarring readers out of your story with an ineffective flashback is simply too great a risk.

If, however, you’re certain that your flashback serves a powerful purpose within the context of your story, here are six tips to help you craft the most effective flashback possible: See More . . .

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