F is for Flashback

by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2013

F is for Flashback

Dictionary.com says:


  1. A scene in a movie, novel, etc., set in a time earlier than the main story.
  2. A sudden and disturbing vivid memory of an event in the past, typically as the result of psychological trauma or taking LSD.

The purpose of the flashback is to provide the reader with information about that character’s past. In the novel I’m working on right now, the heroine has good reason to keep who and what she is a secret from the hero. He’s no fool, so he figures out a few things about her on his own. My challenge lies in showing the reader the traumatic events that led up to the opening scene of the novel where the heroine runs away from her guards, get lost, and ends up where the hero finds her.

I can’t just plunge my heroine and the reader into a flashback. Or can I? My heroine is suffering from what amounts to PTSD. Instead of just mooning over her tragic memories, she might very well have a flashback as per the #2 definition above, the kind brought on by psychological trauma. The right trigger in the physical or emotional environment could set her off. Dialogue is a great place to plant triggers. The hero asks what he thinks is a reasonable question and suddenly the heroine bursts into tears, curls up into a ball, and won’t say another word.

Flashbacks are tricky. If you’re not careful, they can turn into the worst combinations of the Back Story and the Expository Lump. Use the flashback to advance the story by providing what the reader needs to know in a vivid, dramatic scene. Make sure your transition into the flashback is clear. The use of the # symbol is a common method. Use it again to signal the end of the flashback, then keep on moving forward!


Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing

16 responses to “F is for Flashback

  1. Thanks, Lillian. Your blogs are really useful and inspiring!


  2. This is great! I’m actually having a bit of trouble with flashback type scenes in my novel. I’ve found that another real fun way to do flashbacks is drug induced (my character gets kidnapped and they give her a drug to make her compliant). I will really have to keep this in mind while writing more of that scene. 😀


  3. I’ve heard that flashbacks are like infodumps and it’s best to avoid them if possible, but if done right, really move the story. A fine line to walk.

    Patricia Lynne


  4. celticrob

    I have flashbacks in my own life. And sometimes they scare me now as much as they did back then.

    I wonder how to build those into stories. I suppose they would need to ave a fairly high degree of tension to them.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    Bears Noting


    • Wow, talk about “Write what you know”! Tension is almost always a good thing in storytelling, depending on the pace needed at the point where you’re thinking of using a flashback. You might want to make note of particular triggers or physical sensations associated with your flashbacks, just in the name of research.


  5. transformednonconformist

    I have found that flashback worked for me on my short blog posts, but I have not been able to successfully pull it off when writing longer stories.

    Returning visit from A to Z. Thanks for coming by my blog.

    Brett Minor
    Transformed Nonconformist


  6. A useful article, Lillian, and info. that bears remembering. Not so easy to write in a flashback without getting bogged down.


  7. Love your style, Lillian! Great advice. Flashbacks can be tricky and must be handled properly, or…well, they’re a disaster. But they provide wonderful “oomph” if done properly – and not overdone. I had one hero who suffered from retrograde amnesia. His infrequent flashes of memory provided a chance to weave in a bit of backstory in an interesting way. It was fun, and readers loved Brock’s little “fugue states.” 🙂


  8. Pingback: The Vagina Monologues: Part 2 | The Aurora Crossing

  9. Pingback: Series: A Veteran’s Point of View on PTSD or OSI. Part 4 | Homecoming Vets at the Crossroads of Humanity

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